Science in Primary Schools (1961)

This short pamphlet discussed some of the possibilities for primary science.

See also Pamphlet No. 38 (1960) Science in Secondary Schools.

The complete document is shown in this single web page. You can scroll through it or use the following links to go to the various sections.

Introductory (page 1)
General background (1)
The meaning of science at this stage (3)
Starting points (9)
Constructing the syllabus (13)
Lines of development (16)
How far can a topic be pursued? (23)
Some matters of organisation (26)
Primary school science and secondary school science (30)
Conclusion (31)
Appendix Children's questions (32)

Imperial measures are used in this pamphlet. An inch (" or in.) is 25.4mm; a foot (ft.) is 30.5cm; a pound (lb) is 454g.

The text of Science in Primary Schools was prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 21 November 2022.

Science in Primary Schools (1961)
Ministry of Education Pamphlet No. 42

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1961
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.


[title page]


Science in
Primary Schools


[page iii]


In a world in which rapid scientific developments make an impact on almost every aspect of most people's lives it is proper that the teaching of science in schools should receive a good deal of attention, both from inside and from outside the educational world. Attention naturally centres on the *secondary schools where science has a familiar place in the curriculum. But in recent years there has been a growing interest in the part which science could or should play in the education of younger children - the pupils in the primary schools. The purpose of this pamphlet is to encourage this interest and to give it coherence and direction. It is addressed primarily to the teachers, on whose ideas and decisions successful developments must depend.

*Science in secondary schools has already been the subject of a Ministry Pamphlet which was published in 1960 (Pamphlet No. 38, H.M.S.O. Price 6s.). Some of the ideas there discussed in detail are used in the present pamphlet and it is instructive to read the two together.

May 1961

[page iv]




Science and common sense5
The value of direct experience6
Other sources of information7

Children's questions9
The teacher's interests10
Other means of arousing interest11
The set lesson11

The wide-ranging interests of children13
The customary branches of science14
Unconventional themes15

Varied abilities in one class16
The use of problem tables17
Enquiries that involve measurement20


The teacher26
The place of books28



[page 1]


At a time when a great number of teachers in primary schools are considering, sometimes with a little anxiety, whether or not the present growing interest in science should influence the work in their classrooms, this short pamphlet has been written to discuss some of the possibilities. It does not say that here is something new which must be given a place - that is a matter for the teachers with their own pupils in mind to decide for themselves. It does not propose a syllabus of work - that also only teachers can work out. This pamphlet develops a point of view about science in primary schools and draws the conclusion that, if the work chosen is appropriate for the children, its greatest value could arise from what they are led to do themselves. It continues with a number of examples, drawn from work done in schools, in the hope that they will assist teachers in their thinking. To some it may appear to describe work more appropriate for the brighter pupils, but experience has shown that the same topics interest children of very different abilities. Ways can be found of discussing these topics with weaker pupils, although their rate of progress will be slower than that of the abler ones and the quantity of illustrative material they will need is greater.

The pamphlet is divided under a number of headings for reference, but it has been written as a continuous essay; the significance of any part can therefore best be appreciated in the light of what goes before. Examples and ideas have been drawn from many schools, writers and speakers, and the authors offer their thanks to the originators, known and unknown.

General Background

New ideas in English education have usually come from the schools themselves. To say this is not to overlook contributions from other sources but to emphasise the liberty to experiment which the teacher possesses and values. The best teachers have rarely been content with the educational process as they have found it, but have sought ways of improving it. The impetus to design and try new methods has been particularly strong in the primary schools. Here the changes brought about during the last fifty years are clear to see. Not only are the schoolrooms better lit and brighter in appearance, but much the same

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can be said of the work being done in them. Probably the most conspicuous difference lies in the intensity of purpose with which children go about what they accept as their own business. The good school succeeds in winning the child's full co-operation in his own education by using objectives which he can understand. His initiative is welcomed; he is encouraged, quite early, to begin standing on his own feet, and his confident and sensible response has often exceeded his teacher's hopes. This advance sprang from close study of children's interests and ways of development. Gradually the idea that courses must be suited to the pupils became accepted; it found expression in the 1944 Education Act. Instead of requiring children to accept adult standards, teachers are now quick to note their questions and responses and, at each stage of development, to use these in shaping the educational process.

One attribute which the children with whom this pamphlet is concerned have in common is a vivid interest in the external world. The period from seven to eleven, especially, is a time for endless questioning. This curiosity is natural, even though it may prove fleeting when it is unharnessed. The natural response of a friendly grown-up to such questions is to give answers as full and honest as he knows. But the teacher looks further; *his predominant interest is in the part the child should play in the discovery. He asks himself what answers will keep the child's mind actively at work. He will persevere until the vague question is tidied up and becomes definite, contriving to whet the appetite and then to show how and where further knowledge can be obtained. So helped, a child willingly undertakes the enterprise. Children nowadays are encouraged to find out about the world for themselves, beginning at school or at home, then, at first-hand, gaining experience of their locality, or of places further afield. They like to see for themselves.

Even a cursory glance at lists of children's questions shows how often scientific topics are in their minds. Some may say that the emphasis on science is only a reflection of adult interests, since children play out the preoccupation they notice in adults, or that the ideas are stimulated by the reading matter, entertainment and toys they are given nowadays. But this is no modern phenomenon. Children have always asked questions of this kind as part of their normal business of discovering what they can about the world in which they find themselves. What is different is the response to such questions now being made by teachers in primary schools, who encourage the children to look for themselves. So a group or a class finds itself engaged upon a scientific enquiry, sometimes as a result of the teacher's forethought and plan-

*For brevity, the masculine pronoun is used to stand for master or mistress.

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ning, sometimes quite by chance. As this practice seems to be growing, it is time to see what are the underlying general principles and what expedients can be used to enable such work to go forward even when classes are large and classrooms are small. Development is still in the early stages and there is plenty of room for experiment, but sufficient experience has been gained to justify an assessment of the position.

The Meaning of Science at This Stage

It is necessary first to examine carefully what is meant by 'Science'. To many people the word signifies a body of knowledge and a set of theories about the behaviour of nature, and about the many inventions by which man has used his knowledge to his own advantage, the whole forming a vast story of which we all hope, and need, to know a part. When children hear and read about these things, and see about them examples of man's ingenuity, they want to know more. Are the schools fulfilling their duties if they simply give information? Most young children, and many of the slower older ones, are content to accept the teacher's word, or the printed word, without hesitation. There are times when no more can be given. Stories about scientific discovery provide part of general knowledge and can be an adequate response, on many occasions, to the child's demand. At any time the question may be asked 'What is a germ?' and the teacher in his wisdom may decide to tell the story of Pasteur. Such tales well told are not likely to be forgotten. The smelting of bronze and of iron, the plague of locusts, or the story of the steam engine could arise in history; the building of dams for hydro-electric power or the care of forests might come up in geography. The school library may provide stories of the migration of eels or of salmon.

Valued as these stories are they cannot by themselves constitute science for children in primary schools. There exists another kind of experience to which they are entitled, but will miss if no more than information is provided. Science implies both knowledge of this world and a way of gaining that knowledge. The scientific method involves asking appropriate questions, seeking relevant answers, setting out evidence in a lucid way and drawing inferences from it. Above all it appeals directly to nature, through observation and experiment, and accepts no other authority.

But of course children at the primary stage are not ready for the extended arguments, or the generalisations, by which an adult sums up scientific experience. Concepts must be formed before reason can operate, and these must be based upon experience. It is here that the

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primary school can play a fundamental role. The teacher's task is to arrange that the child meets situations likely to give him appropriate experience, and where necessary to help him to take advantage of them.

An apt illustration of what a child can do was described about one hundred and fifty years ago*:

S---, a little boy of nine years old, was standing without any book in his hand, and seemingly idle; he was amusing himself with looking at what he called a rainbow upon the floor; he begged his sister M--- to look at it; then he said he wondered what could make it; how it came there. The sun shone bright through the window; the boy moved several things in the room, so as to place them sometimes between the light and the colours which he saw upon the floor and sometimes in a corner of the room where the sun did not shine. As he moved the things he said 'This is not it;' 'Nor this;' 'This hasn't anything to do with it'. At last he found that when he moved a tumbler of water out of the place where it stood, his rainbow vanished. Some violets were in the tumbler; S--- thought they might be the cause of the colours which he saw upon the floor, or, as he expressed it, 'Perhaps these may be the thing.' He took the violets out of the water; the colours remained upon the floor. He then thought that it might be the water. He emptied the glass; the colours remained, but they were fainter. S--- immediately observed, that it was the water and glass together that made the rainbow. 'But,' he said, 'there is no glass in the sky, yet there is a rainbow, so that I think the water alone would do, if we could but hold it together without the glass. Oh, I know how I can manage!' He poured the water slowly out of the tumbler into a basin, which he placed where the sun shone, and he saw the colours on the floor twinkling behind the water as it fell: this delighted him much; but he asked why it would not do when the sun did not shine. The sun went behind a cloud whilst he was trying his experiments; 'There was light,' said he, 'though there was no sunshine.' He then said he thought that the different thicknesses of the glass was the cause of the variety of colours; afterwards he said, he thought that the clearness or muddiness of the different drops of water was the cause of the different colours.
Let us follow the steps that the boy took, and make a simple analysis of his excursion into science:
(1) It was an exploration of one aspect of his environment; in this case, of his immediate environment.
(2) It was an empirical process: he made no use of scientific theories.
(3) It was a methodical process.
*The extract is taken from Essays on Practical Education by Maria and C. L. Edgeworth, 2nd edition 1811.

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(4) It arose from something that had caught his interest; in this instance, a chance observation of his own, not pointed out to him.
(5) He was impelled to ask himself a question.
(6) By his own efforts he sought immediately to find an answer.
(7) He changed the form of his original question to one which he thought he could answer by experiment.
(8) He sought for all the things which might be linked with the fact he was studying and one by one he tested them.
(9) False trails, once seen to be false, were abandoned.
(10) He used the evidence he discovered as the foundation for his conclusions.
(11) His conclusions were not final; in fact he left himself with a problem more difficult than that from which he started; but this is often so in science.
There is no doubt that S--- was a boy of considerable intelligence, and unusual too in the persistence with which he followed his enquiry. Perhaps his persistence was a measure of the interest he felt in his problem. Many children finding themselves baulked might have turned away; but at this point help from an older person, just enough help and no more, would probably have kept their minds at work long enough for them to gain that element of success that is so important in giving impetus to an investigation. The final step, of devising an experiment to decide between the glass and the water, had in it more than a touch of brilliance, and the rejoicing born of success was fully justified. The honest recorder did not stop at this climax, but noted the boy's further attempts at speculation; it was right that the boy should consider the possibilities of muddiness even though further experiments might have rejected them. The story does not continue further; it is probable, the burst of energy having spent itself, that S---, like any other boy, turned to a different occupation.

Science and common sense

The objection might well be raised that, although the phenomenon that the boy studied is normally classified under the heading of science, the method by which he studied it was nothing more than common sense would dictate, and that such a method would be as applicable to other studies as to science. This is not to be denied; it is because the pursuit of science at the primary stage encourages qualities that we are already seeking to foster in the child that it links closely with the rest of the curriculum. Yet at the same time it demands an emphasis which marks it off from other fields of knowledge as a study in its own

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right, namely, the reference at first hand to the environment as the prime source of information. In the study of history, by contrast, we cannot watch the advent of printing, or fight the battle of Marston Moor over again, nor can we visit the Great Barrier Reef during a geography lesson. In these subjects we use different tests for truth, though with the same intellectual integrity and in the same spirit of enquiry. Despite differences, however, when we think about science in the primary school we must think not only about the range of phenomena that forms its study, but also about the qualities that this study shares with others, for at this stage we are using science more for its educational value than for its material utility. We are concerned not so much that the children should arrive at the same result as highly trained experimenters have obtained, as to see that they draw fair conclusions from their own information.

The value of direct experience

The effort to understand how things behave, the striving to find out truth for ourselves by direct close observation, and if necessary by experiment, is a character of man in which we all delight. It is highly developed and well organised in the trained scientist; but the germ of it exists in everybody and it is particularly active in young children. Their senses are keen, and to the observations made with them they can bring a fresh intellect not yet caged in standard forms of thought. They can carry out simple experiments for themselves - as indeed they are always doing in their play - and they will usually do so with great satisfaction. The encouragement, but not the interference, of an adult is often necessary, especially at moments of disappointment or bewilderment. At other times the suggestion of pioneering, of exploring, is sufficient to put them on their mettle, and this is true particularly as they approach the end of the course in the primary school. They say 'Let's go and find out', 'I want to see'. It is because they can gain a fundamental experience in scientific work that suitable opportunities for them to make direct observation must be grasped.

Children will make statements, often repeating hearsay, which they can put to the test; they will ask questions, or can be led to ask questions, which are best answered by their own observations or experiments, and nearly always the pursuit is valuable educationally. They may ask 'At what time in the morning do birds begin to sing?', or after a strenuous game somebody may notice that hearts are pounding, and counts of beats to the minute may be tried. At the beginning of a game the tossing of a penny for sides may lead a teacher to ask 'If I spin a penny a hundred times, how many times will it come down heads?' When frog-spawn has been brought into the classroom, a child

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may say 'Do tadpoles like a dark aquarium better than a light one?' In such cases it is easy to see how the children can proceed to investigate for themselves; at other times the teacher would need first to develop their thoughts. A day will seldom pass without some opportunity arising in a primary class for an investigation to be launched. Not all can be attempted; there will be many which the teacher will decide against, some because of danger or possibly of cruelty to animals, or because the controls and conditions needed will be beyond the children's ability to understand, but some will be too valuable to miss.

Observation will clearly occupy a prominent place in the work. Everyone observes, but most people observe with limited accuracy; it is a skill born of interest but it requires training and practice. Alertness to the situation as a whole is not enough, awareness must be directed to those features which concern the problem in hand; this it is that tests the skill of the teacher. Children will look at a water-beetle and delight in its antics, but if they are asked, when they have left it, by which legs it holds on a stalk of water-weed or how it seizes its prey, they will usually have to look again.

Children will gain experience by using all five senses to observe - caution is needed in employing the sense of taste - but the teacher will be needed to focus that experience by question and suggestion. 'But how do you know it is the flies that make the meat go bad?', 'You say the milk is cooler if we stand it in a draught, but how can we be sure?' He will also be needed to advise on the reliability of observations 'Do you think that the same would happen if you did it again?', 'Shall we let Mary do it and see what she finds?', 'Is it sufficient to feel the water to know how warm it is, or should we use a thermometer?' And if they use a thermometer will the children be convinced that the reading on it means the same as their sense of touch tells them, or that it is a more reliable guide?

Other sources of information

The core of the work will be the direct investigation of problems, the examination of evidence and the drawing of conclusions from it, but the children will bring a good deal of information, of varied reliability, from other sources including television, films and general reading. Is this to be admitted?

If the work is to help children to form their beliefs rationally about the physical world, it is important that they should come to distinguish between what is founded on good evidence and what is taken on trust. They are used to taking things on trust and may regard it as impolite to question what an adult has written or said. When they grow accustomed to dealing with problems that have little emotional content these

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feelings may be replaced, to some extent, by a readiness to weigh possibilities and to suspend judgment when evidence is lacking. As the work proceeds, both teacher and children will be better placed to discriminate between knowledge built on evidence that they have verified themselves and the information about science that they have accumulated from other sources.

Some of this information may be drawn only from fantasy, but this can afford good opportunities for exposing fallacies and sorting out the grain of truth. It can lead to valuable studies as with one boy who, through reading space-fiction, became interested in the moons of Jupiter; this led him to make a study of astronomy. He still reads space-fiction, but has grown more sceptical of what he reads. Hearsay has its value, too, as a source of information. It is notoriously unreliable as a guide to conduct, a fact that an American class realised when they had satisfied themselves that touching a toad did not give them warts. The information derived from more reputable sources can give rise to difficulties that are harder to resolve. It is one thing to accept that the throat of a lapwing is black in summer; it is another to accept that an electric current is a flow of electrons. The first could be verified by any child who saw lapwings in summer; the second could not be verified by any means he is likely to have and is too mature a concept for him to understand even if he merely accepts it. When children are framing their own explanations they may wish to use such concepts; it may be hard to dissuade them from doing this, but at least they must be clear that they have made assumptions and that any arguments based on them may be unsound.

At this stage an empirical approach is by far the best. Even though he may allow a little latitude in his pupils' statements the teacher needs to be scrupulous in his own. Too much passes for science in schools which for lack of adequate basis should be dubbed 'non-science'. Some children who had carried out an experiment with a burning candle under a jam jar were allowed to write: 'The candle went out because all the oxygen was turned up and only the nitrogen was left'. It is difficult to escape the suspicion that the children were given things to write which inhibited thought; they were told what to believe. To them the names 'oxygen' and 'nitrogen' are jargon as meaningless as a magician's words of invocation. A more reasonable conclusion might be: 'Because the candle went out, I think some part of the air may have been used up'.

If the arguments of this section are accepted, much of what is done as primary school science is seen to be unsound. At its worst, children are told what the teacher thinks they ought to know. The picture book robin is examined rather than the one outside the window. The practical

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work is selected to show that in certain cases what the teacher, or the book, has already said, is right. 'I told you so!' There are some things which the teacher has to tell, others which it is better that the child should discover. What is not yet clearly enough established is the essential difference between a man-made convention which the child needs to be told ('this is the mark we make when we mean two of a thing') and a natural truth which, no doubt with unobtrusive aid from his teacher, the child can find out for himself ('everyone of my primroses has got five petals').

Starting Points

Children's questions

Of the many ways in which an enquiry of this kind can originate, first place must be given to the demand which comes from the children. When the solution to a particular problem is felt to be urgent, necessity can indeed be the mother of invention. An example of this arose during a class visit to the seashore, when a pupil asked: 'Is it possible to get fresh water from sea water?' The teacher posed this question to the class as a whole and they planned how, either individually or in small groups, they would try to answer it. Six girls decided to sieve the water and after discussing the best size of mesh they selected a piece of muslin. The majority decided that they would try filtering, for they had recently been filtering some muddy water. A few claimed that if they boiled the water the salt would stick to the container, like fur to a kettle, and the water would then be fresh. All these methods were tried and found ineffective and the class set out to devise alternative experiments. Two or three children hit on a successful method, suggesting that the salt water be boiled and the 'steam' collected from a cold plate held in its path. Here the teacher had turned a useful question to good account, and by patiently letting them speculate and experiment, though knowing most of the experiments would prove unfruitful, gave them an excellent experience of a method of scientific enquiry. Another example came in the finding of a dead bird by some nine-year-old children. They were serious about wanting to know what would happen to it if it were left. The teacher, although the subject was not one he would have chosen, knew that sooner or later the process of decay must be faced and he did not check the children when they decided to see what would happen after burying the body in the garden for a week.

A selection of children's questions collected by one schoolmaster is to be found in an appendix. Not all the questions that arise with young children can lead to investigation. Usually an adult is appealed

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to and, occasionally, must take over the problem. Life is too short for children to discover everything for themselves. The decision to withhold the answer, or even to conceal that he knows the answer, is one that calls on the teacher for wisdom and a good knowledge of the questioner. With experience he learns how to develop for the children an occasion for learning. Often he must say that no answer is known. Certainly he must not pretend to knowledge which he does not possess. If he is honest and alert in his discussion with the children, they will soon develop that critical, questioning attitude which is fundamental for the work, but is all too often sadly wanting. It can sometimes be an asset to an investigation that he really does not know the answer to the problem concerned. The thought that teacher and children together are exploring the unknown can give an additional sense of adventure to the class.

The teacher's interests

At this point it may be objected that while a question that arises unaided in the children's minds can be an admirable starting point, a teacher cannot always wait for a good question to be asked. It may not come frequently or regularly enough, or the opportunity may appear in so unexpected a form that it is not grasped. The answer to this objection is not necessarily that the teacher must lay down the course of study. Between a situation presented complete by the children and one wholly staged by himself a wide range of intermediates is possible. Some excellent openings have been prompted by children catching the teacher's particular enthusiasm. The cub mistress on the staff, the amateur astronomer, the gardener, or the beekeeper have plenty of material to bring to the children's notice. At one school the children made careful observation of the number of bees entering and leaving a beehive during a period of fifteen minutes each day beginning on 23rd April until on 4th June it was recorded that 'The bees are now so strong and the weather is so warm that it is impossible to make any further observations'. Several children took part. Two children were appointed to count each of the following: bees entering, bees entering with pollen, bees entering without pollen, bees with orange pollen, bees with grey pollen, bees leaving. The observations were related to flowers in bloom at the time. At another school, a master who shared his interest in butterflies with his class became concerned about the disappearance of a certain fritillary. With them he set about colonising a coppice and the children entered wholeheartedly into the enterprise, which needed careful observation and close control. Through the interest of another master an invasion of small birds from the Continent was watched by a group of children who proved

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reliable under his guidance at counting and estimating the size of the flocks. In each of these examples the topic was one likely to appeal. It used material within the children's range but the teacher's cooperation was necessary before they could see the problem or the way of action.

Other means of arousing interest

There are many methods by which a teacher can steer discussion into a direction he desires. He may drop a hint beforehand of what is afoot and allude casually to it again, until, when they come to consider it, his pupils have already made acquaintance with the idea, perhaps developed it, may even think it now their own. The display board in the classroom can provide a starting point, with perhaps a poster, a newspaper cutting or a photograph. These are found in many schools; they are sometimes used to introduce an exposition by the teacher, but seldom to initiate an investigation by the class. Another effective and well-tried method of beginning an enquiry is to use what might be called a 'problem table'. Now that many classrooms are of more ample size than once they were, side-tables are provided carrying various materials, specimens and books. Usually there is one called a 'nature table'. One good use of these tables is to pose questions to the children either directly or by implication. A very simple example can be seen in many infant schools. The teacher provides a magnet, a heap of assorted materials and two cardboard boxes, sometimes only labelled 'Yes' and 'No', sometimes with a question using the word 'attract'. No more is said, but, in time, one child after another tries to sort out the heap by means of the magnet. The teacher makes no attempt to generalise about magnetic or non-magnetic material; that a new means of grouping substances had been observed he considers sufficient. Such tables are not difficult to design and can be used to suggest a range of problems, simple or complex, that can appeal to contrasting abilities at the same time. Problem tables are discussed in more detail later in this pamphlet.

The set lesson

Yet another beginning can be the teacher's decision to give a lesson on a subject of his own choice. He prepares it carefully and may spring it on the class without warning. 'Today we are going to talk about the ways in which plants scatter their seeds'. He would have brought a variety of seeds and fruits with him. He may have prepared large drawings. The children follow his steps through the lesson, look for the details he asks them to see, and draw and record in words what they have learned.

Such a lesson can have its place; there may be times when it is the only course open to the teacher, but it has several possible weaknesses.

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As the children have not been forewarned they come unprepared. If, as is probable, he first recalls to their minds their own knowledge, the quicker-minded will have most of the satisfaction. But if his specimens had been put on show a day or so before, with spaces for the children to fill with material of like kind, their minds would already have been occupied with the topic; they would know where the specimens had come from and there would probably be a better variety of material, possibly including some that presented problems for special enquiry. A mistress who drew her class's attention to the way in which white bryony climbed, received within a few days specimens of ivy, traveller's joy and convolvulus, and then decided that the time was ripe for a brief discussion of their different habits. A master who told his class that they would be talking about mirrors and asked them to bring some, ensured that his lesson would be enlivened by a good number of questions, and received his reward in the shape of a mirror three square feet in size which one boy toiled to bring, a mirror which proved to be invaluable when suggestions were tested in the sight of the whole class.

A set lesson may also lay too much emphasis on the information it supplies. The effect on the children can be to stifle their own ideas. The teacher may press on; the children find themselves compelled, as they are compelled at the cinema, to follow a beaten track. Even practical exercises may involve no more than the carrying out of directions. This takes too little account of the mental habits of young children. In later years, when a chain of argument has to be followed closely, such a lesson may serve an excellent purpose, but one of the opportunities which primary school science should provide is for the children to be able to make an original suggestion which can be put to the test as soon as possible.

How then might a teacher plan such a lesson on 'seed dispersal'? His collection of specimens is already on the table; the children will be adding theirs. Pictures and books for identification are at hand. Very probably the lesson will be preceded by, or take the form of, an excursion to places where seeds and fruits can be found, some still attached to plants, some fallen. A preliminary visit will have satisfied the teacher that the season and place are suitable. Unless real material is available, there seems little point in conducting a lesson on such a topic. The teacher's reading will provide him with some general principles which he will hope to illustrate by judicious questions. 'Which kind of clothing picks up most from the burdocks or cleavers?' 'How far from this solitary sycamore can you find its "wings" and in which direction are they farthest from it?' He may wish to stir their memories with other questions: 'Did the bluebells have any fruits?'

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or 'Do you remember what we noticed as we stood by the gorse on a hot day?' In spite of all this preparation he will go into the lesson knowing that it may take a different course from the one he planned, that because of a particular burst of activity it may have to be prolonged, and that almost certainly at some point he will have to admit that there is a question he cannot answer. Provided that his class is observant and questioning, these thoughts will not deter him.

Constructing the Syllabus

The wide-ranging interests of children

A new difficulty must now be examined. If, among other things, children's questions are to be used as starting points of their studies, it is difficult to see, even though some questions are unobtrusively to be prompted, how the work can be planned far ahead. Yet most teachers find that in order to cope with large classes, schemes or forecasts of work are essential. It must be admitted, however, that in the primary school the scheme of work, if too closely designed, may become well-nigh impossible to operate satisfactorily. No matter how well the work is planned, the teacher of juniors (the teacher of infants still more) must be quick to set it aside when an opportune event or a promising question presents itself. The moment is seized, the children set out on a new course and for a time their minds race ahead. When interest has waned the teacher can turn back to the work he had planned. This may sound easy and idyllic; in reality it demands care, dexterity and often courage. Nevertheless, the success attending such an outburst of spontaneity from the children can be great. Snow brings a host of questions on the day it falls, but when it has lain for a week only an unusual child is still inquisitive.

Teachers who have thought long and imaginatively about the world as seen through a child's eyes can develop great skill in using immediately a question, remark or event to set an enquiry in motion, but a less experienced teacher will wish to draw up a scheme of work as a path (but not a tunnel) to follow. He will have in mind the age and the abilities of his children. His record book will contain a list of their questions and comments, which will influence the planning. He will turn these over with two aims in mind. First, how he can reshape, or limit, the thought so that the child himself can take steps in developing it, can gain direct experience without wholly depending on him. Second, what useful, but small, advances in ideas he can choose as goals which will give the child a sense of achievement, but not a sense of completion, so that he will be aware of something gained and of

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something more to be won in the future. 'You know what we were discussing the other day. I have been wondering if we could find something about it in this way: do you think you could ... ?' These two sides of his planning are discussed in sections which follow, but some other remarks on the syllabus must be made first.

For all that has been said of the dangers of too rigid a syllabus it would be wrong to suggest that no syllabus should be drawn up. The value of such an exercise is particularly great when the whole school course is visualised. The syllabus can give a full and clear statement of aims and methods, and such pointers to the work throughout the school as would prevent needless repetition and would ensure that the teaching was progressive. It would probably, and not unreasonably, reveal the special interests of the teacher concerned and certainly would reflect the school environment. It would always be regarded as a general guide rather than a directive. For example, it could not lay down the amount of time in weekly periods. In infant schools, science (or nature study as it is more often called) can appear at many points. as a class activity when something brought to school by the teacher or a child, or a question, demands the attention of the whole class, as an optional activity for one group of children, or as an organised excursion into the surrounding garden or a nearby park or lane. In junior schools, it is likely to overflow into English, mathematics, geography and craft.

The customary branches of science

Children's questions, which can surprise us by their variety and their apparent inconsequence, certainly pay no regard to the divisions of science which an adult may accept. The younger children's delight in animals makes it likely that questions about them will predominate early in the course. This will continue throughout the primary school and beyond, but questions may soon arise about plants, particularly trees, garden and wild flowers and, at least in farming areas, food crops. As time goes on more general questions and those concerning inanimate things appear. Often it is the moving things - clouds, water, fire and the heavenly bodies - which attract. Then oddities may be noted, collected, brought to school, such as crystals or bored stones, a chrysalis or a photograph of the moon. Furthermore, around the children there is the world of man-made things and who can say when questions about them will begin, as weapons, tools and machines are examined? Any or all of these things may give rise to questions and the teacher entertains them all. The child will have no idea that his problem comes within the realm of science, still less of which branch of science, nor need it concern him at this stage. He may ask questions

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like 'Why is petrol kept under the ground at the garage?' or 'Is that a swallow or a housemartin?' or 'Why is the earth in the field red?' and, in the next moment, 'When I cough, everybody begins to cough, why?' or 'Why doesn't the postman come on Sundays?' It is the teacher's task to sort them out, in order that he may assist the child's thinking. But the categories that he uses need not yet be explained to him. There seems no point, for example, in separating enquiries which deal with living things from those which concern non-living, calling one 'nature study' and the other 'science'. If nature study honestly means what it says, it can hardly be unscientific, and 'science' is still only another name for 'nature study'.

It is true that, whenever scientific enquiry begins, certain general topics are likely to be involved. The ancient elements of earth, air, fire and water are often used for the beginning of chemistry in the secondary school. It is doubtful if general subject headings such as these would appeal to primary pupils. Their interests are far more specific. It is not the prevalence of water that appeals at this age but the behaviour of the water in 'my tap' or 'my ditch' or 'my fish's mouth'. The synoptic view, drawing together all one's experience of water, will find its proper place in the secondary course. To say this is not to deny the possibility of making a series of enquiries all centred around water, as illustrated in a pamphlet of the National Froebel Foundation*, provided that the teacher does not expect to cover everything. Other lists of topics have been published which might be useful guides, provided that they are not regarded as standards, still less as attempts to prescribe what the child must know at any stage.

Unconventional themes

Many of the illustrations given so far have come from within the common ground of early science courses, but there is much to be said for taking up unusual topics when they arise. A child may note, for the first time, the many-coloured lichens on walls or rocks. Do the patches grow in size and can they be transplanted? If in spring the nesting box made for blue tits is occupied, do both cock and hen incubate the eggs and feed the nestlings? Rockets and jets are much in the children's minds. Simple ideas of the means of propulsion can be gained from experiments with deflating balloons, released in the air or tied to a toy trolley. In one primary school the ten-year-olds began an elementary study of musical instruments which included attempts at making them and led, amongst other experiments, to some on listening to bells under water at the swimming baths. Time for digressions can and should be provided in the primary school. Even

*AlIen, et. al: Scientific Interests in the Primary School N.F.F. 1958.

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the well-trodden road in the study of breathing has unfrequented bypaths, and can be entered at different points. 'Why did my fish die?' 'What is black damp in a coal mine?' 'Are there men on Mars?' 'Why do we have the windows open?' 'Why were we out of breath after the race?' 'What is an oxygen tent?' Examinations of life in a pond might show that beetles, beetle larvae, dragonfly larvae, midge larvae or water spiders come to the surface, but sticklebacks, minnows, some snails, mussels or worms do not. Do all these things breathe, and do plants breathe? But the composition of the air, and the different properties of oxygen and nitrogen might not be discussed at all, and it is doubtful if a comparison of respiration with burning would appear reasonable to the primary child.

The teacher will repeatedly discover that a piece of work which has departed from the expected line of development has proved thoroughly rewarding, and records of such experience are instructive. We come back to a point made earlier, one which applies to more than the science in the primary curriculum. It is tempting, but perhaps too simple, to say that in the primary school the act of discovering is more valuable than what is discovered.

Lines of Development

If it is unwise to lay down a rigid course to be followed in science at this stage, what assistance can be given to the teacher who would like to venture into this work? Nothing, of course, which will relieve him of hard thinking, for only he can know his class and its stage of development, what is within the powers of the best of them and what the slower ones might do, perhaps on the same topic, at the same time. What follows is given as a series of examples, most of them drawn from experience in primary schools, which may indicate some of the possibilities and some of the methods used.

Varied abilities in one class

To organise practical work in science within the bounds of the primary school classroom presents difficulties of many kinds. Fortunately, teachers who have had to surmount similar difficulties in the everyday work of the class have evolved many ways of working that are now common practice. Children work in small groups instead of as a whole class; a topic may be sub-divided and different groups tackle different aspects of it. When, later, they reassemble it, they appreciate the contributions that other groups have made to the completed study. Sometimes the work spills out of the classroom, and

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groups work in other parts of the school with the minimum of supervision. The same methods of attack serve very well in science.

There is a time, perhaps many times, when, because of a birthday present, conversation in the classroom may centre around a bicycle and questions will arise. Some of these can involve complex ideas, such as balancing, which are beyond the children, but a variety of matters of varying difficulty can be enquired into. Some children can find out, in the playground, how far the bicycle goes for one turn of the pedal, or for one turn of a wheel. They may be invited to make a wheel, in stiff cardboard or plywood, which will roll out just one yard, and use it to measure a cricket pitch (a disc with a 5¾ inch radius gives a full cricket pitch about 3 inches too long). Others may follow through, and endeavour to describe in words, the linkage between the brake lever and the brake blocks, or may be able to show that because the chain passes over wheels of different sizes these wheels will revolve at different speeds. Some can find out how a small movement of the bell lever gives a rapid movement of the bell clapper, and try to put this into words. Some can have their attention drawn to the tubes which make up the frame and can try to show (by tubes of paper rolled round a stick and pasted, the stick being withdrawn when the tube is dry) that a tube can be stiffer than the same paper made up as a solid rod, a fact significant in the dandelion stem and the factory chimney. They might discover the remarkable stiffness of cardboard document tubes. Others might take on the more difficult task of trying to explain, perhaps in writing, the comfort gained from using springs under the saddle or inflated tyres on the wheels. If the bicycle tyres had modern valves which allow a tyre pressure gauge to be used, the meaning of 40 pounds per square inch might be attempted, with demonstrations using an 80 pound child standing on two inch cubes (or a 160 pound teacher on four). The brighter children who would attempt this might go on to discuss stiletto heels on a soft lawn or caterpillar track vehicles on soft ground. Some slower children, meanwhile, might discuss why the bicycle pedal must spin on its own axle at the end of the crank arm, tying the pedal to the arm to see what happens. Even this list does not exhaust the possibilities of the machine that is delighting its owner.

The use of problem tables

Of particular value is the 'nature table' which in this pamphlet has been re-named the 'problem table'. The nature table, usually prominent in the classroom, with its display of assorted seasonal 'specimens', often failed to evoke much interest. Two reasons put forward for this failure are that it changed too little in style from the bottom infant class to the top junior class and that it was not used for a sufficiently definite

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purpose. Teachers have found that display can have an active as well as a passive character. One teacher began a particular topic by bringing to school a bird's nest dislodged by an autumn gale and placing it on an otherwise bare table with the questions:

What bird built this nest?
How do you know?
What materials did the bird use for building?
By comparisons with old nests they knew and by reference to books, the children, who were eight and nine years old, confirmed that it was a blackbird's nest. During the following week a great variety of old nests were brought in and investigated in similar fashion, leading to the interesting discovery that some nests had had two different occupants, for example, tits and mice. Such work, done outside the nesting season, can promote respect for living things and reduce depredation of nests in spring.

Another class, in visiting the woods, found evidence of squirrels' feeding, for squirrels frequently choose an old tree stump on which to tear off the scales from cones in order to expose and eat the seeds. The children, juniors in an all-age school, learnt to recognise these 'squirrels' tables' and 'squirrels' crumbs'. On return to the classroom the nature table was cleared and a squirrels' table reconstructed. This was only a beginning and as the days passed the table grew to represent more and more of the woodland visit and the children found themselves making a study of the woodland itself.

The table can be used for examining material in many different ways, not only by looking at it but by using other senses. The children might feel the texture of stones, compare the scents of flowers or listen to the differences between notes of music. The table can become a place for doing as well as for seeing, its function something similar to that of a laboratory bench. Nor would the material be confined to living things. With very little encouragement an extraordinary variety of objects will be brought and can be pressed into service to start an investigation.

Older children in the primary school often ponder musical sounds and will bring musical instruments, with a desire to understand their mystery. Usually something can be done to help them. Suppose that two or three tuning forks are brought in, borrowed perhaps from a music shop or a secondary school. They would be put on the table, with a block of rubber. Beside them a card would direct the children's attention to observations that they might profitably start making; they will make ethers of their own in the course of the experiments they do.

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The card might read:

1. You can make these tuning forks sound if you hold them by the stem, strike them on the rubber block and hold them upright on the table.

See what you can find out about the notes the different forks make when you sound them in turn.

2. Bang the prong on the rubber and then hold it against

(a) a piece of paper,
(b) a piece of tin,
(c) your thumbnail,
(d) your nose,
(e) a bottle,
(f) anything else you like.
What do you notice?

3. What happens if you bang a fork and then hold its stem against your head?

Work of this kind, carried out informally over the period of a few days, would be followed by a class discussion in which the experience that the children had gained was drawn together. Their use of language to describe what they had observed would be tested and the chance given them to ask about what they had done, or what had puzzled them or what they might do to settle a question. Someone may have the mechanism from an old musical box and be willing to bring it along. A whole world of possibilities is opened up then.

Almost certainly the children will have gone beyond the bounds of the suggestions made on the card. They may have made discoveries that add substantially to the knowledge that has been gathered from the work suggested by the teacher. They may even have used the tuning forks for some purpose of their own, proper, but entirely different from that intended by the teacher. The results of this might be profitable to the class as well as to the individual.

To some children the experience of a single occasion working at the table may be insufficient: for them it may be necessary to repeat the experience over and over again before the inferences to be drawn from it soak in, or until delight is satisfied and curiosity appeased. Opportunity to do this should be easy to provide, for the table is in the room with the children and the timetable is a flexible one, and even if the experiment disturbs others, a time to perform it should not be hard to find.

It may well be that a simple observation is worth making for its own sake. A pot of nasturtium may be turned again and again from the light to see how the leaves will slowly adapt themselves. Children

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delight in blowing bubbles, and good ones are easy to make with some of the modern detergents; the pleasure they gain from joining two pipes and making one bubble blow up another needs no follow-up, as a poem read for pleasure needs no further comment. Indeed an experiment itself may do all the teaching that is required, and a formal lesson after or before may be unnecessary; although a teacher will generally want to satisfy himself about what has been understood.

Difficult concepts might be made easier to tackle later by experiences repeated beforehand until they have been absorbed. Material can also be displayed on the table to stimulate questions that can be used as sources for future work. Cards asking 'How?', 'Which?', 'Why?', 'What?' might provoke qualitative questions. 'How much?', 'How many times?', 'How much more?' will result in quantitative questions and answers. Both kinds are needed in the exploration of the physical world.

Enquiries that involve measurement

Occasions do and should arise when, in order to find an answer to a question, measurement of some kind is required, but measurement brings its own difficulties and the help of the teacher is often needed, as infant teachers are well aware. The following examples are all taken from work done in primary schools and such work can lead to an appreciation not only of scientific method but at the same time of mathematical ideas. Indeed, in the early primary stage, when the idea of measurement is first being explored, simple science and practical mathematics are almost indistinguishable.

Some investigations require little more than counting, as in the example of the children watching the bees. At the same school a variety of wild flower seeds were planted under different conditions. A careful record was kept of the number of seeds planted and of the number germinating. In this instance, by choosing simple numbers such as 20, 60 or 100 seeds to plant, it was easy to compare the different results and the children were able to use percentages for this purpose. Another mathematical idea, that of an average, is likely to arise as it did with children who compared the number of fruits in dandelion clocks, of peas in pods, grains of wheat in different ears and of petals on celandine flowers.

The difficulty increases slightly when measurement, and not merely counting, is involved. In a small primary school in a rural area, the children were interested in different ways of telling the time and in how people managed before the invention of clocks. A stick 5 feet high was erected in the playground and on a sunny day its shadow was drawn every half-hour from 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The children then

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wanted to know how people could tell the time when it was dark. The youngest children made a sand clock, using two paste pots. They fastened the two lids together and made a small hole through them. They put sand in one pot and adjusted the quantity until the sand took five minutes to run from one pot to the other. Some older children used tins to make water clocks. They made a hole in the bottom of a tin, filled the tin with water and floated a thin piece of wood on the surface as a marker. The water level was marked every fifteen minutes on the inside of the tin, which took three hours to empty. The oldest children made a clock by calibrating a candle from a similar one burning beside it, every half-hour marking on the first candle the height of the burning one, which lasted five hours. When these time-pieces had been tried out, the children suggested doing without mechanical clocks for a whole day and using the clocks they had made instead. In addition, the children studied and used the timetables of buses between the village and a neighbouring town. This led to an enquiry by the older children into speeds of travelling.

Problems of speed which are often found difficult by pupils of secondary school age have been solved by junior children approaching the topic experimentally. Two girls, aged 10, wanted to find the speed of the electric train of a model railway. They decided to measure the distance the train travelled in one minute. To do this they counted the number of times the train completed the 14 ft. 8 ins. of track and then measured the additional part of the track covered before the time was up. They expressed the total distance travelled to the nearest foot. From this they worked out how many feet the train would cover in an hour at this speed and finally found its speed in miles per hour to the nearest tenth of a mile. This led to an interest in the speed of trains passing through the local station, but here it was not possible to measure the distance a train travelled in a minute. Instead, the girls decided to find out how long each train took to cover a mile. They took up their positions, one on the foot-bridge and the other at a point half-a-mile away (as measured on a six inch map) on the bridle path beside the railway line. Each had a watch with a seconds hand which they had compared before they started and each noted the time the engine of a goods train passed her. The train took one minute and thirty seconds to travel the half-mile, or three minutes to travel one mile at the same speed. This observation was repeated with other trains travelling along the same track and in these cases, as the distance had to be chosen instead of the time, it was easier to find the time taken for a standard distance - as is customary with athletics records - than the distance travelled in a standard time. To convert these results into speeds of miles per hour is too difficult for all but the ablest juniors.

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How accurately must they measure if the result is to be informative? A boy measured the circumference and diameter of each of a number of circular objects and obtained, for the ratio, results ranging from about 2.5 to 4.9. Until he had satisfied himself that his own measurements and calculations could establish the rule which the rest of the class was finding, his further progress was halted. He could not be allowed to conclude that the ratio was constant. With a little care, objects with simple dimensions can be chosen so that the difficulty of the ensuing calculation will not obscure the result and the chances of arithmetical error are reduced. For example, if objects with diameters of 3-in., 4-in., 5-in., etc., are chosen, the division sums to find the circumference-diameter ratio are easily done. Usually a preliminary class discussion about the method to be used will help. In an urban school a class of 46 ten-year-olds were measuring the extended length of elastic under gradually increasing loads. 'Aeroplane' elastic was found to be the most satisfactory since a length one foot long or more could be used and it was decided by discussion and trial that if weights starting at half-a-pound and increasing by half-a-pound were used, the elastic was extended sufficiently for the length to be measured only to the nearest quarter-of-an-inch. The same enquiry was used by the teacher to illustrate the usefulness of a graph. The children had already used graphs as ready reckoners in a variety of ways (for example, to find the cost of chickens of weights up to 9 lb. at 2s. 3d. a lb.). When they recorded on graph paper the extended length of the elastic when loaded with ½lb., 1 lb., 1½ lb. weights up to 4 lb., they noticed that the points seemed to lie very nearly in a straight line and when a point did not seem to be in line with the others they decided to check the measurements to see if they had made a mistake.

'Graphical representation' has been known to begin in a simple way in the infant school in connection with weather observations. A child of six brought in a tin which she had left outside, empty, in the rain. Discussion followed as to how the amount of rain collected might be measured. The rain was poured into an empty bottle. Next day the empty tin was put outside again when the children arrived at school and at the end of the day the rain collected was poured into a similar empty bottle. They put the bottles side by side to see which contained more rain. They did this each day for a fortnight, corking the bottles and placing them in a row, each labelled with the date. In reality these children were recording the daily rainfall as a simple block graph.

A group in a different school were discussing how they could measure the rainfall in inches. They had read about a rain gauge and decided

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to make one for themselves, using a cake tin to collect the rain each day and a tall bottle with straight sides as a measuring jar. They poured water in the tin to a depth of one inch and transferred it to the bottle, marking the water level in the bottle 'one inch'. When they discovered that the actual height of the water in the bottle was 6 7/12ths of an inch they decided that the making of a scale would be difficult, but one boy, showing unusual intelligence, hit upon the idea of cutting a piece of paper 6 7/12ths inches long and folding it in halves, quarters and eighths. He marked successive folds 1/8-in., ¼-in. to 1-in, and stuck this scale on the bottle. Each day the rain in the tin was poured into the bottle and a reading was taken.

It is interesting to notice that when children are practised in devising, planning and carrying out experiments for themselves, they become critical of their results, look for sources of error and are prepared to repeat an experiment over and over again. They will usually require help if calculations are to be kept simple and if they are to work to a degree of accuracy appropriate to the measurements involved, but they can become skilled at estimating measurements and in judging the reasonableness of the results obtained. Thus, a ten-year-old boy, asked to make up 'a fancy problem' about any fact he knew, wrote 'The sun is 93 million miles away. How long would it take a man to run to the sun running at one mile in four minutes?' He calculated that this would take 768 years 9 months 2 weeks 6 days 16 hours, adding 'but of course he would have been dead long before that'.

How Far Can a Topic Be Pursued?

One principle seems unavoidable: the teacher should allow a topic to be dropped once it has lost its savour. (How to deal with waning interest in one part of the class when the remainder is still in full cry is a problem he has learnt to meet in every other side of his work.) Some enquiries cannot develop at all. The question 'Why is grass green?', for example, admits no answer. It only asks why grass is the colour of grass. The question 'How does television work?' is one which almost certainly needs to be postponed, though perhaps a child can see the lines on the screen and when interference occurs may see a suggestion of a moving marker like a pen on a sheet of paper. He may realise that if the beam of light which seems to be marking grew first brighter then dimmer as it wrote, then a picture would be possible, but that is as far as he is likely to be able to go. Investigation is beyond him; the ideas are based on physics that he is not ready to discuss. All that the teacher can do is either to tell a tale so much simplified as to be almost

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false and invite the child to take it on trust, or, surely better, to ask the child to wait a few years more.

Other questions can be pursued for a limited distance. If a child asked 'How does an aeroplane fly?' he might not be disappointed with the answer: 'This is a subject which you will have to think about a number of times, here and in the secondary school, before you understand all about it, but I think we can find out something here'. Then would come the teacher's questions to the child, perhaps: 'What keeps a kite in the sky?' (There must be a wind. It must have a wing or surface for the wind to press on.) 'How do you make a paper dart fly?' (It must have wings. You must push it forward.) The more expert children may bring information about gliders or elastic-driven model aircraft. Clearly the part the air must play in supporting the flying machine has to be grasped and perhaps all that can be achieved at this stage is that the children come to realise the existence of the air. They could pull an open fan or umbrella through the air, blow dandelion docks, watch sycamore fruits fall when some have had their wings clipped. They could talk and read about gas-filled balloons and parachutes. Unfortunately, Newton's dramatic experiment with a coin and a feather in a vacuum is not easily shown without secondary school equipment. The better pupils might look at Sir James Gray's book How Animals Move, but the analysis of the forces involved in flight, the problems of stability and of wing-shapes, or discussion of the 'thermals' used by glider pilots would be developments almost certainly beyond their powers.

Let us suppose that the topic of expansion due to heat is being discussed with pupils at the top of the junior school. This could arise in many different ways. Children have asked: 'Why does the stuff inside a thermometer rise up the tube?', 'Why does hot air rise?', 'Why does a cake rise?', 'Why do some bottles crack when boiling water is poured into them?' The subject might develop from talk about something different: the warping of wood, the weather, the soil, the drying out of clay, heating the house, or even the ghostly creaking in the wall when the hot tap is turned on. Examination may be necessary because expansion might have been used falsely in a child's 'explanation'. The treatment would depend on the aspect presented. If the question posed were 'Why does the stuff inside a thermometer rise?' the development might take this route: (The questions which follow are, of course, teacher's questions):

What is the stuff? (Mercury, alcohol, even water, but a liquid).
What is the rest of the thermometer made from?
What is the suspected reason for the rise? (The liquid swells. The

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ancient argument 'because fire had got into it', if raised, must be accepted as no more than speculation until 'fire' is better understood.)
Might not the glass have shrunk? (Let us watch closely, using a bigger vessel.)
Perhaps a bottle is fitted with a cork having a tube in it, filled with water to part way up the tube and plunged into hot water. The sudden drop in water level before the rise (if the bottle is not of 'oven-proof' glass) has to be explained.

At this point interest may wane or be deflected, but perhaps another spate of questions may follow: 'Do all substances expand?', 'Do liquids expand more than solids?', 'Does the air expand?'. The exchange of ideas goes on. 'How can we find if they expand?' (We might be able to see; we might be able to measure). The children might decide to measure a six-inch nail with a ruler, put it in hot water and then measure it again. Under these conditions the conclusion that a warm nail is the same length as a cold nail is valid and the work might end there without any sense of failure in the teacher's mind, for certainly the proportional expansion of iron is very small. But as some of the class are likely to be dissatisfied, having heard otherwise, they may decide to borrow or improvise engineer's callipers. The seizing of pistons could then be mentioned. 'What if the containing vessels or supporting frames expand too?' Here the class might turn to enquire if all solid things behave like the nail. Having tried several they would realise that there were far too many to try, and some too difficult to examine. At this point the reliability of collected records could. be discussed and hearsay challenged. The discovery of the different expansibilities of metals might cause a child to volunteer information about the oven regulator. Yet another direction of thought might bring the statement 'The hotter you make the nail, the bigger it gets'. This also needs to be tested. A longer length of metal with one end fixed and the other resting on a roller, with a pointer to show how the roller turned, can be improvised. The length of the bar may affect the result. The thickness of the bar might also matter for a thicker bar needs more heating to become hot. When comparing the expansion of bars in this way the need for having them of the same size is grasped. If, however, liquids and gases are to be examined, the bottle used in the experiment with water could be adapted for other liquids, or a drop of liquid in the tube could mark the air enclosed in the bottle.

By such means some of the things found out at first hand might be:

(a) Some substances expand when we heat them and contract when we cool them.
(b) The bigger they are, the more they expand for the same heating.

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(c) The hotter you get them, the more they expand.
(d) Liquids expand more than solids for the same heat; air expands more than either.
(e) Different solids expand differently. The same is true for liquids. It is hard to tell with gases.
Whether it is appropriate to draw such general conclusions with a whole class of primary children is very doubtful. It would probably be unsuitable to do so at any stage before the last junior year. There is little doubt, however, that a treatment such as has been outlined would be as much as most junior classes would be able to attempt with understanding. Points to be avoided would include co-efficient of expansion, molecular considerations, and the anomalous behaviour of water near freezing point. The causes of convection and the bursting of pipes as water turns to ice are among the matters which might need attention if some pupils demanded them, but the first is difficult for most children to understand.

The modest reasoning power of the children is not the only limiting factor; some of the ideas which scientists stress can have little meaning for them. For example, children can make a close study of plants in their natural surroundings and, with timely help, can observe how leaves seek a position where they catch all the sunlight. This they can check for themselves with screens or dark hoods and may even conclude that, without light, there is no green colour. But to the young child the discovery that the leaf turns to the light is enough in itself. To tell him what he cannot yet discover, that the leaf is a factory and needs the sun's energy, is to introduce a notion of function premature at least in the younger children. Or again, ever since Linnaeus found in the reproductive parts an excellent system by which to classify flowering plants, so much attention has been paid to these parts as to suggest that the one purpose of an organism's existence is propagation of its kind, a conclusion not likely to be accepted by a child.

Some Matters of Organisation

The teacher

A number of practical considerations remain to be discussed. Most of what has so far been said affects the teaching, and the teacher's difficulties have been much in mind. At this point an important principle in primary education must be re-stated. To the primary school child knowledge need not be sub-divided into subjects; geography, history, literature, mathematics and science may at any time overlap, one fact throwing light on another; all remain very much in the province of the class teacher. The scientific qualities to be

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cultivated in the primary school are ones which children already possess to a large degree; curiosity, acuteness of observation, a desire to experiment, to collect and to sort. Thus the best teacher of science at this stage is not always the science expert, but is often the good class teacher with an interest in the subject and wanting to know more. He will realise that the science he learnt at his own secondary school, invaluable background though it be, is very different from the work his class undertakes. In many of the examples quoted, the teacher was learning with the children and, provided that he knew where to turn for help, this was no bad thing. (There is great scope here for books to be written specially for the primary teacher who is attempting science with his class, books concentrating on single topics, giving information and suggesting a line of enquiry which the children could follow - such trains of thought as have been indicated, briefly, in many of the examples in this pamphlet.) Other teachers in the school who may have greater knowledge, and the specialists in neighbouring secondary schools, are usually very willing to discuss a problem; it is an accepted tradition in science teaching where no one can pretend to know all. Bodies like the Science Masters' Association and the Association of Women Science Teachers exist to help teachers of science*.


The value and place of recording is often discussed. Before starting to make records of work that has been done, the child and the teacher need to be clear as to the purpose of the record. In research, the scientific worker, because he must use his observations to test his ideas, enters all new information immediately and honestly. This rule, born of experience, can hardly be transferred blindly to the primary school. There would be times when a conventional record would serve no useful purpose and when the effort of making it might weaken the picture being recorded in the mind. Sometimes an oral report will suffice. By discussion the teacher and children will build up a vocabulary together, and the common vocabulary will ease communication. At other times a model, map or diagram can replace words. The children who ranged the rainwater bottles side by side had by that means published their findings. Obviously there are times when one method is more appropriate than another. Plaster casts are probably the best way of recording the tracks left by an animal in the mud, but a poor way of noting the characteristics of leaves and twigs. As far as written records go, the pattern for recording experiments' common in secondary schools has little place in the primary school, but the heading 'My Experiment' has frequently been followed by writing that is very much

*See Science in the Primary School, John Murray.

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to the point. Children who are interested and who have something to say, when they are writing about things they have seen and done, can produce work of real merit, but for them to explain exactly what they saw, to give no more than the truth and yet enough for the listener or reader to understand, which is the essence of all clear communication, needs an art not easily acquired. The right phrase and the precise word become important and the child must select them with care. Such composition can provide a useful complement to the freer writing which is a well-established feature of the primary school. The same is true for the descriptive drawing. Its very simplicity masks the skill needed for its making, when only the lines essential are drawn, whether for a bird's claw or for the circuit of an electric torch. The most potent stimulus in the development of this art is a strong desire to tell, and the work in science will often provide just such an urge. Simple science at the observational level can be the stuff of literacy. From a common experience, shared by the children and the teacher, arises one of those all too rare occasions for discussion when we can be sure that we all know what we are talking about. Too often there is faulty communication because this is not so.

The place of books

Books for children are now being produced in quantity. In the early stages of an enquiry, a teacher will be more concerned with helping a child to arrive at his own conclusions in the light of what evidence he can collect directly, than with encouraging him to resort to books. Nevertheless, books have an important place, for they can augment our information and sometimes suggest new things to find out. Suitable books of reference for juniors are not easy to find. It is, however, usually safe to assume that, provided it is well illustrated, a book of quite an advanced character can be usefully consulted at a comparatively early age. Indeed young children soon discard the simple and often less accurate books written specifically for them, in favour of well-illustrated adult books.

Not even adult books are infallible. A ten-year-old boy, an enthusiastic naturalist, read in a book on British mammals that only the back of a rabbit's front teeth are covered with hard enamel. This statement he doubted and straight away he examined the teeth in the skull of a rabbit, to find that the enamel was stronger on the front than on the back. He wrote to the author and received a kindly reply accepting the correction of a mistake which had been handed down from book to book, and admitting that all too often authors had not time to check their facts.

Less valuable are the books that 'explain'. Often they explain facts by referring to laws which only a study of these facts has established,

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so putting the cart before the horse. Sometimes they use theories, especially theories of the structure of matter, which the child is expected to accept, and unfortunately frequently does, without a shred of evidence; an unscientific imposition. Sadder still are the books which tell all that will happen, which, by removing the need for the enquiry and much of the joy of it, only deflate enthusiasm.

With all the warnings it is still true that a number of good books, specially written for junior schools, are becoming available, and more can be expected as experience grows. Some give useful ideas to the teacher, some suggest new possibilities to the children. It is not the business of this pamphlet to recommend this or that book, the teacher will find many in the publishers' lists and must decide for himself which are valuable for his own shelves and which should find a place in the classroom.


Finally something should be said about apparatus and equipment. Since primary school science is predominantly a matter of first hand enquiry by the children it follows that topics for study will lie in familiar everyday surroundings. No costly apparatus is needed. Much of the work will originate out of doors in hedgerow, park, garden or waste ground. In school the work does not demand a special room; indeed it would be detrimental for it to become tied to a laboratory. What is needed is a good-sized classroom with adequate storage facilities, a sink and running water, some level desks or tables, ample wall space for the display of illustrative material, and a sturdy table where children can undertake their individual or group investigations and leave their work in safety.

The same principle governs the choice of apparatus. Specialised science equipment, such as is found in every secondary school laboratory, has little place in the junior school. The simpler and homelier the apparatus the more telling the experiment. With juniors precision instruments are unnecessary. The purchase of standard science equipment might well be limited to a few specific pieces for which there are no substitutes. It seems advisable to start with a minimum of such apparatus and to build up a stock gradually as the need arises. Most schools possess a clock, grocer's scales, a measuring tape and thermometers. Gentle sources of heat, such as small spirit lamps that will not spill or hot water from a tap or from a vacuum flask, generally suffice. It is neither necessary nor advisable for these children to use appliances running at mains voltage.* The dangers of a naked flame need no elaboration.

*See Ministry of Education Pamphlet No. 13 Safety Precautions in Schools.

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Primary School Science and
Secondary School Science

If the kind of work which has been outlined can provide a stimulating educational medium in the primary school, no further justification for it is necessary, but as it will be followed by a course in science in another school it may be advisable at this point to consider the effect of the one on the other.

Perhaps those who think that the primary school work will hamper the later work are as much at fault as those who hope that it can cover systematically the early parts of the secondary course. There are some who fear that what is done in the primary school will take the zest out of early secondary work. This could be true only if there were a limited number of topics and enquiries available and if the primary school could exhaust them. But the trained science teacher in the secondary school, with his laboratory and special apparatus, knows the wealth of material at his disposal and how little time he has. He has, in any case, to adopt a rather different point of view. With his help the boys and girls are learning to appreciate generalisations and in time they see that the general rule covers a large range of phenomena and perhaps is of universal application. The force of this realisation depends upon the fund of experience on which they can draw. Some of this can come from work done in the primary school, and could have a special quality through being firmly based. Another fear is of mis-learning, of inaccurate ideas which the secondary school will have to unravel. This is a danger in all subjects at all stages. In the secondary school the science teacher is accustomed to meeting within a new class a great range of knowledge, and half-knowledge, which he proceeds to use to good effect in early discussions, building up by such means an appreciation of the elements of scientific method.

There is another side to the picture. Children who have learned to enquire boldly are ready to reap the benefit of the secondary course. Their attitude should be an asset in the laboratory. Their curiosity about nature has been developed and they have found some of the ways of satisfying it. It does not follow that their knowledge at the end of the secondary course will therefore be greater than that of their contemporaries, but it might be surer, and at least the possibility of starting that course confidently will have been enhanced.

No more than this need be claimed to justify primary school science. There will always remain wider aspects of scientific work which these schools cannot touch. Science as a body of systematised knowledge, organised into a subject, or subjects, is a study for the secondary stage, often for the later secondary years. Most of the greater scientific

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generalisations which have led to man's control of nature are beyond the grasp of the child we are discussing. Even if he makes their acquaintance, by his conversation, reading, films or television, he can have only a superficial knowledge which he may accept or deny, but which he can hardly test for truth. The profounder thought, which some day he must entertain, that certainty in science is likely always to be out of reach and that sooner or later every theory breaks down, at his age could only bewilder.


This pamphlet has discussed what form of science might be included in the primary school curriculum and the ways in which it might be studied. A final question remains to be answered by each school for itself: 'Is science entitled to a place here?'

If science is to be included in the programme it must be accepted as part of the core of the child's learning, fitting into place with the rest. This pamphlet has argued that the pursuit of science, as here described, is no more than a natural extension of a process already developed in other environmental studies and is in keeping with children's interests, sometimes their dominating interests. It can be grouped naturally with, and indeed will overlap, other informative subjects such as history and geography, and like them it will make good use of the tools of speaking, reading, writing and mathematics. It can knit well with the child's whole education.

The teachers who have already answered the final question in the affirmative would claim more than this for science as part of the curriculum. It makes a special contribution by directing attention to the immediate environment, accessible through close observation and experiment, as a source of information. Using familiar material, well within their compass, the children take first steps towards an understanding of scientific method, and in so doing gain experience of a discipline capable of much wider application.

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A teacher in a junior school invited his eldest pupils to bring him questions they would like to ask. Within a short time he had collected, among others, the following:

1. How does a fly walk on the window or a ceiling?
2. Why does bread taste sweeter when you chew it?
3. How is mortar made?
4. Why is there a double wall to a house?
5. Why is there a hole in a teapot lid?
6. How is a rainbow made?
7. Why does a river not sink into the ground?
8. Why does a bitten apple go brown?
9. Why is a black man black?
10. If rain comes from the sea why isn't it salty?
11. Why are things and people lighter in water?
12. How do fishes breathe?
13. What is gravity?
14. Why does electricity get into your hair?
15. Wood will burn, but not bricks, why?
16. How do cats see in the dark?
17. What is a volcano?
18. What makes the tide go in and out?
19. Why does it thunder after lightning?
20. Why do flowers smell?
21. Why does the moon change shape?
22. Why has a house foundations?
23. How is paper made?
24. What is a Plimsoll line?
25. What is a geyser?
26. Why does a tooth ache?
27. Why does a tree die when the bark is ringed?
28. How does a vacuum flask keep tea warm?
29. What is a light year?
30. What makes an echo?
31. Why does an iron ship float?
32. How do they get sugar out of sugar beet?
33. How does a magnifying glass work?