Should Science be Taught in Primary Schools?

Recently, a survey of 1.026 secondary school students was conducted by the national Space Science Centre in Leicester. Four out of five thought science at school was boring, 15% thought biology the only subject of any interest, and 90% criticized the way they had been taught science. Only one student in 14 wanted to take up a career in science.

Science is a compulsory subject for all children up to key stage 4. According to the National Curriculum, teaching science ensures that scientific enquiry is taught through contexts taken from sections on life processes and living things, materials and their properties and physical processes.

Through science pupils’ should be taught to plan, obtain and present evidence, follow simple instructions, explore using a variety of senses and how to communicate in a variety of ways including ICT.

There are conflicting views in to whether or not science should be taught in primary schools. After much research I have taken certain views and included them in this assignment.

To begin, Science stimulates and excites children’s curiosity about phenomena and events that happen around them in the world they live. This is because through Science children are given the opportunity to find out information, test ideas, seek explanations, and are therefore able to develop ways of understanding the world around them and understand new experiences. Children also learn to appreciate the world they live in. It helps them to understand how major scientific breakthroughs contribute to their better living such as important cures in medicine, inventions in engineering and new developments in technology.

For most children, science is dynamic, exciting and fun as it is practical and gives the children a chance to learn and find out things for themselves rather then being told. This develops some important life skills such as self-motivation, time keeping, planning, and communication both verbal and written. It also makes the child question, and discusses issues that may affect their own lives such as why do objects fall? And the future, such as will oxygen ever run out?

There are many different strategies which can be used when teaching primary science such as; investigations and other practical activities conducted by the pupils’, demonstrations by the teacher, and teacher exposition and explanation. Regardless of how children learn the knowledge it is clear that understanding the key concepts of science will allow pupils to use them in unfamiliar situations and using scientific methods of investigation will help pupil’s to think scientifically and make successful, disciplined enquiries and use ideas to solve relevant problems.

There is also evidence that attitudes to science seem to be formed earlier than to most other subjects and children tend to have taken a definite position with regard to their liking of the subject by the age of eleven or twelve. Such reactions undoubtedly affect their later performance in science. It is therefore the role of the teacher and the science taught in primary school to ensure children like the subject, find it fun and have a keen interest to learn more when they continue science throughout their secondary school.

However, many believe that teaching science to early years is far too young. On Monday the 18th of September 2000 the BBC published an article referring to primary science being ‘too hard’. The research conducted suggested that the science curriculum is pitched too high for primary school children. According to a survey of more than 120 teachers; up to a third of the topics are ‘too difficult’ for five to seven year olds with the study of physical processes causing the most confusion for primary aged children? Many children were finding the vocabulary difficult to understand such as the word force. Many were confusing the word with being ‘forced to do something’ rather then ‘a measurable influence that causes something to move’.

A similar article also published by the BBC in September 2000 was from Dr Pine. Dr Pine believed that children of this age are known to have difficulties with abstract concepts, and strongly questioned whether the content of the national curriculum was appropriate for children so young. Dr Pine’s study also suggests young children are reluctant to give up their own theories about how the way the world works. She believed that by the time a child is six he or she will have formed misguided views that are very difficult for teachers to dislodge.

It seems to not only be pupils’ finding the primary science curriculum difficult but the teachers themselves. Findings from the Office for Standards in Education were that: “Some teachers understanding of particular areas of science, especially the physical science is not sufficiently well developed and this gives rise to unevenness of standards”.

Harlen was also concerned about international findings, which reported pupil difficulties within certain concept areas. She summarized findings from a large number of studies and concludes that pupil difficulty is chiefly due to the insufficient explanations given by primary teachers.

There are also many other reasons to why professionals believe teaching science at primary level is inappropriate. Firstly, health and safety which is very important especially with practical activities. Children of this age are not yet able to take full responsibility for their own health and safety so it is therefore the role of the adults in the classroom. Not only is this very demanding but it can also be quite dangerous as it is impossible to be watching all children at all times.

The need for equipment is also very high whether it is for a teacher demonstration or for the pupil’s to use. Some of this equipment can be very expensive and schools have tight budgets. This may mean that some schools go without or if they do have the equipment it is very often limited as it has to be shared between all classes.

Unfortunately my experiences of primary science are extremely limited. I do not remember doing any practical work and consequently have always found the subject challenging and uninspiring. I am sure there were also times where I was learning science without realizing, such as on school trips, but for most of which I can remember it was a teacher dictating facts followed by dull worksheets for which I and the other children had to complete.

Using the knowledge I have gained through research and experience I can reflect on my memories and assess the teacher’s actions. I believe we were given worksheets and re-called facts as it was far less time consuming and ‘easy’ as there was less preparation needed. The pressure of exams and league tables means teachers are being forced to teach the facts about science and not allowed to use the time to show the excitement in science.

Resources were also very limited. I am not sure if this was due to the choice of the school or lack of finance. There was basic equipment available such as friction blocks/rods, scales and magnets, but no exciting equipment such as Bunsen burners, microscopes and glow balls which could have easily been used to demonstrate ‘exciting concepts’. The lack of resources and equipment also put an emphasis on science being uninteresting and boring.

I have been visiting my current school placement for over six weeks and I have yet to see any science. I find this quite shocking and so I approached the teacher wandering why more science wasn’t being taught. Her answers were worrying, she believed the children were too young (reception) to understand the concepts and would therefore just get bored. She also said that resources were limited and so lots of planning would be needed and she didn’t have the time to plan so far in advance.

In my conclusion I refer back to the question ‘should we teach science in primary schools?’ I have gathered information from various sources and have the benefit of my own experiences and those around me to conclude that I believe science should be taught in
primary schools as it is practical and creative and teaches children to make sense of the world they live in. Science teaches the children important skills, to think scientifically and also gives the children the opportunity to question.

However, I believe science should be fun, exciting and perhaps most importantly the child should be kept interested. Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen and this is probably why many children as they get older think science is boring and they find it difficult.

I believe that the content of the primary curriculum should be changed to enable teachers to give an exciting and comprehensible introduction. Primary teachers should work with children in the observation and description of phenomena such as evaporation and gravity but save any explanation for post primary science when pupils’ are better able and less prone to boredom. In order to do this, teachers themselves need educating so they themselves have the confidence to ‘pass on’ their knowledge. This could be done in a variety of ways such as introducing workshops or courses so teachers can gain ideas in to how science can be taught effectively and made fun. With this new level of expertise the teacher should then be able to plan science lessons for all ages including those children who are in the foundation stage.

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