Throughout my many years in science classes in Middle School and High School, I have noticed one thing more in common than anything else. This is that there is no good way to give a test in most subjects of science, for the reason that they are hands-on and experimental, and not a subject for which someone should be able to study and learn the facts, such as history, or to simply memorize vocabulary, such as English or a foreign language. Science is a much more skills-based subject than most other classes in school.

Tests, in the traditional sense, make a student recall certain facts about the subject on which the test is based. These facts will more or less be considered "right" or "wrong". If they are "right", then the student will get credit for getting the question correct, and if they are "wrong", the student will lose points for that question. This leads to a very specific problem with science courses, and to a lesser extent with math courses.

Science and math courses are based on knowing not only the material that was taught, but also on being able to manipulate what you know in order to answer the question. With math, this is not as much of a problem, as most math can easily be represented on paper. However, in science, which everyone (I hope) would call a labratory-based course, this is much harder to do. In science, since it is based on experimentation, anything could change at any time. Sure, there are certain facts that one must know, such as that C6H12O6 is glucose, or that one mole equals 6.022 * 1023, but being able to manipulate those facts in a labratory is what science is all about. A teacher can learn much more about howmuch a student knows by observing them perform a lab than they ever could reading a test and marking answers right or wrong.

The result of this type of test in science is the rejection by many students that science is hard and impossible, and that it cannot be done by anyone but geniuses and nerds. This could not be farther from the truth. What they have been taught to believe is science is nothing more than sitting at a desk and learning simple facts such as the molecular formula for glucose or how much one mole of oxygen weighs. They have not been taught the true nature of science, one that is, indeed, fascinating, and one that does not deal with written tests, but instead with "getting your hands dirty". Had they been taught that science is understanding how the body is able to find which gene to replicate, and seeing hydrogen nitrate react with aluminum carbonate, then many more students would be interested in science. Instead of leading some dull, and ultimately unimportant life, they could discover something which drastically changes our view of the universe.

Ultimately, this failure in teaching science well is caused by the school's desire to have a tangible grade by which to rank students compared to all other students. If this were either revised so that the teacher could base the student's grade on how well they tried in a class, even if they may not be incredibly gifted in that subject, or if grades were completely abandoned, then the current Failure of American Education would be fixed.

In a broad sense I agree - science is not just a fact based subject. Experiments are the foundation of deciding what theories are correct and which are not - but practical work is not really the biggest part of science.

To quote Isaac Newton "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants". The foundation of science is reading the work of other scientists so you do not duplicate it, and writing up your own results for other scientists to view. This requires a number of skills, namely

  • Interprtting written facts
  • Finding flaws in the process used to arrive with these facts
  • Interpreting the results from your own experiments
  • Forming theories based on these results and testing them

All of these can be perfectly well assessed through tests. Admittedly they are not as fun, but they are probably a more important part of science. Einstein didn't arrive at his theories just by shining bits of light on things, and Newton had to do much more than just let an apple fall on his head.

I admittedly am not American, but the science course I am taking does involve a fairly large part practical work (20%). IMHO this is a fair representation of how important practical work is.

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