This is part of my lecture from this afternoon’s introduction to the preservice teacher course I give each year. It is an introduction to scientific ideas, modelling the pedagogies of primary science teaching. We move in and out of learning science, and learning to teach science.

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was an exceptional scientist. He was particularly intelligent, it’s true, and creative as well; you have to be to come up with totally new ideas and apply them as he did. But his quote reminds us that it’s not our talents that bring us success, it’s the effort we make. Professor Einstein ascribes his passion for finding things out as the reason that he worked so hard. Professor Richard Feynman, another brilliant physicist who lived after Einstein’s era, also talked about “the pleasure of finding things out”. To many scientists, it is this curiosity and the pleasure that seeking answers brings that drives them to work so hard. Both of these scientists worked very hard to progress science as they did.

Children are particularly driven by curiosity; it’s a part of what makes them such great learners. They want to know why; why EVERYTHING! As a teacher, it will be your job to cultivate and feed their curiosity, not with answers, which can stifle curiosity, but with experiences that help them find answers for themselves. That’s what science is, and helping students to understand this is the crux of teaching science in primary schools. GROW CURIOSITY.

To be a great science teacher, you need to have some deep understandings and appreciation for science and its role in society. You will need to know how to design scientific investigations to test students’ hypothesis, and how scientific knowledge is used in the community. It is not enough for a teacher of science to say “oh, I will learn along with my students and we will find out together.” Certainly you will be doing this some of the time, when they ask you a question that you can’t answer. But most of the time you will need the understandings yourself, in order to plan, develop and enact the best learning experiences for your students to gain that understanding for themselves.

For example, as a year 3 teacher, the Australian Curriculum requires you to help your students develop meaningful understandings of heat. The word “heat” has many meanings, and it isn’t always used scientifically. There are lots of ideas and knowledge that need to be gained and synthesized in order to have a deep and authentic understanding of what heat is. For instance:

  • Heat is a form of energy that is related to the motion of particles
  • Heat can be transformed from other forms of energy, or into other forms of energy
  • Heat can be transferred in three ways:
    • Conduction through a material
    • Convection through a space containing a fluid
    • Radiation with electromagnetic waves
  • The input or withdrawal of heat changes the density of materials, or mixtures
  • The input or withdrawal of heat can cause a change in state of materials

You can see that there are lots of other conceptual ideas in these descriptions; ideas about energy, particles, density, materials, radiation, states of matter, etc. These are very big ideas for 7 and 8 year old children! But if you know and understand these ideas well, and can articulate (explain) them too, you will be able to guide them to developing and articulating (explaining) their own new understandings effectively.

You will also need to facilitate student investigations in science. You will need to know what makes an investigation scientific, as well as what might cause an investigation to be unscientific. The principles behind the “scientific method” are well-established now and are used to develop very reliable and valuable data about various issues and ideas. You will need to help your students to collect reliable and valuable data through their own investigations. So in this course, you will have opportunities in workshops and assessment to conduct investigations, some of your own design. These experiences will help you to plan, develop and enact learning experiences for your future students.

But why learn and teach science at all? Science is useful, for most people, in their everyday lives. Parents make decisions about whether or not to vaccinate their children. Voters make decisions about the climate change or environmental policy positions of political candidates, and politicians make decisions about how our drinking water is processed and how much land can be cleared for farming. Children make decisions about what to wear. We all make decisions about our own health, about what we eat or how we exercise, about financial investments, etc. Whether or not people realize it, all of these decisions can be made more reliable with a better understanding of the science underlying each issue. So in this course, we’ll be asking you to investigate a scientific issue, and make a recommendation about an action or policy or decision regarding this issue.

Don’t worry if you don’t really understand heat yet. Don’t worry if you haven’t conducted a scientific investigation in a long time, or ever. Don’t worry if you’ve never considered how science plays a role in the quality of your life. The point of this course is to help you understand heat, and many other big ideas in science. We’ll be helping you learn how to experiment too, and we’ll be asking you to consider the science behind some everyday issues. But there’s a lot for you to learn, and we only have 13 weeks. So you will need to work hard.

Ask questions. Seek answers. If you can test your idea with an experiment (safely), then do!

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