The following is the first part of some work I did with the Science Department at MMHS:
How BtL feeds into Science teaching at MMHS
(based on an analysis of the language of an exam paper:
GCSE June 2013 Science A SCA4P/PU1.2)
I have used the frameworks taught in Book 3 of BtL (Part 2 of F/T). For the purposes of this discussion General/Particular is the same as Abstract/Concrete.(1) GENERAL/PARTICULAR = ABSTRACT/CONCRETE
Science and abstract language
Real science is always driven by a theory. Theories are made possible by the capacity of language to generate abstract words.
Concrete words perceived by the senses
Abstract words perceived by the mind
Teachers’ Notes: The rate at which an object transfers energy by heating depends on surface area and volume.
An understanding of abstract words is what BtL teaches systematically. (Book 2 BtL, Part 2 FT).
No amount of interesting problems to be solved by science can in the end conceal the fact that science is by its very nature based entirely on abstract ideas. This is the great intellectual leap that secondary school pupils have to make if they are to benefit from formal education. There is a maturational factor here: Piaget refers to this as the stage of formal operations, coinciding with puberty, and young people do not all arrive at it at the same time.
Other semiotic systems
As well as using “natural language”, scientists also use maths and graphics to make their meanings. The case studies in this exam paper use:
- diagrams (Case Study 4)
- tables (Case Studies 1,3,4) (Book 2, chapters 13 and 25, FT chapters 7 and 23)
- graphs (Case study 2) (Book 2, chapter 9, FT chapter 16)
The scientific method
The essence of the scientific method is to test the abstract theory against what happens in the real (concrete) world. This is nicely shown by the mixture of abstract and concrete words in the exam paper:
Case Study 1
Some students took some beakers of different sizes. Each beaker had a different diameter. They put the same volume of boiling water in each beaker and measured the temperature drop after 10 minutes.
Case Study 2
A manufacturer of paper cups wanted to find out which size of cup would keep tea hotter for longer. Scientists at the company tested 5 different sizes of cup. They put the same volume of tea at 80 degrees C into each cup and measured the temperature drop after 10 minutes.
In our discussion in Birmingham the science teacher told us about a straightforward exam question on photosynthesis, which the students failed to recognise because the example given was unfamiliar. I am not enough of a physicist to give good examples from heat transfer, but here is an example from the last exam paper I analysed (SCA2FP F): the first question was essentially about the adaptation of species to their environment. The question used as an example the Arctic hare (with picture). Any one of the millions of species on the planet could have been given as an example. I wonder if it is helpful of the examiners to give the picture of the hare, because that draws the examinee’s attention to the hare and away from the essential part of the question the abstract question of the adaptation of species to their environment.