is science really “too hard”, and if it is, what are we doing about it?

Elf Eldridge has just put up this excellent post on a breaking news story. The issue? that it seems schools are increasingly pulling back from making science compulsory in year 11. From the Stuff article:

Scientists are alarmed as a growing number of schools considering [sic] ditching science from the compulsory curriculum because it is too difficult for some pupils.

Schools across the country are pulling the pin on year 11 science, saying the step up from year 10 was too big and students were struggling to achieve NCEA level 1.

Now, this is something that's been possible for a number of years; it's a decision made by individual schools rather than the Ministry of Education. (I don't agree with this, but there you are.) The time a school devotes to science, & the subjects it offers, can be chipped away at, or (hopefully!) increased, for all sorts of reasons: the school community specifically wants change in the science on offer (for an extreme example, see my previous post); the school is keen, or under pressure, to offer other subjects, & so the number of credits a student need take in science is reduced; a school doesn't have a specialist teacher to deliver eg physics or chemistry to senior students.

However, I disagree with the idea – reported in the Stuff story – that year 11 science may be the only exposure to science that a student gets. This Education Review Office document makes it quite clear that science is a compulsory part of the school curriculum for years 1 to 10 (inclusive), so I'm hoping that the Secondary Principals' Association president was misquoted on that one.

But dropping science in year 11 because students find it 'too hard'? We are doing all students a significant disservice if we go down that route. Hopefully the Ministry of Education's just-announced advisory group will be looking carefully at this one. Why is science "not accessible" for all students? Why has the subject become "more difficult for some students to pass"? Along with those questions I think they should also be looking at how the 'Nature of Science' strands are being delivered – there are a fair few resources available to support this, but it may come down to how they are used ie simply to deliver content, or to do this and engage students in developing an understanding of how science actually operates. For it's that understanding that is clearly required by the NZ Curriculum document: 

This compulsory [years 1-10] strand emphasises the importance of scientific processes in helping students understand the way scientific knowledge is developed and how science relates to their lives and the everyday context of wider society.

This is important. Science is not just for those individuals intending to go on to a career in the sciences. Science is for everyone if they're to participate fully in our society & the decisions we make. The trick will be to identify what's wrong and put it right.  

I think that a commenter on Elf's post has nailed it: 

It seems to me the fundamental issue is not necessarily that science is hard, more that students aren't enjoying science. And that's the biggest shame, because every kid I have ever come across has been driven to understand their environment. What is happening that they lose that sense of wonder? How can it be taught in a more appealing way?

And after I'd talked about this issue with friends, one of them emailed me: 

This is a crazy world we live in. Without a future generation of scientists, where will we be? Science is fun, it is exciting, it is creative. We should be afraid if science is dropped from the curriculum! Too hard? Is that like saying it's boring? Encouragement for students to discover their natural world is essential. We certainly ensure that students participate in PE, speeches etc even when that is terrifying and demoralising for some students. Should we stop that too?

One thought on “is science really “too hard”, and if it is, what are we doing about it?”

  • Yes, we need science and scientists. Simply dropping it because it is too hard is the wrong direction. Apparently science is competing with all the other entertainment out there and is seen as ‘boring.’ We should work on making it more interesting, but even more so to instill a sense of wonder, awe, and desire to learn for which science is the best tool we have.

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