Practical Work in School Science: Which Way Now?

Practical Work in School Science: Which Way Now?

Practical Work in School Science: Which Way Now?

Practical Work in School Science: Which Way Now?


Practical work has been part of science education for just over 100 years and is accepted as an essential and exciting part of understanding this discipline. Although it can be costly and sometimes messy, it simply has to be done if students and teachers are to progress in their understanding. Schools and universities invest millions of pounds in it and the National Curriculum reveres it - but what exactly is going on in classrooms around the country and how are the leading practitioners moving with the times? This book attempts to reflect on the value and purpose of practical work as part of the scientific curriculum. Why are practical exercises so necessary and what do they contribute to the learning process? The chapters examine many issues such as:* how practical work is perceived by students and teachers* whether we will move on to the 'virtual lab'*the limitations of current 'hands-on' work and valuable alternatives to it* the connections between practical work in science education and 'authentic' science* what role experimentation plays in current educational practice. Jerry Wellington is Reader in Education at Sheffield University, and has taught science at all academic levels.


The aim of this book is not to bury or condemn practical work in science, but to reappraise it. The approach of the end of the millennium seems a good time to take stock of where practical work in science has come from, to appraise its position now and to begin to formulate new principles for its future position in science education. We have experienced over 100 years of school science practical work and witnessed the coming (and sometimes going) of the heuristic approach, discovery methods, the ‘Nuffield philosophy’, investigational work, the process movement and the ‘problem-solving’ approach, to mention but a few.

Practical work has been applauded for its ability to enthuse, to illustrate phenomena and to enhance understanding. It has also been criticised and even condemned for its huge expense, its potential for conceptual confusion, its gender bias, and its power to encourage both teachers and pupils to behave badly (unethically) in the classroom.

Now is an opportune time to put together a book on the role and purpose of practical work for the future, with a critical but positive message. With the potential of new information technology beginning to emerge in education, the book has an underlying theme of analysing what is best in past and present practice whilst offering practical ideas for practitioners in the future.

The focus of the book will be on the actual practice of practical work, what has and has not worked in practical science, and what practice in the future might look like. Each chapter contains a critical element but will also include a section on practical implications for teachers. Not all chapters sing the same song. Just as many of the authors dismiss the idea of one unified scientific method, none is advocating one single approach to practical work. Nor do the chapters form a cohesive whole with a coherent message—there is a lot more work to be done before that will be achieved. The chapters have been grouped into themes or sections but the decision on how that was done was an arbitrary one. Our intention is that the chapters should provide a platform and a catalyst for practitioners, researchers, curriculum developers and policy makers to re-examine practical work with the grand aim of improving it in the next century. This book should be seen as another

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