Oh the joy of Year 7 science! I’ve been teaching Year 7 science for eight years now (most of the time all of it, sometimes, as this year, the Chemistry and Physics components).
I love it for loads of reasons, but here’s three:
Firstly, it’s not a subject. It’s not a body of knowledge that needs to be poured into empty minds. It’s not a list of things to remember or a load of tasks to get done. It’s a way of thinking, of thinking critically about the world that has (literally) made our world what it is. It’s a method of combining imagination with experiment, of matching guesses to rigorous thinking, to work out what works and what doesn’t, to find the reason behind the phenomena we see in the natural world, to edge ever closer to the truth of how everything and anything works. It’s a tool to rid our lives of falsehoods and errors and replace with the enlightenment that lifted us up out of the dark ages and into the light.
Secondly, the experiments we do don’t just teach the students how to do things (such as purify rock salt which we did in the second week) but to re-write their misconceptions of how the physical world works: when water boils, the bubbles are not air, or carbon dioxide, or oxygen – they are water that has turned to vapour because the molecules have now got enough energy (or ‘jiggle’ *) from the Bunsen flame to let go of their neighbouring molecules, that made them behave as a liquid, to bounce freely as a gas and escape the beaker. This is evaporation. The water vapour is invisible but when hits a cold surface like the windowpane, it loses its jiggle to become liquid again and we notice condensation. Everyone has see this before of course, but in our science lessons we see it anew: we see it in our minds. We literally make the invisible, visible. Have a look in your son or daughter’s book and you’ll see their own diagrams, neatly explaining it all.
And the third reason for the joy is seeing their faces when they realise what we’re about to do, the enjoyment they get from doing it and the realisation when they suddenly understand it.
There’s plenty more to do. Next we’ll be extracting metals, growing crystals, doing electronics, making machines, using acids and making boats. Stay tuned for more on the joy of year 7 science.
* defining something that has energy as having ‘jiggle’ was first coined by the great Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. It’s such a simple (but not simplistic) way of explaining energy, which is otherwise a very hard concept to understand. With one word, the students get it and can easily act out themselves as a low or a high energy particle. The explanation is complete and should last them for their whole lives.
Ayd Instone, Head of Physics