Saving Science Class by Chris McGowan (book review).

February 26, 2017 | By | 1 Reply More

From the start, author Chris McGowan makes a very sound argument that there isn’t enough practical science shown and taught at school, contributing to why fewer school pupils are seeing science as a career. Although his book, ‘Saving Science Class’ is targeted at the USA and Canada, the same applies to the UK and probably other countries as well. Considering we live in an age where we are dependent on science and technology, you would have thought we would be turning out more scientists not less. He turns out a good case of contrast of the past and the present.

McGowan goes through his own school and teaching experiences, giving so many examples of science experiments that whether you’re an adult or child, you might get the urge to try them out. As he gives diagrams, this should make them easier to follow. Parents might even help children to do them. Although I’m not sure that this was his intention with this book, McGowan should certainly consider doing a book on this as well.

It’s when he examines the American/Canadian use of a teaching structure called ‘A Framework For K-12 Science Education’ that he really goes to town about its failings and I can understand why. Theory and computer models but no real experience. Hands up those of you who would like to be operated on by a surgeon or piloted a plane with no practical experience? Now apply that to science. If a school curriculum gives its students no practical experience in any of the sciences, let alone be teaching technology at the same time, you have to wonder what planet they last taught on. That’s what happens today and as McGowan points out the only practical his grandson was give was how to dissolve and saturate a glass of water with salt. With the USA, this ‘Framework’ was devised by a committee where teachers had the least say. His example of those who can’t work, teach and those who can’t teach become their inspectors sounds like the Peter Principle – rising to the height of their level of incompetency. I can share McGowan’s distress. How do you get smart people when the incompetent don’t want to be shown up or worse not allowing for a proper education. No wonder we aren’t getting enough scientists. I have a feeling I would walk through America’s science exams today.

Having teaching described as changing to ‘the sage on the stage to the guide on the side’ is worrying. I do have to wonder if you people reading this book will come away equally angry but if you’re a younger generation, then you’ve probably been through this and won’t know any different. If you belong to the latter group, look through the scientific experiments shown in this book and if you school isn’t giving your children practical science, insist they teach it. We need more scientists, not less. We certainly need more who know what they are doing. McGowan’s points on pollution and fracking at the last chapter also tends to indicate that money at political level is talking more than scientific conclusions. Hardly surprising with this education or lack of it.

One thing. The cover shows a child holding two test tubes far too close to her nose. When I was at school, I was taught to waft the smells to my nose than do a direct sniff after deadening my sense of smell.

GF Willmetts

February 2017

(pub: Prometheus Books. 302 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: $25.00 (US), $26.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-293-5. Ebook: Price: $12.99 (US), $14.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-271-5. Ebook: Price: $11.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-6388-518-8)

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Category: Books, Science

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (1)

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  1. Julian White says:

    And the safety specs on the forehead…

    It’s over 10 years since I was last teaching science in the UK (as a retired teacher on supply) and 17 since I was a full-time regular teacher but even then I was concerned with the way things were going. I did my secondary learning in the early 60s when Nuffield Science was being introduced (in fact one of my teachers was on the Biology panel) partly as a response to a concern that science teaching was not practically oriented enough. Throughout my career attempted to stick to that principle. I feel that there are two problems: one is the nature of science, which does need a grounding in ‘facts’ – some of which need to be learned by rote – and which requires students to think. I feel that this is one reason why pupils are disenchanted with science – because it’s ‘hard’. The second problem is that most senior management are not science-based (because the science staff are too busy teaching) and have a poor concept of what science teaching requires (in both resources – money for equipment and materials – and enough time to deliver a practically-based curriculum, not least in the length of lessons. I was delighted when the 1989 National Curriculum was introduced and made continuing science mandatory to age 16, less so by subsequent dilutions of the position of the subject in the core curriculum. Obviously I’m not exactly up to date with the current position but I suspect that things have changed little in the last ten years… and I share your disappointment in the lack of hands-on experience.

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