Books For Teachers: Brian Clegg’s Getting Science

Getting Science by Brian Clegg targets an audience of elementary school teachers who feel less than confident about teaching science in their classrooms. While I am not in his target audience, I’m close to it. (I love science and teach in small groups of homeschooled students.) Clegg did some things authors should do. He caught my attention, told me stuff I needed to read or wanted to learn, and kept my attention throughout the book. I learned a bit and further solidified prior knowledge. It’s a good book, and after reading this it, I hope many primary school teachers do read it.

Clegg starts his writing with reasons why science can be a little scary. Journal articles and academic writing in general is stuffy and uses inflated words instead of simple-to-understand, everyday language. Science articles weren’t always written that way, and they certainly don’t need to be written that way, but it is custom and tradition now. It takes a bit of effort to sift through that language, but luckily, you don’t need to. You can be an effective and fun science teacher without the stuffy journals. Learn from reading popular books and science shows instead.

Clegg also talks about what science is and should be. Science is an adventure. It should be fun. It should fill you with wonder. Science tries to figure out how the universe works. That doesn’t sound so scary, right?

His first chapter talks about how to engage the kids in the lesson. People like people, so he suggests putting the science in context and finding it in real life. What was the scientist who made the discovery like? How did that scientist grow up? What in his or her life led him to think and experiment the way he did in order to make the discovery? In addition to involving the people and a little history, find the science in real life. If you’re talking about cell division, you could mention making bread and perhaps bring yeast into the classroom. He suggests sprinkling the discussion with amazing, and gross, facts. Kids like gross. He emphasizes that the kids should do stuff with their hands. Watching a demonstration is better than just hearing about it, but the best bet is to have the kids do the experiment or demonstration themselves. We learn by doing. And mostly, make it fun.

If nothing else, teachers should read the first chapter of the book.

The second chapter talks about why we have labs. People aren’t good observers. Many people don’t know the difference between causality and correlation. Anecdotes are not data. Disproving is much easier than proving. All of these people facts lead to why we have laboratories. Fortunately, labs are no longer just filled with middle-aged white men in lab coats, and personalities of all different types can be found in scientific laboratories.

Clegg talks about different scientific eras in his third chapter. 500BC to 1500AD is the classical period. During this time, the prevailing “theory” prevailed because it was argued successfully. There really wasn’t much science involved. Some of this classical thinking is still around today in the form of astrology and the four elements. The clockwork era of science was from 1500AD (the end of the middle ages) to around 1900AD. This era was filled with scientific discoveries and theories that make sense. Newton said force equals mass times acceleration. That makes sense. Spontaneous generation theories disappeared because people figured out flies deposited eggs on raw meat. Clegg calls the current era counter-intuitive. That is, this era of science doesn’t seem to make sense. Just think of the phrases quantum theory, relativity, and light is light but it can act like a wave or a particle.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 talk about cool things in science and Clegg gives suggestions for learning and teaching the topics. What is life? Why don’t humans have fur? How does cloning work what are the five states of matter (Yes, five. It’s not just solid, liquid, and gas). How do mirrors work? What’s the difference between mass and weight? What are black holes? What are wormholes? His explanations are pretty easy to follow.

Chapter 7 makes a case for making science hands on. Chapter 8 talks about finding and seeing science in the real world and how to make experiments come alive, but not in a Weird Science like way. Chapter 9 talks about science on the web. Which web sites are trustworthy, and how can you tell if a site is trust worthy. He also gives hints on how to search the web. Chapter 10 gives ideas on how to keep up to date in science and Chapter 11 tells you to go inspire the world.

The book was easy to read and didn’t take a long time. Even so, it managed to pack a lot of good information in it. Are you a primary or elementary school teacher? If so, go to your library and check out this little treasure.