THE ART OF TEACHING SCIENCE ; Making Science Accessible; Do You Remember Physics, Chemistry and Biology at School? Gobbledygook? Boring? Was It Taught by Ageing Geeks? Bill Bryson Explains Why He Backs a New Plan to Change All That

By Bryson, Bill | The Independent (London, England), June 8, 2005 | Go to article overview
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THE ART OF TEACHING SCIENCE ; Making Science Accessible; Do You Remember Physics, Chemistry and Biology at School? Gobbledygook? Boring? Was It Taught by Ageing Geeks? Bill Bryson Explains Why He Backs a New Plan to Change All That


Bryson, Bill, The Independent (London, England)


'I think it is important to make science accessible to people because it is a vital subject. It is the future.

'Britain has a fantastic heritage as far as science is concerned. It really is a big part of what made this country great " and chemistry had a huge role to play there.

'You have a number of really good science programmes " TV programmes " which show clearly there is a hunger for the subject over here. Also, your news-stands have magazines like New Scientist on sale. People want to know more about science.

'The idea about the book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, was to try and make science exciting to people.

'My idea was that science had to be more exciting than it was made out to be to me when I was at school in America. Science courses, it seemed to me, were a bit dull.

'In principle, I'm very interested in science but I had never studied the subject. I thought it needed to be put across in a more interesting way " particularly to people like me who have no aptitude for it whatsoever. At some level, it seemed to me it had to be put across as more interesting than it had been made for me.

'Obviously, there are two types of people when it comes to learning science at school " those who are going to go on and have careers in physics and chemistry and a whole large group of the rest of us who should be coming out of school with at least some understanding of science.

'It was a great honour to be asked by the Royal Society of Chemistry [RSC] to participate in this initiative. I am very pleased with what they are doing in supplying a copy of the book to every secondary school in the country.

'In the course of our discussions they suddenly suggested that and " as far as an author goes " if somebody suggests that kind of thing to you you can only say one thing: yes.

'My knowledge of science was extremely elementary when I embarked upon the book. I knew practically nothing. I had as little science as you could possibly have during my education to still get a high school diploma. I never studied it at university.

'What I could get out of the research for this book is an extremely superficial understanding of the subject. I didn't really understand physics any more than I did when I started working on it.

'What I had got out of the exercise, though, was an appreciation of these different fields of science and how scientists have gone about finding things out " how they know what they know.

'For instance, I found it fascinating how a scientist could look at two different formations of rocks and say that one is 250 million years old and that one is 850 million years. How do they know that?

'Those are the kind of questions that I imagined other people in the same position as me would like to find the answers to.

'I would hope that in a school setting that the outcome would be that pupils were sufficiently interested and excited by questions like this that they would decide they would like to take up science as a subject themselves as a result of reading the book.

'The basic premise of the book is that science can be a kind of entertainment. The idea is that people read it and they feel entertained.

'The reason the book turned out the way it did was that I could only go so far. This wasn't going to be terribly difficult for the lay person to understand. I wasn't going to take you in that far over your shoulders.

'Sales have gone fantastically well in the UK [more than a million] and it has also done well in the United States and Germany " although no one else has had the idea of putting the book on the curriculum.

'I'm donating the royalties that I would have made from the sale of the book to schools " and the RSC is matching that figure " for some sort of award for pupils.

'I don't know, really, if there are enough pupils taking up science at school.

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THE ART OF TEACHING SCIENCE ; Making Science Accessible; Do You Remember Physics, Chemistry and Biology at School? Gobbledygook? Boring? Was It Taught by Ageing Geeks? Bill Bryson Explains Why He Backs a New Plan to Change All That
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