TV science programming for children evolves at a heady pace; and not purely from the perspective of an increasing understanding of the subject. Producers are aware of the declining attention spans of the nation's young minds (the candid may even admit contributing to this decay) and address this with fast-paced, punchy presentation and teasing 'don't try this at home' captioning. 'Explosive' science has become literal; over the past ten years or so, programmes such as Braniac and Ed and Oucho's Excellent Inventions present science methodology that flies in the face of everything that the instructions on the box of my 1970s chemistry set warned me against!
I should state at this point that I am a passionate advocate of science teaching and the institutions that work to promote the subject; however, I begrudgingly concede that the vast majority of children (let alone adults) in this country have never heard of the Royal Institution - the TV programmes Brainiac and Ed & Oucho's Excellent Inventions, for example, have done far more to educate children about scientific matters than the RI has accomplished.
YouTube takes this one step further, presenting a searchable database of easily digested clips that provide a palatable mix of every conceivable application of a science concept - homework that asks pupils to conjure up inventions featuring imaginative uses of science principles has never been so easy!
The supercharged science curriculum presented across the spectrum of TV channels has stolen much of the thunder of the school science teacher. Dwindling budgets and a tendency to recycle lackluster activities from past curriculum planning has left operational science teaching in the classroom standing in the shadow of the box.
Of course, it's now relatively easy to incorporate video into a science lesson. I have observed many excellent introductions to a session that have made effective use of quality science programming, from a 2 minute YouTube clip demonstrating the relationship between electricity and magnetism via Faraday's 'induction ring' to the BBC's recent Journey to the centre of the planet presented by the ubiquitous Richard Hammond, the latter being a programme made for adults but with science concepts broken down into child-friendly chunks.
But what has let the majority of these lessons down is the provision made for bright and enquiring minds brought up on this new generation of online and TV science. The high expectation built up by introducing a concept or methodology through an interactive game or whizzy TV clip can lead to palpable disappointment when children are faced with an exercise that asks them to use little of this knowledge in the task given. Most children at KS2 are familiar with the concept of magnetism, having visited it in school during KS1 or through the multitude of TV shows and websites accessible at home (not to mention science toys and kits) that explain this phenomenon. Despite this, many pupils are still asked to sort objects into magnetic and non-magnetic sets and investigate the classroom for other possibly magnetic objects as an introduction to KS2 science. In no way am I arguing against revisiting concepts, over-learning and consolidation, but if teachers continue to follow the very dry and uninspiring curriculum advocated in guidance such as the old QCA then they would be doing a massive disservice to our scientifically erudite youth.
- Alisa Zhang said...
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