Teachers' guide loses its way

22nd December 2000 at 00:00
MEETING THE STANDARDS IN PRIMARY SCIENCE. A guide to the ITT NC. By Lynn D Newton. Routledge Falmer pound;14.99.

There is widespread belief that all that is needed to make good teachers of primary science is to teach them more science, and only after that how to teach it. Indeed, there has been more tut-tuting about getting science concepts wrong than about poor teaching.

It is therefore unfortunate that the first part of a book that focuses on science knowledge contains several mistakes. For example, genes are shown as being like beads on two twisted but unlinked necklaces, and electromagnetism is wrongly called electromagnetic induction. The author claims that the particles of a gas vibrate, that friction depends on the areas in contact and that its action between wheels and ground slows a vehicle down. The diagram showing the phases of the Moon is misleadingly drawn.

Neither is this book improved by using Lewis Wolpert's argument that scientific thinking is unnatural to lay people, an Popper's largely discredited falsification principle when teaching beginners about the nature of science. Research shows that primary teachers who lack confidence at the beginning learn science while teaching it. More examples of what pupils find difficult, and how to teach it, would have been better included with the science knowledge.

In the second part on knowledge for teaching, things look up. Lynn Newton is good on progression, where we meet "linked ideas", and on understanding, which includes cause and effect, sensory experience and group discussion. She does not get bogged down in constructivism, as so many others have done. Most of the boxed tasks look valuable, although the one on Attitudes-Values-Beliefs lacks guidance on using these slippery terms.

This book is of most value to mentors and tutors, but of only guided help to novice teachers themselves.

Joan Solomon is senior research fellow and professor at the Centre for Science Education, the Open University

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