Real science and school science: Endless wonder versus the drive to explore

Year: 2001

Author: Darby, Linda, Hayes, Helen, Kentish, Barry

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Science may be simply defined as a way of finding out about how the world works. It is often viewed as objective and being built on a step-wise procedural base. The question arises as to whether school science needs to be different to cutting-edge (‘real’) science since the outcomes have different purposes, one requiring scientific breakthroughs, the other being imitative and simple. The divergence between these two realities of science impacts on the development of science curricula in that relevance for students, rather than purely imitating real science, steers science curricula.

This paper reports on an ethnographic case study of a Year 7 Science class, incorporating weekly observations of science lessons, focus group interviews with students and teacher discussions. The focus of the research is on the evolution of students’ perceptions and expectations of science over the course of the year.

A reconstruction of the first science lesson using student interview responses embodies two main themes that have arisen from the research.

The first relates to students’ perceptions and expectations of school science compared to ‘real’ science. Five characteristics have been drawn out from the data describing the differences between real and school science. Also, characterisation of the culture of school science explores what students mean by the term ‘doing science’.

The second theme relates to the values attached to the terms ‘fun’ and ‘interesting’, and the implications they have for learning science. These are value-laden adjectives often used by students and teachers to describe aspects of school science. The distinction between fun and interesting appears to encapsulate whether a response is a reflexive reaction to an experience that is non-threatening and emancipatory (fun), or whether curiosity has been aroused, which prompts students to ask questions, thereby initiating the learning process (interesting). It may be that students that are interested in searching for answers in science exhibit a ‘drive to explore’ the natural world, whereas, students who show no indication of wanting to find out but are still responsive, especially to the fun elements of the classroom, perhaps remain fascinated in a state of ‘endless wonder’.