The author of this site trained and practises in electronics, software and TV. He is a published author and lecturer. He has successfully set up and run his own company with a partner.
In this site is information on his experience of explaining modern technology to students in the age range 6 to 16 years. He describes mistakes and successes.
The site also contains practical information packs on actual experiments that can be done with only a few cheap components.
Science - A super-new approach for schools
We all have a need to simplify things and ignore the complexity inside almost everything. We could not function with all the details of everything jumbling round in our heads otherwise.
We all have a need to reduce the complexity in what we see and use. We do not picture the enormous mills when we see a shirt. Likewise, we do not see the atoms or electrons in a thread of cotton. Therefore it is intrinsically hard to appreciate the complexity inside a mobile phone, ipod or computer.
But some people’s minds can absorb and understand the complexity. Part of science is the want or need to see and understand this complexity.
But it is not a fundamental human need. Almost the reverse. It is only in the last few hundred years of western culture have enough people got involved in science to achieve the modern lifestyle that we enjoy today. Most people enjoy the lifestyle, but as in generations past, have no fun, want or need to understand it.
We, as a western culture, have for example, many kids who love using mobile phones, the internet and video games, but get very defensive if someone tries to explain how they work. Those that try and explain are branded geeks and made fun of.
We need an environment that allows geeks able to express their ideas, and equally importantly, allows the non-geeks or technophobes to want to open up to the possibility that science can be fun. Two quite different often polarised participants..
Let’s also not forget that many scientists were considered heretics and had to work very hard to get their ideas and research accepted – Galileo and Darwin to name two. So there may also be some inbuilt human barrier to the whole concept of science that many find hard to break down or over come..
Therefore, the methods of how we break down these natural barriers to understanding anything, especially science, are fundamentally important.
The methods in the electronics science domain that I have found work best are:
- break some of the rules of our culture - add a sense of risk taking and naughtiness. Eg – take the headmasters computer apart…
- make the science completely relevant to the students everyday life
Breaking things as a single solution to explaining science has its limitations – eg we can not take a human apart to look at skeletons very easily.. But the basic premise of making things truly new and fun to look at should not be overlooked. Examples are great and powerful tools in getting people interested.
Almost equally important, people need to touch and hold and do things themselves. Even to scientists and engineers, this really helps understand and appreciate the issues and complexities of a subject. You can play and touch and break and try things your own way. Really find out what things work and what do not. The many questions blurring around in your mind when something new is explained can start to be un-jumbled as you touch and try things for yourself.
So, to get a super level of science at any school, primary, junior or secondary, we need to:
- get as many examples to take apart and show and let the students touch and hold
- get as many real experiments that the students can do for themselves
- get the relevance and complexity in a mind boggling exciting way, coupled with enough explanation that triggers a suitable level of interested understanding – that means the student has a stake in the explanation of the complexity. They feel superior that they know something clever. Maybe something that their parents don’t know.
- get the teaching staff to have as much fun and confidence teaching these science modules as any other modules – hopefully more fun! Many teachers who have been in the class when I have been doing experiments have got as much out of the class as the students. So the teachers need resources and skills that they feel comfortable with.
As a possible worst case student stereotype, I have had fashion conscious, teenage girls genuinely interested in science by making it relevant to their phones, ipods, or thumbdrives, by letting them see, touch and even experiment with the building blocks of their high tech environment. They did not feel geeky, just powerful with the extra knowledge..
Another significant factor at a primary and junior school level, is that the teachers themselves are not necessarily sciency. Therefore have less confidence in teaching the subject. For example, I had a teacher of 10 to 11 year olds ask me questions on her general curriculum electricity while I was doing a talk on electronic things. This was a good question on series and parallel circuits. Like any good teacher, she wanted to know why she should expect the results of an experiment when trying to explain it to her class. But did not have the background knowledge to be confident in how the teachers notes were explained.
There is so much everyday use of electronics in our children’s lives, but no explanation of it, if at all, until a much older age. Not only no explanation, but a potential mini phobia of the subject as the teachers themselves may not know enough to be confident. So a potential starting point is to give the teachers a better grounding so they themselves feel confident. Society as whole has this fundamental lack of knowledge of this very everyday subject.
This is obviously not something that is going have a quick solution. But do not despair! There are some explanations I have found to work quite well with a large cross-section of people of all ages. These explanations cut through some of the phobia and lack of experience to get a quick grasp of fundamentals. A small start, but none the less a start..