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05.09.2019

Education for Meaning – Through School Science

When you think back to your science lessons at school, what did they feel like?

The chances are that some people loved them, but most didn’t. Bits of school science may have been fun but too many people have only a muddled memory of lots of things they had to learn by heart, livened up with the occasional bit of practical work.

Recent efforts at reforming school science are concentrating on the notion of the ‘Big Ideas of Science’. With changes to the curriculum, the hope is that students won’t drown in the detail but will have a clear idea of what they are learning and why.

This raises the question as to what the purpose of school science should be. Traditionally, perhaps, the main aim of school science was to provide the basic knowledge for the next generation of scientists. The only trouble with this is that most of those who go to school aren’t going to use much science in their careers.

However, virtually everyone is going to use science in making decisions for themselves and their families. Should children be vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella? Are chemical sprays on crops a bad idea? Should we go for nuclear power because it’s green or avoid it because we don’t know what to do with the radioactive waste?

And what of the planet? Should we look after it just because it’s useful for us or because it’s part of God’s creation? Traditionally, school science has avoided such questions, not just because religion almost never makes an appearance in science lessons, but because questions of values and ethics don’t much either.

And yet, students don’t come to their science lessons only interested in science. Many of them – like many of us – are searching for meaning, and science lessons seem like they could be a good place to find it. But often science teachers are wary of anything that departs too much from the official science curriculum, and that won’t inspire most students.

It’s the actions and principles of the Greta Thunbergs and the Jean Vaniers of this world that inspire, causing us to question our basic assumptions of who we are, whether we really can all be equal, what the planet is for, and what the purpose of life is. I’m hopeful that a school science that looks at big ideas may help the next generation to find answers to such questions. It won’t do this by preaching at students but by opening up their minds to new ways of being.

Michael J Reiss
Michael is Professor of Science Education at University College London, a Priest in the Church of England, and President of the International Society for Science and Religion.

 

Comments

  1. His is really helpful especially for new, believing teachers. I am forwarding this on to those in our church and friendship community. Thank you.

    By Claudette Fisher-Johnson - 6th September 2019
  2. Such good food for thought and action. As a Christian. Your work in invaluable using modern methods of communicating God’s message of forgiveness, restoration and hope.

    By Warren Tranter - 6th September 2019
  3. I began my career teaching Science in the mid 1970s and the National Curriculum introduced in the 1980s included the danger of global warming from using up fossil fuels. It is society that has ignored this not Science teachers.

    By Barbara Forrest - 6th September 2019
  4. Thought provoking and helpful. I remember science lessons worked for me but you are correct some children were lost and saw the subject as a means to an end – the exam. A positive application may well engage a wider audience.

    By James Simpson - 6th September 2019
  5. Thanks. And just found the ISSR website, good to know about 🙂

    By Bruce Gulland - 6th September 2019
  6. As Christians we need to beware of the uncritical acceptance of “big ideas” such as Evolution, which has become the religion of the popular media-friendly atheist (Dawkins, Cox, Roberts, Al-Khalili, Attenborough etc.). The latter recently repeated his desire to ban discussion of Biblical Creation from the science classroom, yet evolutionism (“molecules-to-man”) is no less a religious position; that of methodological naturalism/materialism. Children are at best being misled and at worst brainwashed if Darwinism cannot be criticised. The work of eminent synthetic chemist Professor James Tour (Rice University, Houston) has ably demonstrated that origin of life (OOL) cannot occur by natural (physico-chemical) processes, and we are failing as disciples of Christ if we do not make this clear to our young people.

    By Nick Cowan - 13th September 2019

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