Primary Science: Extending Knowledge in Practice

Author(s) Judith Roden, Hellen Ward, Hugh Ritchie
Publisher Learning Matters Ltd
Published 2007
Pages 213
Price £16.00
ISBN 9781844451067
Reviewed by Mr James Williams
University of Sussex-Education
Review published 12 February 2008

As the authors acknowledge, knowledge of science in the primary teaching force since the 1960s has been improving, albeit slowly. This book is intended to provide for non-scientists a good grounding in the knowledge required to teach the KS2 science curriculum. That is a tall order, but the book squares up to the challenge and delivers a very useful text that all primary PGCE and undergraduates should have on their booklists. Science is a subject that can inspire children, when taught with enthusiasm and confidence. For non-scientists the enthusiasm may be there but the confidence and/or knowledge can sometimes be lacking. Primary trainees and teachers working through the book can use it as a handy reference and become more confident and certainly more knowledgeable.

The structure of the book is relatively simple; it follows the content of the national curriculum section by section. The structure of the chapters is also a simple and easy to follow recipe. Begin with some learning objectives, introduce the subject, outline the basic ideas then provide some information on what the children may think or even ‘misthink’. Pepper liberally with teaching ideas and reflective tasks and the result is a very competent and useful book that will certainly feature on my booklist next year (in fact I awarded my inspection copy as a prize for a small competition held for my KS2-3 PGCE trainees).

The text is well written and flows, without being dominated by references to other books and articles, further reading and web links, which are useful to trainees and practising teachers alike.

A big problem for any technical subject is how to simplify the complexities of difficult ideas and concepts without reducing them to statements which although not wholly incorrect are not explanatory. For the most part the explanations are very good. One area, a contentious one I admit, is that of ‘energy’. Science has been plagued with problems about how we explain and describe the concept of energy. In essence, two camps, the energy ‘transferists’ and the energy ‘transformists’ never really agree over whether or not we should explain/model energy as being transferred or transformed. In my view confusing the two models is an even greater sin. In essence energy is not a ‘substance’ which we can handle, it is a concept. The ideas of transfer or transformation are really two models to explain energy. I personally prefer energy transfer and so do not like lists of different ‘types’ of energy such as electrical, chemical, heat, light etc. The way the authors deal with this concept is my only criticism of an otherwise excellent book.

The glossary is very useful and will help trainees and practising teachers a lot, though I disagree with some entries e.g. food energy (see above for why) and the definition of evolution as a gradual process - which is not always the case. Again we suffer from two camps, the gradualists – small changes over long periods of time and the punctuated equilibrianists – periods of little or no change, punctuated by periods of rapid changes and speciation.

Overall the book adds an excellent resource to the suite of Learning Matters books dealing with gaining QTS.