Twenty-First Century Science

In many ways the twenty first century has been a bit of a disappointment. The first rocket flight from Heathrow to Luna City has yet to be scheduled, there are no Belters mining the asteroids and I don’t commute in a flying car.

On the plus side, there have been robot probes throughout the the solar system, unimagined powerful personal computers, the internet and lots of other scientific and technological advances. So you’d think that the science education on offer to the youth of today would contain all kinds of goodies not available to us oldies when we were nobbut lads and lasses, wouldn’t you?

Think again.

Twenty-first Century Science is the new GCSE Science syllabus offered by OCR. According to my Head of Department, it is aimed at “consumers of science not producers of science”. Shorn of the Eduspeak, this means that it is aimed at students who for the most part will not follow scientific careers but who will need to understand some science in order to function in a society increasingly dominated by science and technology.

To be honest, I have no problem with this view of education but…

…we have been teaching it for the last academic year and quite frankly, it is a great big steaming pile of shite.

Here are some examples:

Activity AP1.17 requires students to work in pairs. One plays Scientist and the other plays Nature. Nature has three sets of sticky lables. While Scientist looks away, s\he sticks the lables (one complete group at a time) onto a circle drawn on a piece of paper. Then Scientist tries to work out in which order the groups went down. This is supposed to simulate how scientists tell which craters are older than others on the Moon. I don’t know what’s wrong with looking at pictures of real craters on the Moon and other worlds. With all the interactive whiteboards and internet connections classrooms have these days, calling them up should present no problems. Doing this might even create some interest in science.

Activity AP 3.22 requires students to role-play the different processes in using nuclear power to generate electricity.

Activity AC 1.5 requires students to put pieces of pottery into yellow and blue bunsen flames and note that the former leaves sooty deposits but the latter does not. This is Year 7 science not year 10.

You might say I am cherry-picking and presenting this syllabus in its worst light but I should not be able to pick out rubbish like this because it should not be there. Even the more challenging parts of the syllabus endeavour to avoid using maths. Lenses without the lens formula! Students going on to AS physics, chemistry and biology will find those courses too tough – the gap is just too great. I suspect As and A2 will be dumbed down next. Don’t expect the Universities to be too happy about it.

About all this syllabus achieves is to convince the less able to think they understand and can do science when they can’t.


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8 Responses to “Twenty-First Century Science”

  1. Shinga Says:

    This is remarkably dispiriting. It is the sort of thing that would encourage conspiracy theorists to believe that children are being deprived of a decent science education for some sinister purporse or other that will make them more amenable to being manipulated by the Illuminati’s black helicopters with thought-rays etc. Of course, without a good science education, you might be more prone to believe in black helicopters with thought-rays…

  2. brownnova Says:

    You say “Students going on to AS physics, chemistry and biology will find those courses too tough – the gap is just too great.”

    I thought the 21st century science courses were only aimed at students who had no intention of going on to study science?

    I assumed students who intend to study sciences at AS Level and beyond would have the option of taking the ‘traditional’ science GCSEs?

  3. ajcann Says:

    “I suspect As and A2 will be dumbed down next. Don’t expect the Universities to be too happy about it.”

    They already did, and we’re not!

  4. ambrielle Says:

    And how do the ‘Producers of Science’ manage to get the education they need? Seriously, who comes up with this stuff in the first place? It’s a shame the universities can’t drive the requirements for the GCSE courses.

  5. kelvinthroop Says:

    brownnova – The more capable have the option of taking extra modules and taking exams in the three separate sciences. The maths-free optics to which I referred comes from the extra physics modules! These students still study the other crap and I daresay some of them get put off science permanently by it.

    ambrielle – When I were a lad the Universities did drive the requirements for O-levels (as they then were). Indeed, they ran the examining boards. I am informed that that was far too elitist and old-fashioned. Some “producers of science” who managed to have wealthy parents will come from the private schools, who don’t bother with this crap. (Maybe 21C is a plot by the upper-middle classes to prevent the proles being educated?) I presume any shortfall will be made up by imports from India and China.

  6. valueaddedwater Says:

    Cynic hat on!

    The consumers of science do not like the producers of science as they don’t understand them.
    The consumers don’t like their world view being confronted, as the consumer is king
    Therefore the consumers outsource all the science to India and China.
    The new syllabus is there to reassure the consumers.
    Can’t have the untermensch thinking for themselves dontcha know

    Do you want fries with that?

  7. danjm06 Says:

    I’m in year 10 and currently studying this course. I am really worried that I will fail my AS and A2 levels as I plan to do at least chemistry and biology, if not all three. I plan to be a doctor and go to a good university, so I’m hoping I will be okay at A level.
    The course has little scientific content, which is completely dumbed down to year 7 standards. For example, today I had a chemistry test which I actually took the time to revise for. This turned out to be to little use, as most of the questions were on the pros and cons of questionnaires. One question was something like ‘Why would people need an incentive to recycle’ – the answer was ‘They are too lazy’. I mean, that’s not even worthy of KS2 let alone KS4!

  8. kelvinthroop Says:

    There is some proper science in Year 11, and in the additional modules for those wanting GCSEs in the three separate sciences (pretty much a prerquisite for going on to AS/A2.)

    The best I can suggest is to read around the subject – look at some older text-books or popular sciece books in the library.

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