Science teachers the world over, must be familiar with the following situation:-
You are teaching reaction rates, and you give your students a practical experiment to reinforce the theory, or you let them “investigate” before you even teach the theory. However, the outcome is the same – you already know the answer, and if the students are mindful enough, a quick google (or real text book search) will also provide them with the answer as well. So, why are we doing the practical at all.
The stock answer is that its all about skills, scientific approach, method etc. That does not sit well with me.
Consider learning football in an academy where you never play against a real opponent. You practice the skills you need (passing, dribbling, free kicks etc) in a safe and sanitised environment – without the challenges and foibles of a real match. Consider another team that learnt its craft on the streets, playing endless games, where the fear of failure was real. In a match between these two sides, I know who I’d fancy to win.
So in Science, we are creating the football academy approach to teaching the practical aspects of our subject. We practice the skills and through How Science Works, we teach the language of practical science, but we and our students never “do” Real Science.
Doing Real Science
In my opinion, Real Science (note the capital letters) is about finding stuff out and making connections — my main point being NEW Stuff and NEW Connections.
So, Real Science is all about research – either practically or looking for connections in existing data.
Research in School
If you Google “research” in a school context, you will find 100,000′s of hits for pedagogical research and theory in set in a school context. You might even come across “Action Research” as the next big thing for educators. Great stuff, but that’s not what I mean.
What about Real Science Research undertaken by students in school? Until this article about a Primary School and research into Bees hit the press, there was not one point of reference for this on the net.
Back in September 2010 I created www.researchatschool.org.uk, with the intention of using it as a repository for some actual scientific research undertaken by our students. There are three articles at present:
- Shell strength of Helix Aspersa as a function of rain acid
- Attainment versus reaction speed
- Does homework improve attainment?
These are real Scientific research articles (1 and 2 being finished) that have been actually studied and reported by the students.
Do you encourage Real Research in your Subject?
Sometimes, I think that teachers forget that we all went to University and studied things at a very high level. Most undergraduate degrees include the concept of researchand the emphasis on finding out new stuff / making connections, but this often does not make it through into our classroom practice.
Go on, challenge you students to find out something new — really new.