"THE TEACIIING OF GENERAL SCIENCE " A Book for Every School Teacher
By PROFESSOR LOUIS RENOUF
Under the title The Teaching of General Science the Science Masters' Association has recently published the interim report of the sub-committee appointed in 1935 " To consider the problems presented to teachers in secondary schools by the introduction of courses in general science as a constituent of general education, and to make specific suggestions about :
1. The aims to be kept in view; 2. The basic principles of the subject, an appreciation of which should he inculcated;
1. The material to be included in such courses; 4. Methods of development and treatment of the material;
5. Time-table requirements at different stages"
Every Teacher Should Own a Copy Although this report deals only with a special field of education in secondary schools for boys it is a work whose contents should be familiar to every teacher, and which is an absolute necessity to every teacher of science, for it not only gives a brief history of the subject as a recognised essential of modern education, together with a very full bibliography, but also states and develops those fundamental principles of pedagogy which are so often forgotten in these days of overloaded time-tables, examinations, and vocationless teachers.
To real teachers it will be a comforting tonic helping them to overcome difficulties, even though science be no concern of theirs.
As the committee understands it "general science is a course of scientific study and investigation which has its roots in the common experience of children and does not exclude any of the fundamental special sciences. It seeks to elucidate the
general principles observable in nature, without emphasising the traditional division into specialised subjects until such time as this is warranted by the increasing complexity of the field of investigation, by the developing unity of the separate parts of that field, and by the intellectual progress of the pupils."
To Learn and Enjoy Scientific study and investigation require a particular method of approach to problems, a method which shall result in the pupils both learning science and loving it, and in realising that while the scientific spirit implies the dispassionate analysis of well-authenticated data, prejudice, superstition and dogmatic assertion are the enemies of vigorous development.
These ideals recall very forcibly one of Pasteur's sayings:—" When I am in my laboratory. 1 begin by shutting the door on materialism and on spiritualism; I ohserve facts alone; I seek but the scientific conditions under which life manifests itself "; while the following extract quoted in the report from the British Association Report on "Formal Training" recalls other sayings and precepts impressed upon his students by that outstanding teacher and student:—" Educative value exists not in the subject per se but in the way in which it is studied. It consists (to use a favourite expression) in learning how to think,' in forming interests and sentiments about a subject, and in building up such habits as perseverence, independent attack of problems.. application of previous know ledge, etc. Any teaching which fails to foster such mental processes is uneducative, however much information it may succeed in driving in, and whatever examination results it may gain."
From all this it follows that the intensive studyof a restricted field must give. way to a syllabus which includes sufficient material to illustrate a wide range of science and its implications, that the course itself must find its starting point and inspiration in the actual human environment, and that any suggested syllabus can be but a skeleton which each individual teacher must clothe with material in which he is interested, so that he can make his teaching to be alive by making full and continuous use of his own inventive powers.
Considering the aims of general science under three heads—(a) Utilitarian or Vocational; (b) Disciplinarian and (c) Cultural, the report stresses the last very strongly, holding that no real idea of modern Western intellectual life can be formed without some knowledge of Science and the history of its development.
The history of science it considers of the utmost importance to the teacher, for it shows him that his work must be thoroughly inbred with a spirit of discovery and with a proper respect for facts if it is to resemble real Science. In particular it points to the importance of a knowledge of the real life of the pioneers of Science, quoting Sir Percy Nunn in The New Teaching: "The prime contribution of the heroes of Science to the world's cultural wealth is not the scientific method but the
scientific life . . . our business is, then, to teach the realisation of the life, not the mastery of the method." Here again is an echo of Pasteur : " The cultivation of science in its highest expression is perhaps even more necessary to the moral condition than to the material prosperity of a nation."
A minimum syllabus for a four years' course is appended ie tabular form under the headings of Physics, Biology and Chemistry, and on the basis of four periods of forty-five minutes each per week and per term of ten working weeks, and the biology syllabus is given also in coursive form.
We very much regret that one of the outstanding defects of most books on Biology is perpetuated in this report—the use of the definite article before the names of " types," such as the earthworm, the mosquito, the malarial parasite, as if there were but one species of each.
The Teaching of General Science. ScienceMasters' Association. (London: John Murray, 2s. 6d.)
The Zoo Magazine
Zoo, the national nature magazine for January (6d), starts the New Year with a new record in interesting articles and wonderful photographs.
In Why Ice Means Life, James Fisher tells us many unexpected facts about the polar regions and icebergs; Capt. Pitman recounts more adventures of a Game Warden in. Uganda; H. E. L. Mellersh explains How Britain Got Rid of the Wolf; W. Kay Robinson begins a new series of articles,
What's That Bird. The Things Animals Say, by Prof. D. Katz, deals with vocal communication between animals; this month's Famous Naturalist is Steller (no mariner ever had a more exciting career
than Steller's). L. R. Brightwell tells of the origin of Flight; Dr. L. Koch of his Quest for Bird Song and the secrets surrounding his marvellous gramophone records; Useful Man-Eaters. by Morley Adams, describes, not animals which get rid of undesirable members of society, but " Sharks of another kind; Windows in Their Wings, by Major Cottam, 'gives an account of protective colouration in butterflies, and there are all the other usual features, including the last instalment of Beowulf.
The fare, itself, is first rate. Unfortunately the way in which some of it.is dished up leaves much to be desired, especially in a publication which aims at being educational. Much of the English is below Matriculation standard, some of the writers are unaware of the two very good words mammals and beasts, and some of the facts could be used equally well to support arguments along lines diametrically • pposed to those taken by the authors.