Science encompasses knowledge and understanding of the biological and physical aspects of the world and the processes through which such knowledge and understanding are developed.
Through science education, children construct, modify and develop a broad range of scientific concepts and ideas. Working scientifically involves them in observation, questioning, discussion, prediction, analysis, exploration, investigation, and experimentation, while the knowledge and skills they acquire may be applied in designing and making tasks. Thus, science education equips children to live in a world that is increasingly scientifically and technologically oriented.
Science education fosters a respect for the evidence of scientific enquiry, while the collaborative nature of its activities can also help children to acquire social and co-operative skills. Investigations and problem-solving tasks nurture the inventive and creative capacities of children. Science education plays a key role in promoting a sensitivity to, and a personal sense of responsibility for, local and wider environments. It helps to develop an appreciation of the interdependence of all living things and the Earth on which they live. It encourages the adoption of responsible attitudes and patterns of behaviour towards the environment and so fosters the concept of people as custodians of the Earth for future generations.
The science curriculum
Primary science involves helping children develop basic scientific ideas and understanding, which will enable them to explore and investigate their world. In well-planned, practical investigations children's natural curiosity is channelled and they are equipped with the strategies and processes to develop scientific ideas and concepts.
The teaching of science in the primary curriculum involves the development of two types of understanding: conceptual understanding and procedural understanding. Children's conceptual understanding is concerned with the development of scientific knowledge and with their deepening understanding of fundamental scientific ideas. The four strands of the science programme are Living things, Materials, Energy and forces, and Environmental awareness and care. These outline the knowledge and understanding that children acquire and describe the scientific ideas that they will encounter.
Knowledge of the scientific process is sometimes referred to as procedural understanding. The section of the science curriculum entitled 'Working scientifically' outlines how children may engage in scientific enquiry. It is a procedural model of how scientists work and includes statements of the various component skills that contribute to this methodology.
Children's conceptual understanding and their procedural understanding are not developed independently: pupils' understanding and application of the scientific process enable them to construct and refine their own framework of fundamental ideas and concepts in science.
Learning in science
The development of children's ideas is central to science education. Young children come to science activities with ideas that they have formed from previous experiences. They use these ideas to make sense of the things that happen around them. These ideas tend to be limited to concrete, observable features and may be inconsistent with the formal theories of conventional science.
The focus of science education will be on helping children to modify their ideas and to develop more scientific understandings. As well as planning science lessons on the basis of knowledge, skills and understanding, it is essential to consider the children's ideas as the starting points for science activities and education. To change these alternative ideas or misconceptions it is necessary for pupils to become consciously aware of their ideas and then to have these ideas challenged and debated. Meaningful learning occurs when the pupils construct their understanding by modifying their existing ideas in the light of new insights gained from scientific investigations. Thus, science may be seen as the active process of the personal construction of meaning and understanding.
Environmental awareness and care
The environment provides the context for learning for primary pupils. The curriculum area of SESE is specifically founded on the pupils' relationship and interaction with the world around them. The environment, in its broadest sense, is the springboard for learning, andpupils' classroom experience will be deepened and extended by direct experience of their own surroundings. The locality will provide the starting points for environmental education, and as children's knowledge and understanding grow and develop they will encompass other places and direct pupils to Irish, European and global dimensions.
Pupils should develop a broad and balanced view of the environment. They should appreciate the ways in which science and technology can help people to use the Earth's resources for the social, cultural and economic benefits of humanity. Environmental education through science will enable pupils to understand the interdependence of all life. It will help them to understand the positive and negative repercussions of human action on local and global environments. Pupils will develop and apply scientific knowledge and skills in protecting, conserving and improving their environments. They will appreciate that they can apply their scientific and technological knowledge and methods of working in promoting positive and responsible attitudes to the use of the Earth's resources and in contributing actively to human development and to the shaping of the environment of the future.
Science and technology: designing and making
The process of practical problem-solving provides children with a context in which to use their aesthetic and inventive capacities to design and make models and artefacts. Designing and making encourages the creative and imaginative aspects of the scientific process. Many teachers are actively involved in encouraging their classes to make models and systems: for example, having spent some time on the topic of weather many children will have designed and made their own rain gauge and instruments for recording wind direction and strength. These skills of exploring, planning, designing and making enable children to apply their scientific knowledge and understanding to devising a method or solution, carrying it out practically and evaluating the final product. The skills involved will be developed progressively through the primary school as children tackle open-ended problem-solving tasks.
The subject matter of designing and making relates to all aspects of experience, such as energy, force, transport, homes, materials, industry and food. The focus of a design and make curriculum can come from any response to a human need. Involvement in designing and making activities should awaken an interest in how processes are applied in everyday situations and how common tools, objects, appliances and machines work. Designing and making is a process which draws on the whole curriculum and should be developed in association with and through visual arts, science and mathematics.
Science, SESE and the integrated curriculum
While science makes an important and distinctive contribution to the development of the child, scientific education complements the growth of the child's learning in geography and history. All three contribute to the wider social, environmental and scientific education of the child, and their complementary roles will be reflected in the organisation of learning. Throughout the primary school, and in the early years especially, much learning in science, geography and history will take place through the integrated themes or topics that teachers use to organise their work. Many of these topics will arise out of the child's need to explore and understand his/her immediate environment and local community. The curriculum and its accompanying guidelines suggest how the development of valuable scientific skills, concepts and knowledge will be achieved as these topics are explored.
Information and communication technologies
Information and communication technologies are an important resource and tool for learning in science. Children's investigations and explorations can be enhanced by using information and communication technologies in recording and analysing information, in simulating investigations and tests that support scientific topics, in communicating their scientific information and findings, in collaborating with children in other schools in science investigations and in accessing a range of sources of scientific and technological information.
Assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning in science, as in other areas of the curriculum. The section on assessment outlines how a range of informal and more formal assessment techniques can assist in enriching the learning experience of the child and provide useful information for pupils, teachers, parents and others.
Language and science
Language is such a pervasive influence in the teaching and learning process that particular examples of the integration of science with language are not delineated in the curriculum statement. Much of the child's learning in science takes place in the interaction between language, whether Irish or English, and experience. Through discussing their ideas and the results of their scientific investigations children will develop their scientific understandings. Through language children name and classify things, express and modify ideas, formulate questions and hypotheses, and report conclusions. In this way language contributes to the expansion of the child's conceptual development.
Language is the principal means of communication in every aspect of the learning process. The teacher uses language to question, to explain, to suggest, to prompt, and to stimulate the child to think. The children are encouraged to describe, discuss, predict, explain, hypothesise and analyse ideas. Language is important, too, in helping children to access and to retrieve information and to record and communicate ideas. The extent, therefore, to which language is an integral part of the teaching and learning process should be a consistent concern in the planning and implementation of the curriculum in science.
The aims of science education are:
- to develop knowledge and understanding of scientific and technological concepts through the exploration of human, natural and physical aspects of the environment
- to develop a scientific approach to problem-solving which emphasises understanding and constructive thinking
- to encourage the child to explore, develop and apply scientific ideas and concepts through designing and making activities
- to foster the child's natural curiosity, so encouraging independent enquiry and creative action
- to help the child to appreciate the contribution of science and technology to the social, economic, cultural and other dimensions of society
- to cultivate an appreciation and respect for the diversity of living and non-living things, their interdependence and interactions
- to encourage the child to behave responsibly to protect, improve and cherish the environment and to become involved in the identification, discussion, resolution and avoidance of environmental problems and so promote sustainable development
- to enable the child to communicate ideas, present work and report findings using a variety of media.
When due account is taken of intrinsic abilities and varying circumstances, the science curriculum should enable the child to
- develop an interest in and curiosity about the world through the exploration and study of living and non-living things
- develop a knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas through the study of living things and the environments in which they live, energy and forces, materials and processes of change
- observe, ask questions, discern patterns, hypothesise, plan, experiment, design, make, measure, discuss, analyse and evaluate results and so develop a scientific approach to problem-solving
- develop and apply constructive thinking in scientific investigations
- understand the application of some basic scientific ideas and concepts in everyday situations
- apply and use scientific knowledge, skills and resources in designing and making tasks
- explore and appreciate the influence that scientific and technological developments have on societies, life-styles, economic activities and the environment
- communicate and record observations, evidence and results of experiments and investigations using a variety of oral, written and graphical forms and other media
- explore the environmental repercussions of human actions on physical, natural and human environments
- understand the interdependence of a wide variety of living things and their environments, recognise the importance of conserving habitats and environments, and begin to understand that all life now and in the future depends on the sustainable development of the planet
- become actively involved in the discussion, exploration and resolution of environmental issues
- understand and apply a safety code in scientific and technological investigations and activities.