1. Science as a School Subject – Methodology of Teaching Science

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Science as a School Subject

CHAPTER OUTLINE
LEARNING OBJECTIVES

After reading this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Describe the nature of science

  • Identify the components of science

  • Explain the various processes of science

  • Comprehend science as a product

  • Analyse the values of science

INTRODUCTION

The world in which we live is, by and large, the same as it has always been. It is the world of sun, light and darkness; the world of earth, land, sea, plants and animals; the world of seasons, climate; the world of being born, growing and dying. This world also has the simplest of tools and the most complicated of equipments. There are infinite things and events like these which are governed by science.

Human beings are the most evolved creatures. They have a highly developed mind which enables them to observe precisely, correlate observations and predict future. Human beings have learnt how to live in this world by adjusting to the nature. They explore, understand and change the surroundings according to their needs and requirements. This process of diligently observing, describing, exploring and using the world is science.

NATURE OF SCIENCE

Children often try to find answers to their questions which begin with ‘What is it?’ Science is not a lot of things it is thought to be; not a series of lessons about a piece of metal, a flower, a life cycle. It is not just about learning the names of the parts of fish; learning to identify 10 plants, 10 insects and so on.

What is science? It is the study of problems wherever children live. Formally stated, it is the study of natural environment which includes physics, chemistry, biology, geology, etc. Its content is connected with these subjects but it is a study of problems that pop into curious children's mind as they grow up. For e.g., What makes the wind blow? How can a seed grow into a tree? What makes a rainbow? Finding the answers to such questions is science. Learning of science is a lengthy and continuous process. Knowledge acquired through this is referred to as product. Thus, science is a process as well as a product. (Figure 1.1).

 

 

Figure 1.1 Nature of Science

Science as a Process

Any process involves planning various stages of an activity, establishing steps for gathering information and then retaining it. In science, gathering information, thinking, solving problems, etc. are called the ‘processes of science’.

Two types of skills are acquired through the process of science—basic skills and special skills (Figure 1.1).

I. Basic Skills

  1. Observation: It is not merely ‘looking at’ or ‘seeing’ something. Everyday, students look at various objects and phenomenon around themselves. Gradually, this regularity in viewing these things becomes observation. Through observation they come to know their environment. They learn about nature and behaviour of objects, plants animals and human beings, for e.g., when does it rain, how do we grow a variety of plants around us, etc.
  2. Classification: Whatever is observed by the students is grouped on the basis of similarities, e.g., all the four-legged creatures are grouped as animals, food-producing plants are autotrophs, substances with pH value higher than 7 are basic, etc.
  3. Communication: Students observe and learn many things. This learning is transmitted to others through some means of communication. Communicating the knowledge could be in the form of a name, label, sign, symbol, etc.
  4. Measurement: It is recording the precise and accurate observation. Various scales and instruments could be used for this. E.g., rise in temperature by using thermometer, radius of wire by using screw gauge, etc.
  5. Estimation: Estimations are made by the students whenever accuracy is not required e.g., a piece of bread, a pinch of salt, half a cup tea, etc.
  6. Predictions: This skill enables to know the behaviour of a particular object or phenomenon before it happens. E.g., weather forecast, crop yield, floods, etc.
  7. Inferences: On the basis of above mentioned skills, ability to draw inferences develops. Inferences can be made about any process or phenomenon.

II. Special Skills   Along with the basic skills, certain special skills are needed for an experiment or to solve any problem. These skills are as follows:

  1. Identification and control of variables: In sciences, experiments are done to study the effect of one variable over the other. Thus, there are dependent and independent variables. Many other factors may also influence the experiment, but their effect is not studied. These are called constants. Students have to conduct experiments keeping in mind all the variables.
  2. Hypothesis formation: Science students acquire a basic skill of prediction. If the predictions are stated, they are called hypothesis. Hypotheses are a guess about the result of an experiment.
  3. Experimentation: Experiments are conducted to test a hypothesis. The effects of various variables are studied here.
  4. Tabulation: Data collected in the experiments is tabulated in an organized manner.
  5. Interpretation: The analysis of the tabulated data leads to the interpretation and conclusion.

Through these basic and special skills, students learn about nature and adjust to it according to their needs and requirements. Thus, a systematic process of learning takes place.

Science as a Product

The information that is acquired through the processes of science or the body of knowledge formed is called ‘product’ of science. Knowledge of any form consists of development of facts, concepts, principles, theory and ultimately law. (Figure 1.1).

IMPORTANCE AND VALUES OF SCIENCE

Science helps in developing a scientific temper, scientific outlook and a scientific attitude. There are certain values (Figure 1.2) attached to science which are as follows:

 

 

Figure 1.2 Values of Science

  1. Intellectual value: Science helps to understand, evaluate and solve the problems of life. It enables the students to become more logical, develop reasoning ability and creativity. Students get various opportunities to develop the power of observation, reasoning, thinking, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
  2. Vocational value: In today's world, many science based inter-disciplinary vocations have come up, e.g., poultry, dairy, agriculture, etc. Knowledge of science is needed for research work as well. Mobile repair and cyber caf are the latest vocations which are based on science and technology.
  3. Disciplinary value: Science promotes team work, healthy exchange of thoughts, spirit of enquiry and a balanced judgment. Students of science are more organized and systematic in their work. Study of science enables an individual to live a confident and disciplined life.
  4. Moral and aesthetic value: Science inculcates moral values in the students. A highly moral person is honest, truthful and has an integrated personality. By studying science, qualities of punctuality, patience, self control, self respect and determination are developed in students, making them highly moral individuals.
  5. Social and cultural value: The study of science and scientific methods in school leads to an appreciation of the problems of society in later life. A society is dynamic and ever-changing. Social problems can be solved by vigorous and determined applications of scientific methods. Moreover, if the modern civilized society is to enjoy peace, health and a full existence—nationally and individually, it can be attained through the study of humanities in a scientific way.
  6. Utilitarian value: No subject can claim to be as utilitarian as science. If we look around us, every animate and inanimate object is due to science. Modern age is the age of scientific inventions and we are surrounded with electrical gadgets. From alarm clock to mobile phones, from LPG cylinder to induction plate, from toothbrush to mattresses, everything is guided by science.
  7. Psychological value: Psychology and science are dependent on each other. Science satisfies curiosity, creativity, etc. and psychology gives the principles of learning.
SCIENCE EDUCATION IN INDIA

Teaching of science as a part of general education upto class VII or VIII had been in practice in most of the states before the introduction of a uniform pattern of school education in 1975. During this period, the subject was usually taught as general science in most of the states. However, at the secondary stage, science was an optional subject which was offered either as a combination of physical science and biology or as physics, chemistry and biology. The syllabus of science and textbooks were prescribed by the respective state agencies. The content and process of science teaching in schools therefore, varied from one state to another.

The general objectives of science teaching identified for classes I-VIII during the 1960's have been basic to the evolution of science education in the country, particularly at the elementary stage. The major objectives identified were:

  • To acquire knowledge of biological, physical and material environments including forces of nature and simple natural phenomena.
  • To develop scientific attitudes such as an objective outlook, spirit of enquiry, truthfulness and integrity, inventiveness, accuracy and precision, avoiding hasty conclusions on insufficient data and respect for the opinions of others.

The instructional materials developed by the NCERT under the UNICEF aided project, during 1967–70 was based on an activity based approach to the teaching of science at the primary stage. The package of instructional material comprising syllabus, textbooks, handbook of activities, teacher's guides, science kit and audio-visual material were developed through a process of trial in a limited number of schools. The instructional package developed for the middle schools, class VI to VIII, too comprised similar components and was also developed through field trials.

The Education Commission chaired by Prof. D.S. Kothari has been an important landmark for its depth and expanse of vision of science education in India. This led to the introduction of the 10+2+3 pattern of education in 1975. A National Curriculum Committee gave recommendations and guidelines for the new pattern through a policy document titled “The Curriculum for the ten year school–A framework”. Some of the main recommendations contained in the framework that had a direct implication on the teaching of science, its syllabi and textbooks were:

  • All subjects including science and mathematics were to be compulsory for all students up to class X as a part of the general education.
  • At the primary stage, science and social sciences were to be taught as a single subject—environmental studies.
  • An integrated approach was to be followed for the teaching of science at the middle stage as opposed to a disciplinary approach that was then in vogue.
  • Science was to be considered as one composite subject at the upper primary and secondary stages.

The major guiding factors for the nature and scope of teaching science as an integrated course at the upper primary stage were that:

  • Science is one; different disciplines of science are only tentative compartmentalization of the subject to facilitate the study of its different aspects.
  • Curriculum should attempt to link teaching of scientific principles with daily life experiences of the learners.
  • Science education should stress more on the processes of science than the product.
  • Teaching of science should lead to the development of certain values.
  • Science teaching should provide enough opportunities to the learners to attain some basic levels of scientific literacy.
  • A curriculum should provide ample opportunities to the teachers to try and apply a variety of methods of teaching to suit the needs of learners of different backgrounds.

The approach adopted for the upper primary stage was extended to the secondary stage, although a disciplinary approach was recommended for the latter. However, a Review Committee, under the chairmanship of Sri Ishwarbhai Patel in 1977, recommended that science at the secondary stage should be offered through two equivalent alternate courses. The course ‘B’ was to be a composite course in science to be taught through a single textbook. For course ‘A’, it recommended a discipline oriented approach in which physics, chemistry and biology were to be taught as separate subjects. The system of alternate courses was discontinued from the academic session 1984–1985, mainly, because of the perceived superiority of one course over the other.

The framework of 1975 provided general guidelines and instructional objectives only up to the secondary stage. The responsibility of identifying aims and objectives of science teaching and the development of syllabi and textbooks for different disciplines at the senior secondary stage was given to the curriculum developers.

The next important development was the National Policy on Education (NPE,1986) which subsequently led to the development of the document—National Curriculum for Elementary and Secondary Education—A framework (NCF-88). As before, it recommended the teaching of science as a part of environmental studies at the primary stage. It also gave specific guidelines for the two integral components of environmental studies, namely, science and social studies. The guidelines provided by the NCF-88 were further elaborated in a brochure titled ‘Science Education for the First Ten Years of Schooling–Guidelines for Upper Primary and Secondary Classes’. The teaching of science at the secondary stage was conceived for the first time as a single subject rather than three separate disciplines as had been the practice in the past. This has, since, been one of the major distinguishing features of the science education for this stage.

Thus, main features of the National Curriculum Framework for School Education-2000 pertaining to science education have been:

  • Teaching of environmental studies as a single subject of study at the primary stage instead of science and social science.
  • Teaching of science and technology in place of science at the upper primary and secondary stages, so as to familiarize the learner with the various dimensions of scientific and technological literacy.
  • To continue the practice of teaching science at the higher secondary stage as separate disciplines—physics, chemistry and biology.

Thus, science education in India has undergone several changes, both in approach and content, during the last forty years or so. At the primary stage, teaching of science as s single subject was first replaced by environmental studies and subsequently by an integrated course on environmental studies. At the middle stage, the disciplinary approach was replaced first by an integrated approach to science as a single subject and, finally, by an approach integrating science and technology.

In some states, science at the secondary stage is taught as a combination of physical science and biological or life science, while in some others as physics, chemistry and biology or life science. However, compulsory teaching of science and environmental orientation to the science teaching up to the secondary stage has been a common feature in science education.

To summarize, the major programmes in science, in India, have evolved in keeping with the contemporary global trends in science education and the changing social needs.

SUMMARY
  1. Science is both a process and a product.
  2. The processes of science are required for learning science.
  3. There are 6 basic processing skills—observation, classification, communication, measurement, estimation, prediction and inferences.
  4. The basic skills help in acquiring the problem solving skills known as the special skills.
  5. The special skills are—identification and control of variables, hypothesis formation, experimentation, tabulation and interpretation.
  6. The knowledge acquired in these processes is known as the product of science.
  7. The product of science consists of facts, concepts, principles, theories and laws.
  8. Science helps in developing a scientific temper, scientific outlook and scientific attitude through these values:
    • Intellectual value
    • Vocational value
    • Disciplinary value
    • Moral and aesthetic value
    • Social and cultural value
    • Utilitarian value
    • Psychological value
QUESTIONS
  1. How can you describe the nature of science?
  2. Elaborate the various skills acquired through the processes of science.
  3. Explain the basic skills of science.
  4. How are the special skills of science different from the basic skills?
  5. Discuss the values associated with the learning of science.