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Time to be practical

Experiments are more than fun, they provide ways of developing physical, mental and personal skills, says Derek Bell. The difficult part is putting them into action

Practical work in the classroom and outdoors is essential for good teaching and learning in science. It provides an invaluable opportunity to engage young people.

When used effectively, pupils develop skills (physical, cognitive and interpersonal), gain knowledge and understanding of phenomena and experience the sense of wonder and curiosity that leads to long term interest in the natural world and its functions.

Becoming proficient in a range of scientific methods helps them understand how science works and our knowledge has developed to the benefit and, sometimes, the detriment of our lives and environment.

In spite of this, the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology says: "Practical science is at risk in our schools". Although there are examples of good practical work around the country, there are also, as their Lordships report, grounds for concern.

The impact of assessment regimes plus pressure to get through the syllabus have led to teaching to the test and restricted practical activities.

Misconceptions about health and safety have made practical work burdensome for teachers and halted certain experiments.

Lack of technical support and time has also reduced enthusiasm for more exciting class activities. Laboratory facilities need regular updating to ensure they are satisfactory.

How can we change this? First, a broad consensus as to what is meant by practical work is needed, and the necessary support and resources must be provided.

Websites highlighting practical activities (www.practicalphysics.org) or resources (www.schoolscience.co.uk, launched by the Association for Science Education) are already there to help.

The ASE is working with members of the Science Community Partnership Supporting Education and the Department for Children, Schools and Families to improve the quality of practical science across the country.

Its success depends on what happens in schools and colleges, so we would like to hear your views at practicalscience@ase g.uk***

Derek Bell is chief executive of the Association for Science Education

Resources Key Stage 1 Book Reading About Starters, Forces: Tractors (Aladdin books www.aladdinbooks.co.uk pound;4.99) is part of a series introducing science words and ideas to young readers. Web www.kew.org climbersand creepershome.html (Climbers and Creepers at Kew) is an interactive website for 3 to 6-year-olds to play games, read stories and learn about the environment.

Objective

* Knowledge and understanding of the worl * Children show curiosity and manipulate object *

Observe predict, explore and investigate.

Key Stage 2 Book Horrible Science Handbooks Freaky Food Experiments by Nick Arnold (Scholastic www.scholastic.co.ukzone pound;5.99) Bring science to life with 20 revolting experiments and recipes to cook and eat. Web www.bhf.org.uk cbhffun_stuff.asp (British Heart Foundation website) Play the Heart Operation Game: carry out a heart transplant check the patient, scrub your hands clean, surgically remove one heart, insert another and stitch the patient back up, within seven minutes.

Objective * Collectingpresenting result

* Analysing dataexplaining results

Zoe Crompton is an education consultant and former teacher, responsible for the primary courses at the National Science Learning Centre

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