The nature of science
Science is concerned with the development of knowledge and understanding of the biological and physical aspects of the world. Scientific activity is the process through which such knowledge and understanding are developed. For children, as for scientists, science involves testing, changing or confirming ideas about how things are and how they work. Scientific theories are used to explain observed phenomena or to predict events. These ideas and theories are subject to review and change and will be modified as new evidence comes to hand.
Science is a human endeavour that depends on the creativity and imagination of people as they reflect critically to make sense of their experience. It is important that learning activities promote curiosity and enjoyment, so that pupils develop a lasting interest in science. The placing of science within the context of social, environmental and scientific education (SESE) will promote its relevance and help children to develop informed attitudes towards scientific and environmental issues.
For many teachers, primary science has its roots in nature study and environmental studies. Studies of human biology, plants and animals, and the natural and human environments are already incorporated in many classroom activities. The aim of these guidelines is to assist teachers and schools in building on children's interests and curiosity about the biological and physical world while at the same time incorporating experimental and investigatory skills in their work. These guidelines will also provide assistance for schools in developing aspects of science such as forces, materials, and energy.
Science skills: working scientifically
Practical investigation is central to scientific activity of all kinds. What distinguishes a scientific activity from other forms of enquiry is not the sophistication of the ideas used but the process through which these ideas are developed. A scientific approach is a process of making observations, hypothesising, predicting and carrying out investigations, planning fair tests and analysing the results of tests and investigations.
Experience of the physicalw orld is crucial to children's cognitive development. For most children, objects and events have to be experienced in reality before they can be the subject of thought and mental manipulation. Firsthand investigation is central to the way in which young children learn science. It equips them with the realisation that they can provide their own answers to problems and that they can learn from their interaction with things around them.
Activities in science will often be technological in character, because they will involve the pupils in exploring, planning, making and evaluating objects that have a practical purpose. The topics suggested in the strands of the science curriculum provide the context both for investigative work and for designing and making tasks.
Children's learning in science
The scientific activity of children is similar to that of the scientist. Children begin from their ideas about how things are, and they change and develop these ideas by testing them in practical investigations. During their scientific activities children should be provided with opportunities to try out, challenge, change or replace ideas. This view of learning involves children developing and constructing more scientific understanding through their own ideas and experience.
Children in primary schools construct scientific ideas and concepts based on available evidence. These ideas and concepts will be refined as the children work in more demanding contexts and develop more open-ended investigative approaches to solving problems.
Science in a childcentred curriculum
A broad and balanced scientific education is concerned both with the transmission of a body of scientific theories and knowledge and with the provision of opportunities for children to work scientifically and to experience something of the way in which scientists investigate the world. As well as helping children to become scientifically literate members of society, the curriculum aims to foster positive attitudes to scienceand to encourage pupils to develop an appreciation of the contribution of science and technology to society.
An experimental and investigatory approach to science in the primary school can make a unique and vital contribution to the holistic development and education of the child. The science curriculum therefore provides opportunities for the child to develop a broad and balanced understanding of the properties and interactions of the physical universe through the study of a range of topics, while at the same time developing and using scientific ways of investigating and exploring the world.
The introduction, aims and broad objectives for science on p. 5-8 of the curriculum provide more specific details on the nature of the subject and on how its role may best be realised in the primary school. However, these aspirations cannot be achieved in isolation. While science plays a complementary role to history and geography within SESE, it makes its own distinctive contribution to the wider child-centred curriculum.