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Whiteboards stifling hands-on science

Too much technology in the lab means pupils miss the fun and discipline of practical experiments, says Biology expert

technology such as interactive whiteboards could be killing off science practicals, according to the professional body for biologists.

Neil Roscoe, head of education at the Institute of Biology, said the speed and ease of projecting films of scientific experiments might tempt teachers to miss out practicals. He said the pressures of the national curriculum, and teachers having to take lessons outside their subject areas, had made films and other short cuts more attractive.

Writing in the Journal of Biological Education, Mr Roscoe said every adult had strong memories of revelations in the school lab.

"For me it was probably when I saw the stages of mitosis laid out before me following a root-tip squash of some sprouting garlic," he said. "No PowerPoint presentation or Real Player clip could possibly come close."

Mr Roscoe said encouraging pupils to practise science was the only way to get them hooked. "Even for students who will not end up as scientists, the discipline of following a procedure to the letter in a controlled and safe manner provides useful transferable skills Screening experiments could not be sufficiently interesting because pupils were so used to watching videos, he said. Mr Roscoe said initial training for science teachers should be changed so that the standards relate to practical work.

Dr Peter Cotgreave, of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said:

"Science is a practical subject, so if you are not doing that, you are not doing science."

Paul Clark, acting head of science at the John Warner school in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, said: "When pupils do experiments, they tend to remember the concepts well. I only show a film when it is easier for pupils to see on the screen, rather than gathering around my desk at the front."

The Royal Society of Chemistry urges teachers not to let fears about health and safety damage practicals. Many experiments, including the dissection of rats and taking pupils' cheek cell samples, are still encouraged.

Carrying the Flag for Practical Biology appears in the next issue of the 'Journal of Biological Education'

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