Leading scientists make a plea for fieldwork
The ASE’s Outdoor Science Working group – of which the FSC is a founder member - hosted a policy forum at the ASE’s Annual Conference at the University of Liverpool on 5th January 2012, led by a panel which included some of the UK’s most prominent scientists and science educators including Professors Steve Jones (University College London), Rob Marrs (University of Liverpool) and Justin Dillon (King’s College London). Andrew Miller MP, a local constituency MP and chair of the Science and Technology Committee, also participated.
The forum strongly endorsed the view that fieldwork is essential. All of the panel recounted how formal and informal outdoor experiences in their childhood – during walks to school, in nearby allotments and on school trips - had awakened their observational skills and inspired their subsequent decisions to become scientists.
The forum reaffirmed the following:
- Science fieldwork is essential to good science education;
- Professional bodies such as the ASE should take a leading role in promoting fieldwork. This should include working directly with you and your department to ensure its effective application in schools;
- Fieldwork should be strongly recommended – but not overly-prescribed - in the curriculum, and supported to the same extent as seen in Geology and Geography;
- It was highly evident that a cultural shift towards supporting outdoor activity was needed in many schools, including their governors, and the wider community. Science needs to break out of the classroom. This was particularly true in secondary schools;
- Simple, effective and inspirational science fieldwork opportunities exist everywhere – including urban areas - but these are very underutilised at present. Such activity will also increase older children’s ‘sense of place’ and their pride and interest in the places that they live;
- Fieldwork opportunities could and should encompass the full breadth of science, and other subjects which rely on observational and procedural skills (such as geography, history and D&T);
- The only way to reduce the perception of health and safety risks was by ensuring that early career and inexperienced teachers took an active part in fieldwork activity themselves – only then could we ensure a cultural shift which moved children from being risk-naïve to risk-aware;
- Fieldwork skills could and should be assessed, and that there were a variety of methods - including the use of field diaries, notes, drawings and presentation - for doing this. These methods are used in universities and should be applicable in secondary schools.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012