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Biodiversity and the education system

My daughter started at high school a few weeks back and the prospect of doing proper lessons in specialised subjects has been a welcome prospect for her. However, her introduction to science has been interesting to say the least.

The Scottish curriculum is now entirely project-based so, where my first high-school science lesson took in atomic theory and the periodic table, first-years at our local high school will be learning about biodiversity.

This will be the focus for the whole of the first term.

The idea of the project-based curriculum is that different skills and techniques can be hung off the topic - so far they have made a trap for creepy-crawlies and they look as if they are going to look at sampling techniques in coming days. But from my admittedly somewhat distant perspective it looks as if systematic knowledge is going to be largely absent from the school day. Children will learn skills but will have less of a grasp of the science. It is perhaps a curriculum that will produce laboratory technicians rather than scientists.

What do readers here think?

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Reader Comments (63)

"atomic theory and the periodic table"

But how many high-school teachers know that stuff?

My son is 14 and has still yet to meet quadratic equations...

Sep 5, 2012 at 10:12 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

I totally agree! When I was at school, I was already interested in chemistry, and I would have been really disappointed to be catching earwigs!

Perhaps part of the reason for the phoney climate nonsense, is that people have learned to 'care' before they even understand what to care about or how science works.

Sep 5, 2012 at 10:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Bailey

Teachers in Australia would in the main be incapable of teaching proper science. The entry qualification requirements for a teaching degree are the lowest ... and I mean THE LOWEST.

Sep 5, 2012 at 10:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterStreetcred

In my day 'Science' consisted of 3 x distinct subjects: Physics, Chemistry & Biology.

Your example perhaps explains the 'devaluation' of "O" & "A"-levels from 50 years ago.

Sep 5, 2012 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Not sure I understand the comparison between "Technicians" and "Scientist". As someone who gained their degree via the HNC route whilst being employed as a Lab Technician and went on to gain a degree via part time study - I have always felt that those that gained their qualifications without work experience have little grasp of reality.

Silly example know but I still chuckle at the chap who despite his PhD regularly organised meetings to discuss the results of 5 day batch tests on day 3 or 4 of the test.

So I am not sure that what is happening in Scottish Education - as bad as it seems to be - will do anything other than produce shallow levels of knowledge whatever area of "science" is looked at.

Sep 5, 2012 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterDoug UK

This seems to be the trend in modern education. Our local medical school teaches by "problem based learning" which may or may not make better doctors, but the graduates seem to have less knowledge of fundamental pharmacology, anatomy, physiology etc.
I think one benefit of your daughter's science learning is that it may be less likely to put off those who are not scientifically inclined, but anyone who wishes to pursue the subject to a higher level will presumably have to catch up on the theory.
One of the old jokes in medicine is that the University Hospitals are usually called 'Teaching Hospitals' whereas the district general hospitals should be regarded as 'Learning Hospitals'.
Do we have any modern educationalists to help here?

Sep 5, 2012 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered Commentermunroad

I have heard problem based learning in medical schools described as the "FOFO" method - "F--k off and find out".

Sep 5, 2012 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered Commentertomfiglio

Schools no longer give proper lessons.

Sep 5, 2012 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterAdam Gallon

If you want to know what I really think, as a reader, it is this: either get your kid into a private school, if you can afford it, or move to a county that still has grammar schools, like Kent... that's if you want them to learn anything approaching real science.

On the other hand, this nation seems to have completely given up on science and technology and put all of its eggs into the financial services basket.

The appalling Health and Safety regulations have ensured that we cannot take the risks to teach kids anything "interesting" anymore (like dropping Sodium in water)... I imagine school fume cupboards are full of cobwebs. Hence all of the running is made in more sensible countries like India and the Orient.

Encourage your kids to be stockbrokers, I suppose. Sigh!

Sep 5, 2012 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrian Williams

Become a school governor.

[Tried that. Stonewalled]

Sep 5, 2012 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

Western Australia experimented with a trendy system called Outcomes Based Education.

Like most of these progressive ideas, it proved to be an expensive, miserable failure -- for students, parents and teachers.

Sep 5, 2012 at 11:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Sep 5, 2012 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

During a physics lesson over 50 years ago in a Scottish school, as the the teacher was about to start a lesson on magnetism he informed the class, "Much of what I am about to tell you is rubbish, but it's what the Scottish Education Board wants you to learn. If you want to know the truth, I will tell you later."

I've been hooked on physics ever since.

Sep 5, 2012 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterScottie

Bish - my kids are still in Primary (also PKC Polit bureau, northern sector) but like you I fear the worst. Such a shame - the Scottish education system was something to be proud of. Keep me posted of anything you think relevant, I am on the parent council and it is good to hear thoughts from parents from other schools in PKC as well as our own.

Any discussion of the teaching of science in schools reminds me of this classic comment:

kebabed on a hockey stick

Sep 5, 2012 at 11:37 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

Mmm, big topic!

I did my O'levels when they were graded by numbers not letters, Maths-Chemc-Phys A levels, and went on to take a Chemistry degree at Imperial. I've now seen three of my children to Russell Group Unis all reading hard science; the eldest taking a first and masters. The one still at school has just finished GCSE's and about to start science A'levels. All the schools involved were state comprehensives.

When the older ones were looking at A levels, and there was a fuss about 'standards' I had a look at the syllabus for each of the exams they were looking at. To be honest there was not a lot of difference in subject coverage to what I remembered from years ago. There were some parts of the A level content that I remembered covering in my first year at Uni.

Where there was a diffference was in the style of questions, and when I showed them past exam papers from the seventies and eighties they thought they'd struggle to sit down and complete some of the work, though since they'd not been taught in that style that's perhaps not so surprising. To answer many of the modern questions you'd clearly need similar degrees of understanding of the subject. To be honest though I though the biggest problem in modern question setting to my old fashioned mind is actually working out what the question is getting at, presumably the children are taught how to cope with that.

With the GCSE's however, the content does seem to be a lot less specific. There's a lot of general understanding skills, but a lot of what I would regard as the basics seem to me missing. I would say that the jump now from GCSE to A level is a lot bigger than that from O level to A level. We know a lot of kids (boys in particular) that find the jump from the fuzzie wuzzies of the GCSE to the hard work and grind of the A level difficult. [I believe that the changes were originally made to help girls to better as they seem to learn differently, but I think it's being rolled back a bit now as they realise how disadvantaging it is for boys in particular. I think this is what is behind the Gove proposals to 'tighten up' GCSE's].

I don't recall my early years in secondary with any great detail, but I remember certainly for the first and second years in secondary the science curriculum was a little general. Solid teaching of facts didn't really start until around third year?

I know a number of the science teachers locally, and find them quite impressive, certainly not the slaves of the curriculum authority that some would have you believe. The key parameter of a successful school remains the quality of the head, the second is the commitment of the parents; all other variables such as money, geography, size/type of school etc come well down the chain. The government is also trying to attract well qualified science graduates into teaching with quite large tax free bursaries (up to £20k).

I would also endorse Jamspids invitation for parents (or anyone with an interest in education) to look at becoming Governors, as I did.

That's probably a bit rambling, but if you have confidence in your head teacher, and in the way the teachers are managed and recruited then the omens are good. On the other hand, if the head is not so impressive, get on the board of Governors and help them out (whichever sense of that phrase you care to adopt :) ).

Sep 5, 2012 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

"Like dropping Sodium in water"

Oh happy memories!

Sep 5, 2012 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave ward

Prospective scientists or laboratory technicians need to be exposed to the [sometimes tedious] methodology of collecting data. Not a few PhD courses in biological sciences have a lot of repetitious activities. I can understand the merit of teachers not wanting to bore students in their first term, so perhaps wait to see what the second term holds?

I would probably be more concerned to see the curriculum of the mathematics course. If students are not comfortable and competent with the mathematics required, then the science teachers face an uphill battle.

Sep 5, 2012 at 12:19 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

In my day we did things like showing the inverse square law using a cobolt 60 gamma ray source, etc. etc. (imagine the Health and Safety boys on this one!)

Yes it was a bit of "learning by discovery", but followed up with real science, using the equations and their applications. I can still quote (and use) Newtons Laws of Motion, Equations for the Doppler effect etc. etc.

All this was done at a Grammar School, now long abolished and turned into Park View Comprehensive. The initials of which are "PVC".

Locally it is known as "The Plastics" and sums up the degradation of educational standards that have taken place.
The old Grammar allowed pupils like me to compete with fee paying pupils and get into Oxbridge.
It is a scandal that their are now fewer state pupils at Oxford and Cambridge, than when I was there in the 1970s.
This scandal can be laid squarely at the door of the Labour Party's anti-elitist and egalitarian doctrine, which has robbed many a working-class child of the opportunities that many in the labour Party enjoyed and who now, having ruined the State system, send their children to feepaying schools.

Sep 5, 2012 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

I thought it was phosphorus we dropped in water, and it shot around the container in splendid fashion.

Sep 5, 2012 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

"where my first high-school science lesson took in atomic theory and the periodic table": I'm always impressed at what people can remember of childhood. All that I remember of starting secondary school was the enormous relief of learning new stuff every day, rather than the feeble, slow repetition of primary school. Well, that and seeing off a couple of bullies. Who are now, I presume, keen advocates of global warming hysteria.

Sep 5, 2012 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

Speaking of learning by doing, and with overtones for Occupational Health and Safety, I recall making chlorine gas in 3rd year high school Chemistry class. The teacher (the ironically named Mr Dangerfield) told us NOT TO SNIFF THE GAS. He told us about WW1 mustard gas, and that this was very similar. So of course the first thing we did was sniff it. My mates and I were coughing up bits of lung for days.

Sep 5, 2012 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaleC

messenger, "I thought it was phosphorus we dropped in water, and it shot around the container in splendid fashion."

The white/yellow allotrope of phosphorus is actually stored under water as it has a tendency to spontaneously ignite when exposed to air. Even in the 1970's it was one of those chemicals that were considered too dangerous for students to handle [as were the alkali metals].

Sep 5, 2012 at 1:10 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

I am embarrassed to admit that, after a grammar school education in physics, chemistry and biology - and nearly thirty years working in antarctic research, the word "bio-diversity" has never, ever, passed through my lips. I only started hearing the word recently when it was cooked up by the alarmism community as the latest thing "under threat".
I dropped biology in the fifth year, maybe it was mentioned later. Mind you, no one in the 1970's had noticed that the planet had been through "unprecedented warming" since the industrial revolution. How did we miss that?

Sep 5, 2012 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Minton

I was in the guinea-pig year for comprehensives in my town, one consequence of which was a temporary rise in secondary school age to 12, so we went straight into the second form. In that year science was taught as a single subject, and I had one of the worst teachers I experienced - we had a year of seemingly random, unrelated topics, and the lessons generated all the excitement of watching paint dry. I flunked the end-of-year science exam, which proved a blessing in disguise, because those who did well were lumbered with a new combined science course (SCISP, if memory serves) which eventually led to a dual-award O level, while the rest of us then (third form , so aged 13/14) began having the three sciences as separate subjects. It was only then that my interest in science was ignited (the early chemistry demonstrations of dropping sodium and potassium in water probably helped). When it came to physics and chemistry A levels, those who'd followed the SCISP route found themselves less well prepared than those of us who'd taken individual sciences.

So I wouldn't be too concerned at this stage how science is being taught, provided of course that there is actually some substance within each project. I would worry, however, if a switch to individual subjects doesn't happen by age 13. The 'dumbing down' of science and maths teaching generally is another issue, one can only hope that the nadir has been reached.

Sep 5, 2012 at 1:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

I'm afraid my daughter, who is in Year 7 and goes to an excellent independent school (ie private - and the best in the state according to the NAPLAN tests) is required to do the Australian National Curriculum. Not only is biodiversity in there, but the section on ecology commences with Gaia, which is regarded as a theory. There is very little chance she will look at cells under a microscope, burn phosphorus in a bell jar, or mess around with electric currents and resistance, all of which I did at her age. And they wonder why kids avoid science.

Sep 5, 2012 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterAynsley Kellow

Aynsley, I think in Australia the difference between the private and public schools is blurred by quite a big overlap, where many schools have some degree of fees, and are managed by church groups and others, but the fees are not of the same scale that an independent school in the UK would charge, and so are more accessible to the general public - at least that's my understanding, is that correct?

Sep 5, 2012 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

No wonder home schooling and the free school movement are booming.

Listen up. By chance, a while back, I got hold of the textbook I used back in '65/66 for my Maths 'O' Level. Oxford & Cambridge board. Harwood & Clarke.

I showed it - indeed, lent it - to the very bright son of friends of ours, who is studying physics at Durham. He'd done Maths 'A' level.

He said that what we had studied at 'O' level, they had done in the second year of their 'A' level Maths.

So we have two years dumbing down there. Add to that insane grade inflation, and it is no wonder that many freshmen and women have to be reschooled in the 3 Rs.

A few years back, my kids (by then into their 20s and late 20s), clearing up the attic, found my wife's GCSE papers from around the same time. They were quite clear that these were far harder than the exams they had had to take.

What is the purpose of a) dumbing down what kids learn & b) then marking them with top marks regardless?

The state education system is beyond repair.

Regarding what the Bish relates here, of course "Biodiversity" is a superb hook to hang all sorts of propaganda on. I'd be at their throats were I a parent at that school.

As I would were I a parent at this one...

Sep 5, 2012 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

@Sep 5, 2012 at 11:05 AM | Brian Williams

Brian - my stepdaughter went to an excellent Public school. She's an extremely intelligent young lady, but not an academic. She was so bored that she skipped all sorts of lessons. She got seven A stars and 3 As. Two of those for subjects she was told she would fail. I think she could have got most of her GCSEs whilst still at prep school.

But what fascinated me was that the school could not cater for her. I think that years back, teachers would have jumped at the chance to educate such a young lady, with such a thirst for learning, knowledge, and, bless her, wisdom.

I think you will get better teaching at moist private schools - but don't pretend that they are not box-ticking like the state schools, or that they don't care about league tables.

FYI - my ex and I pauperised ourselves for 20 years to send our four children to Steiner schools. We have no regrets about it all; at the other end appeared four free spirits, taught to enquire about anything, take nothing for granted, and to stand on their own two feet. None went to Uni, preferring to get into work straight away - tho' the eldest did Music at RAM as a mature student in his late twenties.

FUBAR. Even if it all worked perfectly overnight, we'd be looking at a couple of generations to recover from the left win "one size fits all" ideology, which has screwed millions of kids, bright, average and not so.

Sep 5, 2012 at 1:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

Periodic tables and atomic theory don't hold the attention of most students. The objective is to engage as many as possible with interesting activities. Group work now is the standard technique and necessarily involves projects. Realistically, most students will not be scientists, but this method will at least expose them to scientific practices and techniques. As always, it is up to the parents to manage the education of their children. It cannot be abdicated to the school system if you expect your child to be truly educated rather than entertained. Lessons provided by the system should be considered supplementary. As a parent whose child experienced private, public, and home schooling in the USA, I can say that the appropriate way is what works for the individual child. In our case, different methods were appropriate at different times.

Sep 5, 2012 at 2:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterGary

Daughter has also just started at Scottish high school. Not enamoured of the science teacher, but sounds as if they did a good, straightforward experiment about volumes during the first week.

Sep 5, 2012 at 2:13 PM | Registered Commenterhuth

Biodiversity is change. The danger of studying this is that static pictures of biodiversity by regions will be made with the objective that everything should be done to protect this stasis. However, meddling with such things is quite dangerous, especially because humankind has very little knowledge of the natural processes. Biodiversity is just as chaotic as the rest or nature.

What will probably happen is that biodiversity models are created to predict the future. Catastrophes will be identified and to avert these political programmes will be proposed to acquire public votes. Activist organizations will be set up to generate funds and “a new biodiverse economy” will be created.

I wish they would teach youngsters something useful, but the trouble is the teachers themselves… well, I’d better stop here.

Sep 5, 2012 at 2:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlbert Stienstra

I can't comment on the UK school system, but agree with the Bish that the emphasis on 'biodiversity' is a big red flag, especially as the precursor to learning the basics.

Bioidiversity is a Trojan Horse for every kind of eco-nuttery. One of the biggest problems with it is that many of the ideological proponents of extreme greenery regard it as the way to the hearts and minds of the next generation - I mean, who can be against biodiversity, right? Trouble is, absent a decent understanding of boring stuff like statistics, palaentology, geography, plant and animal sciences etc, a lot of it is pure rubbish. Witness the recent post on WUWT about how the biodiversity crowd are now forced to admit that warmer temps increase biodiversity, if anything (quelle surprise!) - but hey, CAGW is still a threat because shut up.

Biodiversity also is writ large in the UN Agenda 21 stuff as a new excuse to tell us all how to live our lives.

If my child was being fed this crap instead of learning basic science and the scientific method, I would be concerned and cranky.

Sep 5, 2012 at 2:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohanna

@Sep 5, 2012 at 2:28 PM | johanna

Agenda21 - yes. A google search for

"agenda 21" somerset

(Somerset being the county in England where we live)

Produces 57,400 results.

Suggesting the our local authority has been completely infiltrated by Agenda 21.

Not to mention Common Purpose, lead by an old hand from the now defunct Living Marxism magazine.

"common purpose" somerset

produces over half a million results

Nastiness abroad.

Sep 5, 2012 at 2:55 PM | Registered Commenterjeremyp99

I think we should teach economics at school the trouble with our debt based economy is if you did teach this subject when they went to fill out a credit card application and saw 26% they'd buy a piggy bank instead.

For the record I went to a bad, bad state school (3 paedophile teachers and a headmistress that nicked £50,000) but got 3 GCSEs without turning up, double science and maths. I believe if one of my teachers had actually taken an interest I might be more than an IT monkey at the moment. For the record my year at school was the first year to take GCSEs. On a side note one Technology module was to design a McDonalds restaurant layout.

Sep 5, 2012 at 3:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

The comments on grade inflation reminded me of my recent discovery about degree classification.
When I gained my degree, I received a 2.I, which was a very respectable qualification. The majority received a 2.II. As I remember it, only about 10% received a 2.I.

Now, I discover, the majority receive a 2.I, something north of 50%.

The UK educational system has a lot to answer for.

Sep 5, 2012 at 3:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterPJP

Couldn't agree more - the "Curriculum for Excellence" is promoting this idea of cross subject learning - do a project on the Romans and bring in some Economics, some Maths, some Physics - oh and maybe a bit of History if there is time left.

On top of that the level of homework for a primary 5-7 child is a joke - if my son had 10 minutes of it that was a busy week.

The final straw for me was the lack of assessment, and like other commenters Mrs Morph and I have given up with state schools and our son started private education in Scotland last week.

Interestingly most of my family are left-leaning and most have been instantly supportive of the decision, a grandparent even offering financial help.

Sep 5, 2012 at 3:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterMorph

Well, I'll stick my neck out and defend project-based learning. In the hands of a good teacher, it's an excellent method of teaching students not just techniques, but crucially, how to select and use techniques in order to solve a problem. In the hands of a bad teacher, I expect it's not particularly effective, but then nor were the older methods.

Sep 5, 2012 at 3:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave

In the US, Andrew Hacker, an emeritus Political Science professor at Queen's College, NY, who apparently considers himself an education "expert," posits that we need to stop requiring algebra proficiency in order to graduate at both the High School and University levels. He makes the argument that algebra is the subject that most persuades young people to drop out, and that if they drop out, their lack of educational credentials inhibits them from fully participating in the modern economy. He argues that these people can use calculators. Can you imagine?

Why don't we just give the little darlings their high school and college diplomas right on their birth certificates? That would save a lot of time and money. Ah, but then, with the problems of idiocy and all, some parents would start selfishly teaching their children to read and write (and do algebra) and thereby unfairly giving their own children an unfair advantage over all the other children.

Sometimes I despair for the world...

Sep 5, 2012 at 3:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterMickey Reno

Child B (male) coasted through GCSEs without doing a stroke. Major shock moving onto A levels as he hadn't and still hasn't learnt how to work. Off to Uni now, but I am concerned about his work ethic, or lack thereof.

He, and Child A (also male), did the 3 sciences at GCSE. If your child is scientifically minded, make sure she does the 3 sciences at GCSE.

Having said that, most GCSE exams seem to be multiple choice questions, or simple answers requiring little more than 1 or 2 sentences. Blimey, my O levels in all subjects required fully written answers of the introduction/method/conclusion variety. I am sure the new way is responsible for the appalling handwriting and atrocious quality of content both Child A and Child B present.

Child A now studying Engineering of some kind and struggling a bit. Whether A has bitten off more than he can chew or is floundering because of poor education remains to be seen. It might be because hours are spent playing his various guitars and dreaming of being a mega-guitarist.

The trouble with kids is that they hit GCSEs, AS and A levels at maximum hormone output which can send them off kilter for a few years JUST at the wrong time. We have suffered through their ups and downs, suspensions and one expulsion. Looking forward to a few months peace when both depart to uni in about a week's time...........

Sep 5, 2012 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy

If you don't understand why you're doing something, it's just another "magic formula". And is unlikely to spark original thought, which is kind of the point.

Sep 5, 2012 at 6:52 PM | Unregistered Commentermojo

Has anyone pointed out to teachers and their unions that they can be replaced by YouTube?


Sep 5, 2012 at 7:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT


"..For the record I went to a bad, bad state school (3 paedophile teachers and a headmistress that nicked £50,000).."

I think I can better that, and I went to one of the top Public Schools....

Sep 5, 2012 at 7:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Jeremy Poynton

This is quite sobering, too...

Eleven plus

Sep 5, 2012 at 9:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

When I was 13 (mid 1960s) here in the States, everybody in Science class had to amass an insect collection. But it wasn't a team exercise, so I benefited from the individual experience of running around outdoors with a net made from a coathanger and a pillowcase. Teacher made us organize our haul by taxonomic Order, which is the only reason I still remember names like Diptera, Hemiptera, Hymenoptera, Coleoptera and Lepidoptera.

I was so proud of mine that I kept the box in my closet until Mom made me dump it; I think she was put off by the rhinoceros beetle and the tarantula hawk. But Mom, they're dead!

Nobody had heard of Biodiversity of course. Maybe we would have learned something about it if every kid had been sent to a different part of the earth so we could compare the selection of creepy-crawlies from say, Antarctica versus the Amazon.

The educational process of throwing kids directly into "biodiversity" study before learning any building blocks of science strikes me as reminiscent of freshman Engineering Design projects; there may be some value in the effort, but you're sort of flailing around without the math, physics, chemistry, material science etc. that allows you to effectively design, analyze and predict.
(I also tend to agree with some other commenters about the green indoctrination aspect of selecting biodiversity, out of all possible topics, as the kiddies' introduction to science.)

Sep 5, 2012 at 10:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Bob

I am a retired high school teacher, trained and teaching with considerable success in NZ, who taught in four different (and wildly differing!) UK Comprehensives for a few short years before my retirement. I was shocked by the lack of actual content to be taught included in my subject area (technology), the worst example of which was an HOD who insisted that instructing year 11 boys to cut out illustrations of flat-pack furniture from catalogues and pasting the cut-outs as collages in their exercise books was 'research' - the boys were given no clues as to how this furniture was manufactured and assembled - the same gentleman insisted that I was quite wrong in introducing year seven boys to metalwork by instructing them in the methods of hand-forming metal, such as cutting, filing, folding and drilling, but should begin by teaching the boys how to 'design' items to be made from sheet metal. I failed to convince him that he had the cart before the horse and was forced to move on.
After teaching the subject in other schools, I became convinced that the DFES was indulging itself in a thorough con-job for ideological reasons - all comps I worked in were busy selling off their workshop equipment and dealing with the subject as a paper exercise.
The only advice I can give parents in the UK is to 'go private', which does not help when one considers the costs of private schooling.

Sep 5, 2012 at 11:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Cumbrian Lad:
Yes, Independent school in Australia get grants from both Commonwealth and state governments, so the fees are not too steep (though much cheaper in Tasmania than with many Independent schools on the Mainland).

My problem with Gaia relates to the 'harmonious balance' meme that it embodies. As Albert Stienstra puts it, nature is about change, and ecological science (as opposed to political ecology) has recognised that since c1990 (think Botkin's 'Discordant Harmonies'). From that dominant meme comes the view that any change (to climate, to ecosystems) is 'damage' or 'harm'. Political ecology is out of step with ecological science, and that is the big problem.

Sep 5, 2012 at 11:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterAynsley Kellow

Consider, for example, also that you can make pots of money with biodiversity. Think of the one billion dollar for the "biodiversity hotspot theory"; money which presumably comes partly from the UN (or UNESCO). I am pretty sure the theory fits perfecty to the Agenda 21 by the UN and their education plans.

In a program by the German/France TV-station ARTE there was a documentary, produced in 2010 by ARTE France, called "Das Geschäft mit dem Artenschutz" (which means something like "The Business Of Species Conservation"). In that production, amongst others, the controversial British environmentalist Norman Myers was interviewed who invented the so-called biodiversity hotspot concept. He said (watch here [in German] at 0:41:40 min) (my translation):

"In the ten years since the establishment and implementation of the hotspot theory, we have scraped up almost one billion dollars in order to protect these [34 hotspot] regions. Without the concept of "hotspots" we have never had so much money to spend. But before us is still a long way, and we need many more billions."

Sep 5, 2012 at 11:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterSeptember 2011

Some wise comments and the usual knee-jerk.

"My son is 14 and has still yet to meet quadratic equations..."

While you can teach a bright 14 year old how to do them you will rarely get one who actually understands what they are doing. And at the same time you are torturing the bulk of the class. You are better off getting them to do linear equations properly, so that they can build a decent understanding of solving. If they have that, then they learn quadratics properly. (The brightest can, and should, be accelerated -- but separately from the usual run.)

The "biodiversity" stuff gives me the creeps. Things like that are why I won't teach junior science. But let's not kid ourselves that 13 year old kids can understand atomic theory. They can be taught to parrot it back is all. That they are made to memorise symbols etc is useful, because then they don't have to do it later, but actual comprehension cannot be taught early.

Kids mature immensely between 14 and 16. Before then you are largely wasting your time with abstract stuff. People tend to forget how much they hated their introduction to things like quadratics and atoms. They like them now, so assume they always liked them. But it's a bad assumption. Think about it -- do you remember lessons being full of interesting fun in junior school back in the "good old days"?

Sep 6, 2012 at 2:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterMooloo

I just dug out my first year secondary school report - in the first year we did General Science, not separate sciences. I'm fairly sure that we didn't do separate sciences until the third year, so around 13/14 yrs of age. (Never did get the hang of this Year 1-13 business, especially since my last child today starts as what the school still calls Sixth Form).

So to answer the Bishop's question, don't panic yet they're still taking it easy. I'm sure you are also giving them the benefit of extra curricular activities and diversions which will counter any undue indoctrination.

[I was once having a conversation with a friend who was of strong 'green' disposition, and they asked my daughter if we'd been anywhere nice during the Summer. Young daughter then regaled him enthusiastically with a very positive account of a visit to the Nuclear exhibition at Sellafield. He went quite pale].

Sep 6, 2012 at 8:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

An interesting comment up thread from Cumbrian Lad about the different style of exam questions now.

I was the first year that took GCSEs (which in itself caused problems in that the science teachers only received the finalised curriculum about a term before the exams, which at that time were still all held in May / June of 5th year). We were taught fundamentally in the same way (and obviously by the same teachers) as for the previous year's O levels, but my physics teacher was so taken aback by the differences in the exam question that he (quite illegally) took a look at my paper before it got sent off for marking to check that we'd (or at least I had, as the strongest pupil in the class) had understood the concept of the questions. From recollection (and this being 24 years ago), one of the questions in the physics paper related to the use of a hot air paint stripper, and was using that as the means to address understanding of heat transfer, rather than just asking for an explanation of the processes.

For some reason, I only got a B in both physics and chemistry GCSE but went on to get grade A A levels in both, so perhaps I was just better at answering the 'straighter' questions than the wishy-washy ones.

Sep 6, 2012 at 9:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan Blanchard

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