Education Insights| Science Week 2019

Science as a subject allows people to dive into the facts and improve their understanding of the natural world and how it works. The inquisitive nature of science has inspired discoveries which, in turn, have allowed the human race to change the world at an increasingly rapid pace. The ability to ask ‘how’ or ‘why’ a process has happened is the fuel that pushes science forward every single day. This process of scientific inquiry, known as the ‘Scientific Method’, can be transferred into all fields of life, with observation and reflection used to better ourselves as a result. A great example of this process is the discovery of penicillin from the ‘godfather of microbiology’, Sir Alexander Fleming. He discovered that after leaving a sandwich on his desk when he went on vacation, a small area of the sandwich had not grown any bacteria or mould. The drive to discover why this occurred provoked the research process, which ultimately resulted in the creation of antibiotics, which now save millions of lives each year. Without Sir Fleming observing this natural phenomenon, and using his observations to drive further research, the production of antibiotics may never have occurred, or perhaps would have required many years and unnecessary deaths to discover.

Science education in schools has moved on from the teacher-centered approach seen in a traditional classroom, to focus on facilitating pupil-led enquiry. Within Wellington College International Hangzhou science lessons, this pupil-led approach can be observed in many forms, from independent pupil research to whole-class practical investigations. Ultimately, the aim is to inspire pupils to discover science themselves, and inspire them to reach for further knowledge in areas that interest them. As teachers of science we yearn for those ‘wow’ moments in every lesson; those moments where we see the pupils developing a real passion for the subject. Enquiry-based learning teaches pupils how to solve problems for themselves, deal with problems as they arise and understand the ‘why’ or the ‘how’ by discovering the answer for themselves; something much more satisfying that having it fed to them by a teacher. When most people recall their science classes from school, they will recall those ‘wow’ moments. At Wellington College International Hangzhou we want those moments to not just be a show, or a spectacle, but rather a spark that inspires future learning and enquiry.

Most of our time as teachers should be spent facilitating learning rather than explicitly feeding children information. This allows the knowledge they individually discover to be cemented into the long-term memory of a child. However, it is a challenge to follow this approach without being conscious of the fact that standardised tests and exams are around the corner.

Educational exam boards for science have also recognised the importance of enquiry, and have incrementally altered their exams to test the application of knowledge in a practical way, rather than simply focusing on rote memorisation of facts.  This is wonderful, because it allows us to teach pupils in a way that promotes enquiry, and in a way that we know will also help them be prepared for future exams. That is to say, enquiry-based learning does not harm exam readiness.

Many studies that describe levels of learning, such as Blooms or Anderson’s taxonomy, demonstrate that the ability to apply knowledge to many different situations shows a high level of learning. In order to maximise learning we need to extend enquiry to beyond the classroom, giving pupils an opportunity to apply their knowledge in situations that happen around them. It is not sufficient to simply read information or hear it from a teacher. This only helps pupils retain the information for a short period of time. Being able to internalise information and use it continually is enabled when children can use their knowledge in practical applications.

Events such as this week’s inaugural Science Week provide outlets for this type of practical application of knowledge. Science Week encompasses a range of events and activities throughout the week of 11th-15th March, and combines learning across Huili Nursery Hangzhou, Huili School Hangzhou and Wellington College International Hangzhou. Many inspiring events will be taking place throughout the week, not only in science lessons but right across the curriculum, highlighting the importance of science as a cross-curricular topic. This year Science Week takes the theme ‘A Journey’, where pupils will investigate and take part in activities discovering the science behind many journeys; such as space travel or tunnel building.

One key activity during Science Week will be a whole school science poster competition, with different prizes given to the winners of each grade. Then the top 5 from each grade will be entered into the British Science Week poster competition. Further details of this will be presented to pupils in assembly this week.

Other activities will include rocket making, paper-plan making, bridge building, perfume making and nature walks. On Tuesday we were joined by a local university Air Show Team, who demonstrated model planes flying, while providing commentary on flying and aeronautical engineering.

We hope that you will support our first annual Science Week and discuss with your children the educational and scientific fun they have taken part in during the week.