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#16 CJB

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Posted 01 January 2010 - 22:00

I've delayed responding to this thread for a bit whilst I had chance to read the links Amanda posted - oh and get off my soapbox. I apologise a rant may be about to occur.

To put my thoughts into context I was in the 3rd year that took GCSE before combined science started to take over. I then took A level maths and physics then a physics degree. I have been working as a physicist since graduating. I have never been so gloomy about the state of science in this country.

There is a real chicken and egg problem. Science is seen as either difficult or boring partly because of uninspiring teaching and syllabi. We try to make the subjects more appealing by making them more 'relevant' and removing the core building blocks of the subject. How can we hope to inspire students to go futher with science if the teachers have been turned off the subject. If physics at school becomes debating whether nuclear power is a good thing and not how nuclear fission can be harnessed and controlled to generate power where are we going to find the scientists and engineers to look after our power plants.

We then have the issue of science funding and the status of scientists. Very few of our politicians have a science background yet they are the ones who ultimatly control the funding of science on our universities and many private and public sector institutions. They claim science and technology are the route out of the recession then repeatedly reduce funding. I won't get onto the salaries of scientists or I will be typing all night.

I don't know what the solution is. I believe the changes to the curriculum have been made for the right reasons. GCSE was introduced with a promise to make the subjects more relevant and context driven than the drier approach of O level. Combined science was supposed to help make sure people left school with an exposure to all sciences. I believe the new syllabus is designed to give an understanding of how science is done rather than the gritty details to give science literacy to people who don't want to be scientists. I can see good reasons for all of these - it is the implementation that appears to be ill thought through.

I have been contemplating a career change to physics teaching for some time. The teacher who wrote this petition sums up brilliantly why I've discounted it.



Ps sorry for typos - my laptop is ill and I've not really mastered typing on my iPod yet.
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#17 Stephie

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 01:01

When I started my first GCSE year back in 2006 I was hoping to be challenged, but was disappointed. It's far too easy for the schools to get the statistics that they want when all the examination boards are doing is lowering the expectations. Soon, everyone will be getting straight A*s - which isn't necessarily a good thing. It's just deluding kids into thinking that they're on the same level as those who did the same exams half a decade before.
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#18 barry-clari

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 15:50

Science is just one of many subjects that is being treated with this awful 'tick box' mentality that the National Curriculum/GCSEs have forced upon teachers, and frankly, the sooner we actually let teachers teach without having one hand tied behind their back as a result of such things, the better...
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#19 Arundodonuts

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 16:14

QUOTE(notmusimum @ Dec 31 2009, 09:09 PM) View Post

Don't get me wrong I do believe everyone should reach their full potential but that means EVERYONE.

Well call me old fashioned but I think that can only be achieved by some fairly heavy streaming. I'm of the 11 plus and grammar school generation and I don't think the current system would have given me the same opportunities I had then. My school went comprehensive just as I entered the 6th form and the instant lowering of standards was obvious to all. Luckily the 6th form wasn't affected at that time.

So I'm pleased I got my O levels out of the way in '68, A levels in '72 and degree in '76. A huge amount of the more arcane knowledge I acquired, especially in maths and physics, has never been used since (though I did once to my horror have to visit Laplace Transforms in designing a bridge deck), but I certainly appreciate the scientific background it gave me. Oh I also managed to slip in an old fashioned GCE O level in music at night school before the local adult education centre was dismantled (too expensive apparently).
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#20 PatC

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 17:04

I taught Nuffield Combined Science to 11 - 13 year-olds for a while in the 70s and actually thought it was pretty good, with its heavy emphasis on learning by doing - but should have been done at about age 8 - 10.

I recently greatly amused my (grown-up) children by using the pi r squared formula (sorry, don't know how to do those letters in here) to see if my round cake tin was the same volume as the rectangular tin specified in the recipe. In true Nuffield spirit, I should probably have filled them both with water - but that thought didn't occur to me until I started writing this!

PatC
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#21 BerkshireMum

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 18:46

QUOTE(pushpull @ Jan 2 2010, 05:14 PM) View Post

So I'm pleased I got my O levels out of the way in '68, A levels in '72 and degree in '76.


How did you manage to have a 4 year gap between O and A levels? I took O-levels in 1968, then A-levels in 1970 and 1971 (at my comprehensive the top sets did O-levels at the end of the 4th form and then had 3 years in the 6th form, allowing more A-levels to be taken).
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#22 flobiano

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 19:57

Science teaching is definitely one of my hobby horses. I was very fortunate to have a fantastic chemisty teacher, though she could be a bit of a dragon.

If anyone said "I can't remember" or "I don't know" to one of her questions, she would respond with "well work it out, it's logic, not magic!".

Unfortunately, as someone has already mentioned, if you take out all the basic principles because they are "too difficult" then it does become magic and a list of facts to be remembered rather than something that can be understood and which hangs together.

I always resented people saying that science is too hard because it's a list of things to remember. No, it isn't, history is a list of facts to remember - science is logic, and when you understand it there is very little to remember because it becomes self evident. Unless of course you completely remove the theory from the syllabus which allows anything to be understood. Grrr.

A few years ago I had 2 sixth form students come to do work experience with me. They were doing A level chemistry and were learning about the concept of mols for the very first time.

If at 16/17 they are covering things that *cough/mumble* years ago I covered at age 11/12...well words fail me. I also do know someone who has just started A levels and wants to do a science degree and be a science teacher but, on the advice of her college, is doing a combination of Alevels which doesn't include either maths or physics because she wants to "keep her options open". I find this completely incomprehensible - and told her so - but she can't face another year of maths...... wacko.gif

Well, maybe it is possible to do a science degree without maths these days, I seem to remember that science degrees in my day were actually applied maths degrees....(fortunately, unlike Pushpull, I have never had to use Laplace transforms since graduating, I did do some calculus earlier this year for the first time in nearly 15 years, I was very pleased with myself biggrin.gif )

Anyway, I feel like I am turning into a grumpy old woman....I think I'll go and play some music instead. tongue.gif

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#23 Aquarelle

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 20:49

QUOTE
QUOTE(PatC @ Jan 2 2010, 06:04 PM) View Post

I taught Nuffield Combined Science to 11 - 13 year-olds for a while in the 70s and actually thought it was pretty good, with its heavy emphasis on learning by doing - but should have been done at about age 8 - 10.

PatC


You are quite right. I have taught infants, juniors and secondary school children and have never ceased to be amazed at the poor standards in secondary schools which are poor because of the poor standards in junior schools - which in turn are caused by poor standards in infant schools.

I am in no way suggesting a return to hard core formal education of the "children should be seen and not heard" kind. But I am for kicking out the stupid pandering to the lowest common denominator. I am in favour or stretching every child as far as he/she is capable of going - and that is a lot further - at a much younger age - than most silly politicians who don't know anything about children seem to think.

Teachers need to be well trained, well pâid, well respected and given the freedom - and the time - to get on with their job.

Onwards and upwards the Grumpy Old Women!!We just have to keep saying it until eventually someone up there listens.
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#24 Arundodonuts

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 21:51

QUOTE(BerkshireMum @ Jan 2 2010, 06:46 PM) View Post

QUOTE(pushpull @ Jan 2 2010, 05:14 PM) View Post

So I'm pleased I got my O levels out of the way in '68, A levels in '72 and degree in '76.


How did you manage to have a 4 year gap between O and A levels? I took O-levels in 1968, then A-levels in 1970 and 1971 (at my comprehensive the top sets did O-levels at the end of the 4th form and then had 3 years in the 6th form, allowing more A-levels to be taken).

blush.gif Oops. O levels '70. A levels '72. Oh and a rubbish attempt at AS (I think) pure maths in '71.

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#25 Arundodonuts

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 22:05

QUOTE(flobiano @ Jan 2 2010, 07:57 PM) View Post

Science teaching is definitely one of my hobby horses. I was very fortunate to have a fantastic chemisty teacher, though she could be a bit of a dragon.

If anyone said "I can't remember" or "I don't know" to one of her questions, she would respond with "well work it out, it's logic, not magic!".

Oh Yes. smile.gif I think that's the strength of science. If it can't be worked out, it probably doesn't exist.

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#26 Halka

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 22:18

I took A level physics way back in 1977, at an excellent comprehensive school and went on to read science at university. However, the teaching I received at "O" level (at a different school)was pretty feeble, and those of us for who needed physics because of our future plans taught ourselves much of the syllabus from textbooks. By contrast, I have, just today, been helping my thirteen year old daughter with some physics homework about electrical circuits. It did not strike me as in the slightest dumbed down compared with what I was learning at the same age. The work on motion which preceded it seemed similarly more advanced than I encountered way back when. Perhaps we are lucky with her school... but she is being prepared to embark on AQA physics next year.

My main gripe about school science is that the same topics seem to come up year after year ad nauseam from about year 2 onwards, especially nutrition, which seems to take up half a term of biology lessons each year but is never covered in as much depth as we covered it (once before moving on to something else) at age 12. It seems to me this constant repetition is dull and uninspiring.
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#27 notmusimum

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 22:37

QUOTE(pushpull @ Jan 2 2010, 04:14 PM) View Post

QUOTE(notmusimum @ Dec 31 2009, 09:09 PM) View Post

Don't get me wrong I do believe everyone should reach their full potential but that means EVERYONE.

Well call me old fashioned but I think that can only be achieved by some fairly heavy streaming. I'm of the 11 plus and grammar school generation and I don't think the current system would have given me the same opportunities I had then. My school went comprehensive just as I entered the 6th form and the instant lowering of standards was obvious to all. Luckily the 6th form wasn't affected at that time.





After all my rants about GCSE Music last year I didn't want to say too much about the Maths situation currently being experienced. I've no intention of formally complaining this time as I couldn't face another pack of lies.

Recently the Maths class started a petition as they were so fed up with their teacher. The head of year kept well out of it and left the maths department to sort it. This all came about as they were given a test that resulted in low marks. The reason most of the stuff on it hadn't been covered. The punishment to stay behind after school for an hour to resit. Thought it sounded a bit odd but the two resit times clashed with a performance and exam that permission had already been given to attend during the school day. Daughter later found out that the resit was a completely different test weighted to get everyone good marks.

School had to make a pretence of investigating and removed those who signed the petition (it was intercepted). They were supposed to "talk" about the problems but the children were told off instead. Last year the same teacher was moved from her original class in the face of complaints. The class she was moved to complained. She's now teaching set one. The class wants to learn but she doesn't seem to have a good approach to teaching. The person who wrote the petition has been removed from the class. This has made them more upset with the teacher.

Luckily we know someone who can teach Maths very well. We've got the list of things that should have been covered last term and will be next.

The school don't care as most of the students will get C's at GCSE even with dire teaching. The government has to remove these stupid targets which are doing nothing for our children's education.
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#28 Cyrilla

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Posted 03 January 2010 - 00:06

QUOTE(Aquarelle @ Jan 2 2010, 08:49 PM) View Post

Teachers need to be well trained, well pâid, well respected and given the freedom - and the time - to get on with their job.

Onwards and upwards the Grumpy Old Women!!We just have to keep saying it until eventually someone up there listens.


Hear, HEAR!!!

smile.gif

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#29 Halka

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Posted 03 January 2010 - 00:28

QUOTE(pushpull @ Jan 2 2010, 04:14 PM) View Post

Well call me old fashioned but I think that can only be achieved by some fairly heavy streaming. I'm of the 11 plus and grammar school generation and I don't think the current system would have given me the same opportunities I had then. My school went comprehensive just as I entered the 6th form and the instant lowering of standards was obvious to all. Luckily the 6th form wasn't affected at that time.



Well, I was in Sheffield's second year of comprehensive intake into secondary school back in 1970. The school I went to had been a secondary modern. While the physics teaching was not great (see above!), on the whole the school, and staff, strove to show just what it, and they, could do. It had a predominantly middle class intake who were certainly stretched. My friends and I thrived there.

Meanwhile, my father was deputy head at the local ex-grammar school. There was no "instant lowering of standards" there when it turned comprehensive. Why on earth should there have been? This is just the kind of comment which would have dismayed and upset my father when he was teaching. I went there myself for the sixth form, and left with 5 excellent A levels and 2 S levels, as were. It is true that the grammar school, as was, was obliged to take children from a more working class area, which in turn dismayed the local snobs, but it did not suddenly become a fundamentally different or worse school, and completely changed the lives of many who entered it (one of whom now teaches my own children!).

Both these schools were successful back in the 70s and 80s because of the enthusiasm and commitment of the teachers at each. That they were "comprehensive" mattered not a jot. If things are worse or different now it is not simply because we no longer have grammar schools, I think.
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#30 Guest: Mad Tom_*

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Posted 03 January 2010 - 02:58

This is what you get when you let the politicians have too much power. Everything becomes an exercise in social engineering.

It is indeed embarrassing to see what passes for scientific knowledge on TV quiz programmes. And I don't just mean on the Weakest Link (Where Maths = Primary School Arithmetic). The more up-market Eggheads, Mastermind, and University Challenge manage to show an atrocious general lack of scientific knowledge and understanding. Jeremy Paxman himself is laughable. He sneers contemptuously when someone does not know some obscure bit of Greek mythology or Etruscan history, yet he cannot even pronounce some of the science questions ... never mind understand the answers.

Still ... plenty of other countries are churning out real mathematicians, physicists, chemists, and engineers - so if mankind really needs them, there'll be enough to go round.

Even in the UK there will be enough people that manage to learn some real Maths/Physics/Chemistry/Biology despite the system.

And isn't the true purpose of state schooling to equip the majority of people to do a menial job and become docile consumers. Where does this myth about schools being there to help every child develop to their full potential come from? Because it just ain't true, despite the best efforts of many dedicated teachers.
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