Creating enthusiastic, curious and inquisitive scientists.
23 February 2017
One of the many messages from the recent Festival of Education was “what is education in the twenty first century?” Should it be a system where by pupils are trained to pass exams or a more creative, skills based education that provides transferrable ‘soft skills’ which can be utilised in an everchanging world. I would like to think the latter, but exams are inevitable in our current systems of education. I, however, do not believe the two are mutually exclusive. I believe we can achieve exam success through designing a curriculum that embeds skills throughout the pupil’s time at school, and these skills will translate into exam results and success in later life. Here at Wellington, pupils are educated in science throughout their school life and enter the laboratory in Year 5. I believe the early years in a child’s life are hugely important in developing scientific skills and thinking. A recent report stated that on average an eleven-year-old child will ask the question… why?.. more than three hundred times a week. Why not harness that inquisitive mind! In the first couple of years in science we need to develop scientific skills which enable the pupils to use their natural curiosity and inquisitiveness in a logical and reasoned way to understand the world. That is what we aim to achieve at Wellington: enthusiastic, curious, inquisitive scientists with a burning desire to understand more about the world around them. To create enthusiastic, curious and inquisitive scientists we need a curriculum fit for purpose. The nature of the UK science curriculum is that it is designed to introduce pupils to models of the world and continuously develop these into more sophisticated ones in subsequent years. At Wellington we complement the acquisition of knowledge with a skills based curriculum, which demonstrates and teaches the nature of science to the pupils. In the first couple of years, we focus on the core skills a scientist needs such as hypothesising, planning, observation, data processing, analysing and concluding. This, in effect, means lots of fun practicals for the pupils whilst developing the “scientist’s toolkit”. In subsequent years, pupils will encounter more content and models of science; however, the development of skills does not end here. An example of this would be would be in the teaching of Pasteur’s “germ theory” in Year 9. Rather than direct teaching, we can engage the pupils and develop their critical thinking skills by recreating Pasteur’s actual experiments; and, by making careful observations, deduce the same conclusion over a century later. This approach is far more powerful than direct teaching, as it focuses on the skills of a scientist. When pupils enter the sixth form, we see how important the skills the pupils have developed are. The IB course is designed to develop inquirers, who can think for themselves, and are open minded, in line with the identities at Wellington of Independent and intellectual. In the sciences, pupils will engage with science in a deeper and more meaningful way by questioning knowledge itself. A core component of IB is theory of knowledge (TOK) which is designed to enhance critical and analytical thinking. Pupils will encounter TOK concepts throughout the curriculum such as “What extent does imagination play in the development of knowledge in the natural sciences” and the ideas of Karl Popper, on falsification and pseudoscience, and Thomas Kuhn, on paradigm shifts in scientific thinking. To this end we had some fantastic TOK presentations in the summer where one group of pupils developed and analysed the question “To what extent do morals help or hinder the acquisition of knowledge in the natural sciences”. During Year 13 pupils will also have to design, carry out, and write-up their own, novel investigation which will last several weeks. Without the previous years of skills development, the pupils would find this a huge task. In conclusion (it is a science article after all) we have developed a science curriculum that looks at the skills pupils need, as well as knowledge. By having this curriculum from the start to the end of college, we can develop and refine skills over many years ensuring both exam success and an abundance of transferable skills for an ever changing global society. Dr Charles Debieux Head of Science and IB Theory of Knowledge Coordinator