Did they actually learn any science?

A new series started on BBC last Friday called ‘Rocket Science’. I don’t shout at the telly much, but I did watching this.

An ‘inspirational’ science teacher who loves practical physics and chemistry takes a bunch of typical 13 year old kids who hate the subject and tries to convert them over a period of nine months into becoming fans. How does he do this? By propagating the belief that physics and chemistry is all whizzes and bangs. They do this by learning about pyrotechnics, making and putting on a firework display.

OK – this was just the set-up episode, but even so there were so many missed opportunities to just reinforce what the guys were seeing with good solid knowledge. They did a whole section on colour chemistry where they put some strontium chloride in a flame and it burns red, barium chloride burns green, etc. Then they went to see a fireworks display at Blackpool and they were all marvelling at the colours. I would have simply asked – “Who remembers which metal salt gives the red colour?” Just a small question to see if any of the lesson in the lab had sunk in.

He may well have asked this of course, but we didn’t see it on the programme – and it leaves me questioning the validity of just showing all the exciting bits. These and other thirteen year olds may well go on to choose science subjects for GCSE, but they will be so sorely disappointed that it’s not all practicals and flashy demos and actually hard work including lots of theory and some maths.

They did learn something too though. They were put into teams to do all the different tasks for putting on their own firework display for the head’s retirement party. Teamwork and leadership in doing the organisation were to the fore, as was woodwork building the frames for the finale message to be written in little fireworks. There was little science on display there – and then the party got cancelled due to a death in the head’s family. You did feel sorry for them …

… but only temporarily as, next week some of them get a fantastic summer holiday – going off to Nevada to learn how to make fireworks. Wish I could have gone. Also, who’s paying for all this – surely not the LEA? These are one bunch of lucky kids – I wish I knew the answers in how to get children more interested in science in an everyday way.

0 thoughts on “Did they actually learn any science?

  1. Ali says:

    I think young children are inherently fascinated in science. But somewhere along the way, we switch them off. I think it comes when science becomes divorced from what they see around them.

  2. Annabel Gaskell says:

    I totally agree Ali. But there seems to me however to be far too much entertainment in science without the explanations and reinforcement backing up what they’ve seen. It can’t all be flashy demos and big practicals, else there’s no time for the rest.

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