Sunday, March 08, 2009

Teaching Science

I won't beat myself up. I know I failed in my new years' resolution to write every day but I expected to fail so there we go. On the other hand, I have been writing (under the name Alcuin) on where people can judge my works and I get feedback (which helps me be a better writer).

That's not what I really want to write about today. I'm prompted to write by a TV programme in which a teacher in Burnley is trying to enthuse pupils with an interest in science. The trouble is, there's an elephant in the room that was mentioned but not discussed.

He was trying to interest kids in science but health and safety regulations meant that many experiments could not be performed by children. More to the point, he was using fireworks to provide the enthusiasm but WITHOUT telling them the formula for gunpowder. Not only could he not give them the proportions but there was one scene in which a professor from a firework company was explaining how they add strontium chloride to make a bright red flame. The teacher had to stop himself mentioning Sulphur, Charcoal or Potassium Nitrate and instead said "Strontium Chloride and other stuff".

I mean come ON!. When I was at primary school, they told us how to make gunpowder and by the time I was thirteen, I went on a school trip to Nottingham University to see a lecture on explosives in which they even gave the formula for RDX, a form of plastique.

As long as we treat the idea of letting kids know things as somehow dangerous. As long as we won't let the little mites have hands on experience with chemicals (at least things like dilute sulphuric acid) which may be dangerous in the wrong place, can be handled safely with proper supervision. We're going to have generations with no interest in science.

Worse still. No wonder we have people who went to school under this teaching regime arguing that science is just another opinion. They don't understand how science works because they've just been taught it out of a book. No wonder they're bored and no wonder we're descending into anonymity as just another small country. Soon we'll be Denmark.