the words a science teacher learns to loath. never were these words uttered by a student who is interested in practical science. i have done lab based practical science. i have sat at university in front of two Siamese fighting fish and counted how many times each one turns side on in x seconds. i have tried in vain to dissect a squid and draw and label a high quality anatomical diagram and answer a series of seemingly impossible undergraduate questions surrounded by people who did the pre-reading. what i am saying is that genuine practical science learning is difficult, exacting, cognitively very demanding to the point of total overload and stressful to boot. and after that scientific research is difficult, exacting, and often demoralising and cheerless. in a former life i have worked along side labrats who are crushed by pressure, others who miserable and near-suicidal. an utterly joyless environment
so, "are we doing a practical today?" translated to "do get the opportunity to fuck around in science today?" i have moved from saying "No." to "absolutely we are not." to "that is an inappropriate question". science is not an outlet for the pent up tension of hard work in maths lessons, english lessons. i get frustrated when i see my co-workers doing "practical lessons" and i am thinking - "yeah, great, but what are they actually learning?" i think "practicals" do something of a disservice to my specialism, and yet, there is a core there, something that should be preseved. how? i do not know.
i do not know what the solution is, thoughts welcome.
edit: i have edited this post to correct that the Siamese fighting fish will turn side on, not face on when confronted with another male through a glass screen, this is an issue rectified by re-reading my answer and thinking about the underlying biological science of intraspecies male competition. the Siamese fighting fish is of course attempting to intimidate a rival male by appearing as large as possible, hence it will turn side on. Io, if you wish to change your upvote to a down vote i will consider this justified
Edited by tears ()
this is a good thread and i look forward to more, it has made me reflect upon my own schooling at a sub standard state comp
big up the bunsen burner massive, shout out to the dissection crew
this is a good thread and i look forward to more, it has made me reflect upon my own schooling at a sub standard state comp
for context: i'm still not sure if my experience really translates to the UK. the atmosphere in that video was pretty alien to me. my schooling seems to have been less formal (certainly no uniforms) but with generally more well-behaved schoolmates, and your descriptions make me think my schooling was in general much less tightly structured. i went to canadian catholic schools and secular schools, both publicly funded, in very conservative (and a little behind-the-times) regions, 9 or 10 different ones all together, due to a bit of an unstable childhood. after i hit 13 due to various family dramas i was completely undisciplined and skipped classes constantly, got in fights, got multiple suspensions etc, though this varied a lot from school to school (i tried new things sometimes). i also usually had the highest grades in my classes, or at least probably top 3, and the combination thereof made a good chunk of teachers hate me and a large section of the other students really resent me too. but hey i survived. (i dropped out at 17 but went back after a little less than a year to wrap things up.)
now that i've met people from other countries, classes, etc, i think the conservative culture of the areas i went to school had a major major impact on the experience. but maybe all schools are kind of shit, too.
anyway. here is what i remember of practical work in high school.
- i still vividly remember what titration is and how to do it and waiting for some pink solution (manganese something?) to turn purple with the right number of drops. iirc this required a lot of specialized equipment and time. that school had what was to me a large and impressive chemistry lab and it stuck with me. but i have to admit that probably what stuck with me more at that school was that the chemistry teacher was someone who had an actual honest to god PhD in chemistry. that was probably the best school i was at, and the difference it made to me is that she could answer hard questions and you could tell that she knew what she was talking about without having to look it up. this was almost always the critical part for me rather than the practical labs or the demos, or at least that's what my memory leads me to believe. i do remember occasionally being forced to watch videos about chemistry (that may have been with another teacher) and i found nothing more demoralizing than being fobbed off on a tv. i don't think i remember anything a video was supposed to teach me.
- i always preferred physics to the other sciences because it felt like it actually had some connection to reality (who cares what x is? come on math) but nowhere i went to school had any practical physics lab that didn't seem like a joke. sometimes we would get out the inclined plane and time the ball rolling down the ramp or whatever but the concepts in HS physics were always so basic that it never seemed to be very exciting. yes it took 3.4 seconds just like the math would predict, ok. (maybe i wouldn't make a good physicist.) we would do electrical labs sometimes but since most of that involves hooking up a meter and staring at the numbers that pop up on a display, there is still a certain amount of disconnectedness from the physical phenomena. you're still just moving numbers around. i do not remember any particular physics labs.
- i do remember the first time i was assigned what felt like a hefty amount of writing in a science class. it was some sort of combined science class (some bio + chem + phys), i think 9th grade, with a teacher who was notoriously tough (but well-liked). we had to form groups of ~3 and the end product had some double-digit number of pages, typed. i remember clearly thinking like ah shit this is the big time now. i have no easy outs. i formed a group with friends i actually knew were smart and we had to get together outside of school and put actual work in. the topic was i think the structure of a plant cell and the metabolic processes that go on in inside of it, and then i think we also had to present the paper. iirc the groups all had slightly different topics. i mention it because it wasn't lab work, we didn't actually go look at plant cells, but it felt like "practical work" in that we had to do the actual practice of research and choosing what to write and how to structure it and it turns out it's much more useful to know how to do that, and i did the same thing in university various times, and that felt like we were getting treated like intelligent adults having to do something "real", even if it was still just schoolwork. i don't know if i'm typical, but being asked to do something that is actually a challenge (not a puzzle! not solving for x! not a word search or whatever! a real challenge) is what actually gets me to take something seriously. i'm still like that now.
- i did not take any just-biology classes. i remember the day the bio kids had to dissect pigs and it still seems cruel and unusual now. the impression i got from all of the kids in bio is that they were singlemindedly thinking of it as pre-med and all of the work revolved around memorizing endless lists of Terms. identifying what stuff is officially called seems to be the basis of all biology. great stuff.
- (not exactly on topic but one time in university i got to look through the observatory's giant 30 foot (or whatever) telescope at the mountains on the moon, i could make out more details than i could ever articulate in words. that was cool as shit!)
i have absolutely no basis for my opinions besides lived experience but i think you are on to something about discipline, and i also think that the most important aspect of learning about something is being able to have a conversation about it (or some pedagogical facsimile thereof) in a way that makes you believe you are talking about a real actual thing that exists and has edges and textures and known aspects and unknown aspects and it's Actually In The World. i think talking can do that.
good luck out there.
for context: i'm still not sure if my experience really translates to the UK. the atmosphere in that video was pretty alien to me.
bear in mind there is considerable reporting bias with these sorts of videos. many uk schools have absolute bans on mobile phones - which usually result in loss for a period of time e.g. my school is 1 week, and the students who are thinking "it is a good idea to record myself through the day and post it in an open youtube video are lacking some degree of understanding of high risk low reward behaviour
however yes, welcome to low tier education in england
note the now ubiquitous cover teacher in a sccience subject and the French lesson seemingly delivered by someone who does not know french
Example 3: the hard constructivist method ("give them the freedom to figure it out for themselves")
"Here you are children, see if you can work out what you do with this and what they are for. i want to see you thinking like a scientist" - points to microscopes and glass slides
I went thru montessori and this is basically nothing to do with what happens in that kind of education. Its based almost entirely on direct instruction and repetition
editing this in for context: i dropped out of college years ago due to health problems. i'm thinking of returning relatively soon, even if only on a part time basis. if i were to do so, though, i would first have to brush up on my math, re-learning everything up until calculus. since i learned the material once, years ago, i don't find it to be daunting in the sense that it seems beyond my intellectual capacities. rather, it seems daunting because it seems like a lot of work, and the whole time i'm going over remedial material i keep beating myself up, thinking "you should already know or remember this." that kind of attitude tends to drain the fun out of learning, but i find it hard to shake
cheers and thanks for the interesting thread
Edited by radical_dave ()
students whisper my name when they see me coming
it's Tears! amscray!
this is something i work very hard to do - using the latest cOgNiTiVe ScIeNcE - habits reduce cognitive load and so free up working memory to attend to new things. thus the more things that can be shifted to habitual automaticity the more anyone can attend to novel things. for instance take this high-load GCSE question:
the base of a pillar of wood has a radius of 20cm. This exerts a pressure of 7.3x10^3kPa on the ground. Calculate the mass of the pillar.
Lets look at what the student has to do:
1. Recall the pressure equation P = F/A
2. Convert 20cm to m.
3. Recall the area of a circle: A = πr^2
4. Apply this equation to calculate the area of contact of the pillar.
5. Notice and understand how to convert and then convert 7.3x10^3kPa to Pa
6. Understand the concept of standard form.
7. Know how to use standard form on their calculator including what buttons specifically to press.
8. Substitute into P = F/A
9. Rearrange to PA = F
11. Append correct units: Newtons
12. Recall W = mg
13. Recall the value of g on the surface of the Earth: 9.8N/kg
14. Substitute and rearange.
15. Calculate m.
16. Apply correct units: kg.
now that may be easy for you or i (notice please subtle neg of my readers) but the reason for this is that almost all of that is automatic recall: the equations, the conversions, the units, simple algebraic rearranging. Even if we didn't know one or two things, someone could teach us them and we could apply prior knowledge.
But that automaticity has to be built, it comes from memorisation which comes from practice. imagine needing to: look up your equations on a table, consult a conversions table, read what pressure is, struggle to remember how to do standard form on a calculator etc etc. That is why I am very keen on modelling calculations with consistency:
Over and over until you can do most of it without thinking. And to aid that, I do the same, when I calculate I do it exactly like that, no matter how tedious it might seem I always do it the same - consistency. because thats what a good role model does. So thats why when students ask me do they need to show their workings I always say that it makes things easier in the long run and if you dont you will be writing out your workings at break.