Making sense of primary science

Kathy Smith, Angela Fitzgerald

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review

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    Learning objectives After reading this chapter, you should be able to: Clarify the purpose and intention of the primary science curriculum and of science teaching; Outline existing primary teacher expertise in teaching primary science; and Identify the conditions which enhance effective science learning in primary school education. Introduction At a recent professional learning program, the question, ‘What is science?' was posed to a group of primary teachers. The teachers asked for clarification: ‘science’ as in ‘school science’ or ‘science’ in the ‘real world’? The facilitator’s response was to ask: ‘Is there a difference, and should there be a difference?' This conversation is interesting because it captures some important considerations for understanding science education in primary school settings. Firstly, a range of opinions, assumptions and understandings may shape teachers’ thinking about science, and these have potential implications for student learning. Secondly, school science often does not mirror how we see, experience or use science in the world around us. It is often said the only place you see Bunsen burners is in schools. The only place you write up a prac (sic) report is in schools. The only place you wear white lab coats, memorise the periodic table, mix bi-carb and vinegar, or make a volcano, is in schools; just in case you ever need to - which most of us don’t. Somehow we’ve remained stuck representing to students an outmoded, irrelevant, and possibly inaccurate perspective of science (Lindsay, 2011, p.3). These considerations resonate with primary teachers who openly express specific concerns about their science teaching - in particular, their sense of having an inadequate personal knowledge of science content and the influence of this when they teach science. This tension unnecessarily suggests that because primary teachers are generalist teachers, they may be less effective science educators. This is far from the truth, because as generalist teachers they bring a range of pedagogical strengths to science education which are often not recognised. They understand how to successfully contextualise the nature of science as a human endeavour by creating classroom conditions which value student-centred learning, nurture curiosity and creativity, and support the social construction of knowledge.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationLearning and Teaching Primary Science
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages16
    ISBN (Electronic)9781107444379
    ISBN (Print)9781107609457
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013

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