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Free Radical

To see the future of science, you have to cross the Atlantic.

Tony Sherborne
0:27  |  15 March 2011

I just did, to attend the National Science Teachers Association Conference 2011. What a contrast. While UK science education seems to lost the plot, as a blinkered Government takes over the reins, the US is busy developing a vision for 21st Century students, the latest research on learning, and how science is done in the real world.

In its new 'Science Standards' scientific practice trump content. Learning science is seen as a process of 'model-based inquiry'. So students are constantly engaged in asking and answering questions about the natural world, doing experiments, and using the twin processes of 'explanation and argumentation'. Through this they build and refine their models so that they fit the observations. This enlightened view identifies 4 strands, encompassing:

- Knowing, using, and interpreting scientific explanations of the natural world
- Generating and evaluating scientific evidence and explanations
- Understanding the nature and development of scientific knowledge
- Participating productively in scientific practices and discourse.

The content will be slotted in for sure, although there won't be so many topics. When it comes to understanding, less is more – you have to spend more time building the ideas. But what good is knowing '1000 things about cells'? Far better for students to be continually examining, critiquing, present, defending, ie skills they will actually need in their lives beyond school.

You don't have to cross the Atlantic to see some of this in action - the 2008 National Curriculum for 11-14, and 'Assessing Pupils Progress' (APP) are invitations to model-based inquiry science. We grabbed this invitation with both hands in building the Wikid course. Let's hope the new Government comes to its senses, and imports some proper thinking from abroad, instead of dodgy international comparison tests.

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