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Guest Adrian Dingle

Why must Science be fun?

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Guest Adrian Dingle

This one is just a little pet peeve of mine that I’ve never really had the opportunity to articulate to the masses before. This forum has (in a way) filled that void, so here it is. Before reading, please be assured that, (i) I know this is likely to be unpopular, (ii) this is nothing personal and (iii) I fully appreciate (and embrace) all opposing views. Just thought it might provoke some interesting debate!

I always cringe when I see a “mad” science teacher, invariably badly dressed, bounding across the classroom, lab or stage, grasping some new fangled experiment or demo, declaring it to be a “fun” departure. The only thing worse is the same individual sporting their “Chemistry is Fun”, “wacky”, tie-dyed T-Shirt, calling themselves, “Dr. (Insert Initial)” while sipping from their brand new Royal Society of Chemistry Periodic Table Mug. The reason I cringe is that I remember being 14, 15, 16 years old, and recall that quite frankly, school as an entity, let alone science, certainly wasn’t fun. Not a least in comparison to all the other illicit things that a frustrated adolescent might be mentally considering!

So, what’s my point? Am I just miserable for miserable’s sake? Well no. What I am trying to get to is this. Why must be we making science “fun” in order to encourage learning? What about the fact that Science is simply incredibly important (economically and socially) and that in itself makes it a worthwhile pursuit. The constant attempt to make Science fun, suggests that if it has NOT been trivialized by doing so it somehow isn’t very interesting. We ought to be promoting science in a more mature way.

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I think that it is more important that science is interesting.

To a sad Chemistry geek such as myself, interesting might mean challenging, fun, or simply something that makes you go 'ooh!'.

To most kids interesting simply means 'fun'.

Bear in mind that the average attension span is 20 minutes and if you need to rattle on at them for longer than that the chances are it needs to be fun or you are talking to thin air...plus a handful of geeks.

Rowena

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Science – fun, interesting, challenging.

It would be great if we could science fun, interesting and challenging but science concepts are often involve more of the latter.

The three part lesson we are told can start with a fun activity to promote interest and challenge our students. I agree with Adrian that flashy activities that fail to relate to what a student knows are in the most part pointless.

If the fun element of an activity detracts from learning then it is probably meaningless!

Like Rowena I think chemistry is great and if a student is motivated to ask why something happens then I think I am probably doing my job.

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I think that we teachers, being of more mature years than our students, need to look at the words we are using in this context. 'Fun' to many of today's KS3 and KS4 students means they are participating in an enjoyable, interesting and acceptable activity along with a large number of fellow students. A less 'fun' activity may be nonetheless enjoyable and interesting for some, but it is likely that these students will be mocked by others as being 'boffs' if they dare to show their interest. Remember that it isn't 'cool' to conform!! ;)

Those of us who find science fascinating may not be sympathetic with those who do not, but perhaps we need to consider that uninspiring teaching is certainly partly to blame. To make use of a variety of teaching methods to engage as many students as possible is surely what teaching is about? Appropriate 'fun' activities should therefore form part of every teacher's 'repertoire'. They are an invaluable 'sweetener' to help with the more 'meaty' factual information that we are trying to impart and if that is the way some students learn best, that is what we should be doing!

My colleagues and I use and produce all kinds of on-line 'fun' stuff and many of our students find it really helps them with their learning and understanding. It is freely available to anyone who wants to use it so please have a look at the science pages on our extranet.

DTC extranet - science pages

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Guest Adrian Dingle

In principle, I tend to agree with Maggie, when she says;

They are an invaluable 'sweetener' to help with the more 'meaty' factual information that we are trying to impart and if that is the way some students learn best, that is what we should be doing!

However, I get the feeling that through the general dumbing down of science that many of us have experienced that the pendulum has swung too far to the "fun" side of things.

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I think the missing word in this debate is engagement.

Whilst we might have been content to sit in school whilst a boring old codger rattled on about something we knew we needed to know, but found it dull, today's teenagers certainly won't just accept it.

Imagine if you went to the theatre to see a play and the actors were word perfect, but had no feeling or emotion about the way the prsented it - you'd leave !

A moot point also is that a truly 'good' teacher is constantly examing the way that they present the information and how they assess it, so that it has maximum impact. Certainly doesn't mean tap dancing on the lab taps, but it does mean being interesting, or rather, making topics interesting and engaging!

kaz

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Guest Adrian Dingle

While I agree with most of kaz's post, when he/she says;

........today's teenagers certainly won't just accept it.

I have difficulty in relating. At least part of my point is that we as educators ought to be telling the kids what they should be learning, whether they find it dull of not. After all (in this case) we know best!

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we as educators ought to be telling the kids what they should be learning, whether they find it dull of not.

Yes we decide - but we try not to make it dull and/or boring.

I really believe that today's teenagers are different, and are so because they live in an instant gratification society. Want to talk to someone? - ring them on your mobile. Want to watch a film? - rent it or download it on dvd. Want to be a hero?Play on your PS2 for a while!

I don't mean that instant gratification is RIGHT, but that it is often how they expect life to be. How do we teach them that some topics need to be thought about, developed, discussed? Not by pandering to their whims, but by making it relevant, pertinent and as interesting as it can be.

kaz

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I've just come across an interview with author Bill Bryson whose latest book is entitled 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' . He says "I had long been mystified by how it was that I'd been so bored by science at school and yet science to me seems inherently fascinating. Why should I be bored by chemistry in school when we are all chemicals?" We are always interested in ourselves...so why should these things that are so profoundly important to our very existence have been so excruciatingly dull to me at school?"

Bill read about and researched a whole range of scientific topics, and questioned top scientists, to provide the basis for his book. He believes that if he had been told some of the 'human' stories he has come across during his research, he would have been much more receptive to science at school.

"It struck me that ....we really want to know things and if you present it in a fun way, then you get all kinds of enthusiasm on their (children's) part. I'm not saying that you should trivialise all teaching and bring it down to a superficial level, but perhaps we can find common ground by focusing first on the sense of wonder before looking at.....a detailed level."

He asked each scientist interviewed what got them interested in their branch of science - it was always a particular teacher who inspired them, who excited them about mosses or astronomy, and they decided this was going to be their life challenge.

I do think he has made some valid points.

I also like some of the 'attention grabbers' such as: 'atoms are constantly recycled and so numerous that some suggest that each of us has a billion atoms that belonged to Shakespeare and a billion from Mozart and any other historical figure you care to mention.'

Any thoughts on who would you most/least like to have your billion atoms from? :)

Edited by Maggie Jarvis

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Everyone seems to have gone quiet on this topic! Where are the scientists!!?? We need you!! :)

Perhaps you are all riveted on the JFK debate which seems to be such a hugely important topic to the 'Education' world! :zzz

Anyway, just to show that we are still trying to engage students by producing some 'fun' materials which just might help them to remember a few scientific facts and concepts here is a link to our home produced GCSE materials:-

Dartford Lignet Science Pages

Some feedback would be appreciated if anyone has time!

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Glad to hear you are having fun ... and marking!

Like the videos - keep us posted on future developments on the site.

Some good chemical video stuff ( as well as lots of other science) on the 'multi media science school' software - not cheap to buy but we've used lots of things on it. Assume you are familiar with it but I have to say that a particular favourite clip is the reaction of caesium with water.

:)

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Guest Adrian Dingle

I've been busy too! Check out the latest addition to my pages at VSEPR

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I'm an interloper from a history department! And I think it's the same all through education. They key words seem to be "fun" and "relevant". We shouldn't teach Shakespeare because it's not "relevant" to the situation of students living in deprived inner city areas -- let's do Zephania instead. Anyway, the kids find Shakespear difficult and sometimes, they "fail" which might do all sorts of damage to their self-esteem. In history, it seems that students can go through their entire educational experience without studying anything except some very limited topics in English history and Nazi Germany...

As someone said in an earlier post, we have to take on the responsibility of explaining to students that some of the things they hve to do in life just aren't going to be fun -- why do you think I'm writing posts on Education Forums instead of marking? -- but still have to be done. That's because we're adults and they aren't. We don't want to be bringing up a generation of people who think they should only have to have "fun"...

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Unfortuantely we don't have much choice in this Mike!

We don't want to be bringing up a generation of people who think they should only have to have "fun"...

Wherever we look the media, the internet and commercial organistions worldwide all promote things in a 'fun' way to try and attract people's attention ... the competition is enormous especially where money, status or fame are involved! We are dead in the water as far as many students are concerned if we don't make some effort to liven up our teaching to make it more interesting/fun. If we wish to educate it means utilising whatever 'tools' we have at our disposal to get the point across - better to do so with interested students than those who repeatedly comment 'this is boring'.

Anyway, one of the reasons we are all posting on this forum is because we enjoy the dialogue/discussion/argument/humour and so on that relieves other aspects of otherwise less interesting tasks... marking?? Aren't we 'having fun' albeit in an adult (mostly) fashion? :lol:

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