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Education Science

New UK Initiative - Make Science Easier 423

Posted by Zonk
from the all-those-equations-just-get-in-the-way-of-the-science dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Examiners in the UK have been told to make science 'easier'. From next year 70% of the paper must consist of 'low demand' questions in the form of multiple choice or similar answers. Currently this type of question makes up some 55% of the test. When the recent A level results were announced, with even more students in the UK getting A grades than ever before, educators were congratulating themselves on improved teaching. 'Jim Sinclair, the Joint Council for Qualifications director, emphatically denied that the changes would lead to a rise in the number achieving grade C - the top grade in the foundation tier. Future results would depend on how the marks were allocated. Dr Sinclair added that the changes would help to stop children being turned off by science.' Even still, it's hard to see the benefit from future science students passing by guessing."
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New UK Initiative - Make Science Easier

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  • The Bit About... (Score:2, Informative)

    by JamesRose (1062530)
    Congratulating themselves for better teachings, that's bull, every year people get straight grades and you just get all the adults shouting that students are actually really stupid now and that the tests are just getting easier, trust me, at no point do they entertain the idea of the students being better taught.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jimstapleton (999106)
      Agreed.

      The grades aren't important, the learning is.

      You want to make math and sciences easier, train your teachers to do a better job.
      • A simple rant. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by COMON$ (806135) * on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:44AM (#20397563) Journal
        You would think they would learn from the US educational system (Wait put your stones down people and let me finish). I have known a lot of teachers, son of a teacher here and graduated from a college of primarily education grads.

        So what I hear a lot about is NOT teaching better but increasing grades and look where that has gotten the US. A generation of spoon fed kids who get pissed when they realize the college they are in tries to challenge them. I graduated HS back in '98 and the shift was well under way then, more benefits for the 'slow' kids, less for the gifted. If you are 'slow' (don't read handicapped here), you get special teachers and special dummed down classes for you, study hall breaks and whatnot, then you are rewarded for having a 3.5+ GPA. Then there are other people (not saying we are gifted) but worked our asses off taking advanced math and physics in high school. We get 3.5+ or higher but it doesn't matter because the curve is killed and weighted classes didn't exist. Luckily we have ACT and SAT to even things out just a little but because the classes were dummed down we are unprepared for the ACT/SAT. A good bright student can teach themselves how to take the entrance exams but then why did they go to HS in the first place?

        As far as I can tell with our recent programs initiated, this has only gotten worse since I graduated and students have gotten lazier. I remember a prof of mine explaining comprehensive exams at the undergrad level. Piece of paper, write down what you learned in this class. I didn't take any test like that but you see the point. We teach kids now how to cram and get good grades, we don't teach them to have a passion for the material and explore their world. Personally my kids will go to private school, of my choosing where I can look and see what teaching methods are used and the kind of student that makes it through the system. You should learn something, not just feel good about yourself, a good teacher can help both but unfortunately even the best teacher can be beat down by bureaucracy. Perhaps if enough of us support private schools the State will figure out what a sucessful program is and start enforcing educational standards than Kansas idiocracy.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by mrthejud (1004741)
          Sometimes it is out of the teachers hands. I am a second year teacher and because of this in my province my students need to take the provincial exam. I personally gave a girl a 30% in the class, the test was worth 40% of her final mark. I found out just the other day that she ended up with a 51%. While talking to the principal about the whole thing he mentioned that every kid should try the class because then they at least have a shot at it and just may get it "whether the mark is legit or not". And t
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by bzipitidoo (647217)

          Personally my kids will go to private school

          Careful there. Don't take it for granted that the education at a private school is better. I went to one and it was very hit and miss. Some great teachers, and some terrible teachers. The real eye-opener was hearing that we were the only ones who went there for a better education. Everyone else was there to make connections with rich, powerful, and important people. Part of that was making yourself look like you were worth knowing. Tense atmosphere there. Succeed or die. Some went with the 2nd op

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by porcupine8 (816071)
            I will second this. One positive effect that voucher systems have had in some areas is that once private schools open themselves up to scrutiny by accepting vouchers, some have been found to be so deficient that parents realized that the "failing" public schools were actually better, pulled their kids out in droves, and the crappy private schools closed. Private does not mean better - research every school individually.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by MBGMorden (803437)
            There are also a number of private schools, especially in the US, whose sole existence is there to provide religious foundation in education. The most popular private school in my area didn't have teachers - they had monitors that plugged in video cassettes of the "teachers" doing lessons for that class. The education received there was wholly inferior to the nearby public school (many of which aren't as bad as you'd think), but the private school always had it's doors full because a) they worked religion
      • by Coryoth (254751)

        You want to make math and sciences easier, train your teachers to do a better job.

        I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that an often overlooked point with regard to getting better teachers is that there is a desperate shortage of decently mathematically literate teachers in the early (elementary/primary/whatever you call it) levels of schooling. The problem is, with mathematics being as layered a subject as it is, each year building upon the work of the last, once a student is a little behind catching up can be well nigh impossible: they find themselves chasing a rainbow that

    • I refer you to the campaign for real education at http://www.cre.org.uk/ [cre.org.uk].

      A lot of concerned parents and education professionals. Their website is a mine of information and comparisons on this subject.

      All the information you could want and only a click away.

    • by AGMW (594303)
      Congratulating themselves for better teachings, that's bull, every year people get straight grades and you just get all the adults shouting that students are actually really stupid now and that the tests are just getting easier, trust me, at no point do they entertain the idea of the students being better taught.

      I always thought that the point of examinations was to allow society to differentiate the more clever people from the less clever people. If everyone get's straight A's how do you know who's cleve

    • by jimicus (737525)
      A large part of teaching involves drawing people into the subject and trying to make them interested.

      If the exam boards reckon that it is necessary to have more multiple choice questions because there aren't enough people interested in science, I think it's reasonable to infer from that that the standard of teaching isn't actually that great.
      • The conclusion that you assume is that by making it easier people will become more interested. The problem in science is that it is HARD TO TEACH... I remember when I was a teenager there were good science teachers and REALLY bad science teachers. And when you need to teach abstract concepts like "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" you better be a good teacher since it is non-intuitive.

        Let me illustrate. If you have an algebraic equation A + B where a = 2 and B = 3 then the answer is?
      • I replied to you, but clicked on the wrong link... Sorry about that...
  • by Ckwop (707653) * <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @08:48AM (#20396905) Homepage

    Dr Sinclair added that the changes would help to stop children being turned off by science.

    I can't believe he would possibly think this would attract people to science! I very nearly didn't do Physics at A-Level because GCSE science was too easy. They watered down stuff so much that you couldn't possibly reason with it. You could only solve a limited range of problems with the mathematics available and none of them were remotely interesting.

    I was sad to see the same was true in A-Level Chemistry. A-Level Chemistry isn't really science, it's more like religion. You learn an enormous table of facts with some spirtual-esc "electron cloud" explanation for it. There's no way to work through it from first principles - there is no understanding and a vague promise it would come some day.

    I am convinced that the way to get people in to science is to get down to brass-tax much earlier on; get down to the real physics of what's going on. In my opinion, there is no reason that the bright kids could not be walked through a solution to the Schrodinger Equation's solution for the Hydrogen atom energy levels at sixteen. There is no reason you can't teach them basic calculus either. There's no reason why you can't walk them through how to derive the equations for circular motion.

    You see, it's not the details of the mathematics really matters at this early stage but an appreciation how the solution is arrived at. It's seeing that we take a fundamental postulate, which they would establish by experiment in class, and run with it and here's the physics that we come up with. In short, it's showing them that with rigorous application of the scientific method and a few years of training on the mathematics, that all of this interesting stuff can be arrived at with nothing more than a pencil and paper.

    That, my friends, is how you really inspire! You do not inspire anybody by making a intellectual Mount Everest in to a word-search.

    Simon

    • No calculus? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Colin Smith (2679)

      There is no reason you can't teach them basic calculus either.
      No calculus??? I did calculus at 'O' grade in Scotland. Oh come on, it isn't even that hard.

       
      • by CmdrGravy (645153)
        There's no calculus in GCSE's, at least not when I did them in '87. Instead we had to have extra lessons after school to learn calculus so we could go on to the A-Level maths course the next year.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Tango42 (662363)
        There was no calculus on the syllabus when I did GCSE Maths about 5 years ago. To get the top grades on the coursework, however, you had to include something that wasn't on the syllabus, so I did learn a little calculus in a one-on-one session with my teacher after school (just what I needed for that particular problem... derivatives of trig functions and the quotient rule, if memory serves).

        While doing simple calculus is pretty easy, if it was taught at GCSE it would have to be taught as formulae (eg. d/dx
        • I do

          having not taught calculus in GCSE means they can't use it in any A levels except A level maths because you may be doing them without doing A level maths and even if you do A level maths you don't do any calculus beyond the trivial polynomial stuff until the second year.

          I still don't fully grasp why the different differntiation/integration formula work (I did A level further maths but while doing it realised that maths wasn't really my thing and went to do an electronic systems engineering degree) but I
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by johnw (3725)

        I did calculus at 'O' grade in Scotland. Oh come on, it isn't even that hard.

        I took some of my year 9 (13 year olds) set through some basic calculus in the spring term of this year, *because they asked*. It is indeed not that hard, and I find that they really like stuff when you say, "This isn't on the syllabus but..." Alas, there's just far too little time available to do that. The syllabus is cram full with lots of irrelevant crap which they'll never use again.

        On another similar occasion we did solving simple cubic equations. We'd done quadratics and they were still intereste

    • He's mainly speaking about people who are going to get frustrated and quit due to their lack of aptitude.

      The problem is those people lack aptitude.

      I myself have certain issues with regards to upper level science...Mainly, my capacity to understand theory is kickin but my math skills don't match. So, while I can hold my own in a discussion of theory, I don't have the staying power when it gets down to brass tacks.

      I had to take a certain number of physics classes for my degree, and like these tests, there was
    • by Coryoth (254751)

      There's no way to work through it from first principles - there is no understanding and a vague promise it would come some day.

      This lack of understanding, and the reduction of subjects to memorisation of a long list of facts, is a deep problem that is permeating all the sciences. Personally I feel that it is worst in mathematics, where the confusion between doing mathematics and facts about mathematics [stuff.gen.nz] extends well beyond school curricula and out into the mainstream perception of the subject.

      Learning a lot of facts will help a student pass exams, and it can aid them in appearing to know something about a subject, but it leaves t

    • It's "-esque" instead of "esc," "brass tacks" instead of "brass tax," and "into" instead of "in to" (in the last sentence). I'm sorry to have to correct you, but it pained me to read those in an otherwise-intelligent post.

    • by DrLudicrous (607375) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @05:03PM (#20404291) Homepage

      I am convinced that the way to get people in to science is to get down to brass-tax much earlier on; get down to the real physics of what's going on. In my opinion, there is no reason that the bright kids could not be walked through a solution to the Schrodinger Equation's solution for the Hydrogen atom energy levels at sixteen. There is no reason you can't teach them basic calculus either. There's no reason why you can't walk them through how to derive the equations for circular motion.

      I disagree with you on this particular point. Yes it is true that you don't want to water things down. But if you are serious about advocating these particular examples, I believe that you are wrong. I know this because, A. I have solved the hydrogen atom starting from the Schrodinger equation, and B. because I have taught high school science in the US, specifically physics, to 15 and 16 year old children of all kinds of ability levels.

      The fact of the matter is that while that may have been OK for you to have studied at the age, it most certainly is NOT for the overwhelming majority of students, by which I mean 99.9%. That is a literal number, not figurative. I myself would have been unable to understand the quantum mechanical derivation of the Bohr model of the atom at the age of 16, even if someone had carefully explained it to me. There is just no way to do that and impart deep understanding of both the process and the end result. You are better off just presenting the solution, because that at least is something that students can understand. 16 year olds (again, 99.9% of them) are not going to understand calculus (did I mention it is multivariable vector calculus in 3 dimensions?), let alone partial differential equations (e.g. Schrodinger) and spherical harmonics, all of which are needed to understand the "walkthrough".

      Basically what I am saying is that it is unrealistic to expect even a minority of students to understand such high level concepts that they are not taught in the United States until the sophomore and junior years of university, and even then only to a select number of students (in physics, electrical engineering, and maybe a few others). That is a good way to turn students off to science- making the barrier unnecessarily high. Sometimes, it is OK to gloss over the math, because there is nothing to be gained there. Most students, even the bright ones, are not going to be come physicists, so why subject them to something that is so specific?

      Doing a derivation on something like circular motion is much more appropriate. Why? Because it is something that students can relate to (they have all experienced circular motion, centripetal force etc.), unlike quantum mechanics which is inherently non-intuitive, and the math is orders of magnitude simpler (algebra vs spherical harmonics). On that point I am in agreement. But you must be careful about how you phrase your argument and present your viewpoint because the minute you start spouting off about showing students how to derive the Bohr model of the atom from the Schrodinger equation, you are going to turn people because they don't even know what the Schrodinger equation is. We don't want to dumb down science, but at the same time it needs to be accessible to students beyond the future Stephen Hawkings of the world.

  • by stevedcc (1000313) * on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @08:49AM (#20396925)

    Whilst the examiners in question may be living and working in the UK, there is no such thing as a "UK" exam: Scotland has a completely different examination system, run by a different exam board. Admittedly, the Times article just talks about GCSEs (exam standard in England and Wales at age 16) and never makes any comparison to the Scottish equivalent (fair and balanced reporting? the Times? Tories don't care about Scotland!)

    Most people in England seem to wonder why so many Scots want independence.... but don't know the difference between UK (England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland), Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), and England (a catch all, that normally means whatever combination of the above countries happens to be convienient at the time).

    • by Da Fokka (94074)

      [...] don't know the difference between UK (England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland), Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), and England (a catch all, that normally means whatever combination of the above countries happens to be convienient at the time).


      I guess you're not from England?

  • The only politically correct way to improve science teaching.

    Don't forget, if students fail, it's the school's fault ...
  • i was hoping (Score:3, Interesting)

    by harlemjoe (304815) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @08:51AM (#20396939)
    /.ers could guide me to some good resources for homeschooling.

    I have an 11 year old sister who recently shocked me by being unable to divide by 12 (to convert inches to feet). She could perform the math operation trivially when she was 8 or 9. If anything, she's backsliding in regular school. With exams like this, I fear for her performance. Earlier today my mom and I had a bitter fight over whether we should just homeschool her until the XIth grade when hopefully she can take the IB.

    Any thoughts? Feedback? Resources?
    • Re:i was hoping (Score:4, Informative)

      by everphilski (877346) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:23AM (#20397291) Journal
      If both of your mom (and dad?) are not 110% into it, then it could be worse than just keeping her in school. Not only that, but your sister needs to be into it too. It takes a lot of hard work not to slack off when you are at home.

      My parents got 'homeschooling fever' when I hit high school, my siblings are all a lot younger. I did it through high school, they did it anywhere from first grade all the way through to the end of high school. It works if everyone is on board. At the start, I was not, but that's a long story. As a high schooler I taught myself more than my mom taught me. Which is good, you comprehend a lot more that way.

      So long and short: it works, but make sure you are all on the same page and on board with the idea. It ain't cheap. The best math is probably Saxon Math. A lot of home schoolers go with the Abeka system of educational materials but there are others like Bob Jones and such. You may find yourself off better keeping her in school and tutoring her on the side.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      Any thoughts?

      Yes - as much as you may care for youe sister, it's not your decision to make.
  • Science positions in the UK are particularly poorly paid. If the country needed more scientists, surely the high wages would indicate the problem.

     
    • by crgrace (220738)
      Science may be somewhat underpaid, but engineering (which is in one definition the application of scientific principles) is not in the UK. We have design teams (I work for an American semiconductor manufacturer) in the UK that are quite talented and well paid. Of course they need to be well paid since they live in Kent.

      That said, science is hard. It kicked my ass to get through engineering school. Physics, Maths, and Chemistry are what they are. You can't make them easier. If you want to be competent,
    • Science positions in the UK are particularly poorly paid. If the country needed more scientists, surely the high wages would indicate the problem.

      Amen. While I can't speak for the UK, as I have a PhD in Immunology I can certainly speak for the United States. People who are already interested in science are leaving the profession in droves. While an undergraduate in the 1990s, quite a few of my classmates who were graduating with a BS in Biochemistry left for non-science professions such as banking or c

  • by FlyByPC (841016) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @08:53AM (#20396963) Homepage
    "There is no royal road to geometry." (Or science.)

    Dumb science down, and you get dumb scientists. What we need is a way to make it more interesting -- and show students how, for example, conducting an experiment or programming a simulation on a computer can be fun. Once they're interested -- and the mathematics involved have a clear purpose rather than being just rote memorization of arcane formulae -- Science suddenly becomes something they *want* to do.

    There may be no "royal road" to science -- but there's nothing saying that we can't make the trip more enjoyable, and encourage more travelers at the same time.

    As a side benefit, science is a great way to teach critical thinking (which IMHO is the whole point of education).
    • What we need is a way to make it more interesting -- and show students how, for example, conducting an experiment or programming a simulation on a computer can be fun

      It needs to be relevant.

      It's the biggest problem we have in education. Showing the students the context of the material. We take all this knowledge which exists out of it's context, transfer it to a classroom... And instantly make it utterly irrelevant.

      WTF use is a quadratic equation in a book? Not much. But to calculate the potential yield of a field of produce it is useful.

    • Dumb science down, and you get dumb scientists.

      Well said.

      Even when I was at school in the UK quite a few years ago now, the slide downhill was starting: people were moving away from the experimental basis and into rote learning of "science". Leaving aside the fact that teaching by rote is far less effective than teaching through practical experience, that step alone means a whole generation are growing up thinking that science is about an absolute truth, when in fact the whole point is that all you ever have is theories that are consistent with the

      • by CmdrGravy (645153)
        Quite right, I took GCSE's a couple of years after they were introduced and they were rubbish. Any subject which could get away with it was based as much as possible on 'course work' which you were supposed to do in your 'spare time' outside of school and a lot of the actual exams were multiple choice.

        Course work is a horrible way of awarding grades, to start with I didn't really have that much spare time after school to be investigating the location of shoe shops in Redditch even if I hadn't have found the
  • The hardest science classes I took at a university, zoology, were all multiple choice tests, and they were wicked hard. Remember that a multiple choice test can be constructed in such a way to make sure you really understand the material. It just requires a professor who is knowledgeable and has a bit of a sadistic streak in him/her.

    Thank you Professor Dietz, wherever you are.

    • Perhaps multiple choice can be effective, but IME it usually isn't.

      I'm reminded of a conversation with a friend a couple of years younger than me, back when we were learning to drive. When I took the test, it was all done in one practical session, and when you got back to the test centre at the end, the examiner would ask some questions to check the candidate's theoretical knowledge was OK. Shortly afterwards, they started running a separate theory exam, taken first, which is basically a multiple choice t

      • by cnettel (836611)
        On the other hand, the choices can be worded in such a way that it's really harder to choose the totally right one, than writing a free form answer that is seemingly right (because you don't expect an answer given in natural language to be totally complete and comprehensive without any logical loopholes). That is, you can test a higher level of knowledge by simplifying part of it through the inclusion of options.

        One thing I really hated in school was essay questions where the teacher still had this strict

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by porcupine8 (816071)
      Multiple choice tests *can* be very well-done. They can be very difficult, they can test for deep-level understanding and reasoning rather than factual knowledge.

      However, the few studies that have looked at standardized tests in the US have found that they absolutely, 100% do NOT do these things, and I'm sure the UK isn't much better, especially if they make them easier. Heck, in the US it's rare to find standardized tests that actually test for the same things that are listed in the state standards. The

  • New exam: (Score:5, Funny)

    by styryx (952942) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @08:56AM (#20397001)
    Question 1) Schroedinger was famous for his:
    a. Hat?
    b. Cat?
    c. Kat?
    • by faloi (738831) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:03AM (#20397085)
      That's an unfair question, what with the new easier spelling rules coming down the pipe. Either that or we have to allow for both b and c to be correct.
    • by Ajehals (947354)
      kat - an evergreen shrub, Catha edulis, of Arabia and Africa, the leaves of which are used as a narcotic when chewed or made into a beverage.

      Source: (dictionary.com)

      Although I have only ever seen it spelled as Qat in the UK (Handy for scrabble if you have a Q but no U).
    • by Riktov (632) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:20AM (#20397255) Journal
      The correct answer is either a. or b. Or rather, it's BOTH a. and b., until the test actually gets graded. Before that, it's impossible to know.
  • food for thought. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by apodyopsis (1048476) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @08:59AM (#20397027)
    see the physics GCSE paper here: http://extras.timesonline.co.uk/pdfs/exampaper.pdf [timesonline.co.uk]

    several comments (and food for thought):

    1. multiple choice questions are proving popular for one reasons only - they can be marked by computer and are quicker and cheaper to process because of this.

    2. unless you think that people are getting a lot more intelligent in a couple of generations then you must assume that either (a) the exams are easier or (b) that students are being thought only how to pass exams (this is the view held by several teacher friends of mine)

    3. my first university course (which was a 3 year course in the late 80s) is now a 4 year course - this additional year is used as a remedial course to get students back up to the level they used to be at. universities certainly do not believe that more students are doing much better then they ever have previously.

    4. schools are busy reducing the number of students doing maths (and further maths), chemistry and physics as much as possible as in general students get lower grades - in turn this lowers the performance of the school as a whole in the league tables. in other words it is hard to get people to do their jobs properly when their wages rely on them doing it badly.

    5. employers have also been lamenting the quality of school leavers in many subjects - maths, spelling, english.

    its a pretty dismal state of affairs in the UK, and it seems to be repeating itself in the EU and in the colonies.

    i think much of the blame must be placed squarely on the shoulders of the government who seem to delight in meddling in the schools at every opportunity. with the international baccalaureates being introduced soon who knows what will happen next?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mdwh2 (535323)
      2. unless you think that people are getting a lot more intelligent in a couple of generations then you must assume that either (a) the exams are easier or (b) that students are being thought only how to pass exams (this is the view held by several teacher friends of mine)

      Or it could be they're being taught better generally. But actually there's another possibility - the rates are only an average for all GCSEs, and one possibility is that people are switching to easier subjects. So it's not that any given ex
    • by roman_mir (125474)
      Saw it, took a few minutes to answer the questions in the paper. It is ridiculous. Also maybe I am wrong, but the following questions seem to be answered incorrectly in the article attached to it (bottom of the page.) [timesonline.co.uk]

      23 is logically D not B
      27 is D not C
      30 none of the answers make sense.
      34 (6370/10) * 2 is not 56000s - but who knows, maybe I am wrong with my understanding of this question.
    • From the exam...

      5. Our moon seems to 'disappear' during an ecclipse. Some people say that this is because an old lady covers the Moon with her cloak. She does this so that thieves cannot steal the shiny coins on the surface. Which of these would help scientists to prove or disprove this idea?

      A. Collect evidence from people who believe the lady sees the thieves
      B. Shout to the lady that the thieves are coming
      C. Send a probe to the Moon to search for coins
      D. Look for fingerprints

      What...the...fuck?

      • yup. I had a serious WTF moment at that question as well. Likewise for Q1 and Q2.

        Apparently this is quite normal that a question like this is included in GCSE exams. Look at the Campaign for Real Education website as they have a few examples. http://www.cre.org.uk/ [cre.org.uk].

        Their comparison of maths exams though the ages is quite illumination. Apparently a lot of current A level questions uses to be O level questions.
    • see the physics GCSE paper here: http://extras.timesonline.co.uk/pdfs/exampaper.pd f [timesonline.co.uk]

      Just a few comments.

      Q1. Can't be C and can't be D - these aren't stable because they don't orbit the primary. also there is no way to distinguish between C and D if we assume there is a planet at the centre of the circle. Can be A or B. Planets tend to have circular orbits but there's no theoretical reason why they can't have a highly eliptical orbit and moons orbit so close to the primary that the "wobble" wont be visible
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:00AM (#20397045)
    I had a Biology professor that could make multiple choice science tests that actually tested scientific reasoning skills (not just memory skills). He'd present the results of a single experiment and then offer a multiple statements that might (or might not) be derivable from the outcome of the experiment. The devilish part (and the part that tested reasoning versus memory) was that many of the statements would be true, but NOT derivable from the experiment. Students that memorized facts and picked the true statements based on their memory of those facts would get the answer wrong.

    Of course, I suspect that the Brits want to turn science into a set of dumb facts, and that would be a shame because it misses the entire point of science.
  • They've been dumbing down exams in England for years. I was at school when they switched from O levels to GCSEs, so I did both. I saw one of the lower level GCSE maths exams and it was a joke; given an advert for a cooker with a numerical cost, the student was asked to write the price in words. Huh??

    I took O, AO and A level maths and they were hard. But by god I worked for them thanks (in College anyway) to an amazing maths teacher. I didn't get great grade but I earned them.

    Since then the emphasis has been
  • by seniorcoder (586717) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:12AM (#20397179)
    Just hand out a pass or a fail. Don't give grades. That's my theory. If you really are going to give grades, please don't dumb down the tests. Keep the tests real but adjust the scores upwards so that the median gives the students encouragement. One major difference between the UK and the USA is that, in the UK, above 50% is considered OK. In the USA, anything below 80% is starting to look not so good. So I dumbed down my tests in the USA to increase the scores instead of merely adjusting the scores upwards by a fixed percentage. In retrospect, I think this was the wrong thing to do. Anyway, the problem with dumbing down the tests or merely upping the scores is that the really good students shine less.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      Just hand out a pass or a fail. Don't give grades. That's my theory.

      Anyway, the problem with dumbing down the tests or merely upping the scores is that the really good students shine less.

      Is it a symptom of the failure of education that you don't see the logical inconsistency between the two statements? If you want really good students to shine more, then handing out a simple pass/fail grade is precisely the way not to do it.

  • ... flawed to begin with. I can go around asking nurses and Dr's questions in my highschool math and science textbooks they can't answer. This whole idea they are going to remember much of anything they do not DIRECTLY use or is relevant is pretty stupid to begin with. As far as I'm concerned if you're not using it or were insanely interested in it when you were learning it you're not going to remember much, period.

    The average IQ is for many populations is roughly ~100, not exactly stellar. The truth is
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MontyApollo (849862)
      >>The average IQ is for many populations is roughly ~100

      100 is average IQ by design. Scores are normalized so that 100 is always average.

      There is more to education than rote learning and memorization. You learn how to learn, how to problem solve, how to think critically, how to express ideas better, how to write better, etc...

      It also does expand your mind. You might not remember all the facts you learned in 7th grade biology, but conceptually you understand it better and will be better able to process
    • by icebrain (944107)
      There's a reason students are taught more than just the stuff they will use directly in the future. We don't expect most adults to be able to derive physics equations or predict chemical reactions five or ten years down the road; we don't expect them to be able to do detailed calculations that they aren't using at work. We do, however, want them to learn the basics of how the world around them works, and want them to be able to exercise at least basic skepticism when presented with potentially misleading
    • by Steve525 (236741)
      You are abosuletly right and, yet, wrong. It is true we don't remember a lot of what we learn in school. It's use it or loose it, and the fact of the matter is we don't use most of it. I have an advanced degree in physics, and I work in the field, and yet I don't think I could pass a Calc 1 test today.

      So, what's the solution? We don't teach anything beyond reading, write, and arithmetic? Because, really that's all the education that you can be pretty much guaranteed everyone will use. There are two pr
  • by Eivind (15695) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:22AM (#20397281) Homepage
    The example test given is horribly stupid. It is a mixup of easy trivial answers, with a few where arguably more than one answer is correct, and some are outrigth wrong.

    for example, you're asked what kind of radiation will damage eyes and cause skin-cancer. Now obviously they want UV as the "rigth" answer, but infact xray will *also* cause that in the rigth dosis. so both are correct.

    Or how about this gem: (question 19)

    What is the advantage of using digital signals in radio-broadcast ?
    a) digital signals travel quicker than analogue.
    b) digital signals carry more information than analogue.
    c) analogue signals travel more quickly than digital.
    d) analogue signals can carry more information than digital.

    The "correct" answer is a), digital signals travel quicker. Which is complete bullshit. A analogue or digital signal sent down say an electrical cable will both travel at the speed of C in that material, simple as that. Boggles the mind.

    If this shows the competence of the teachers, no wonder the pupils end up ignorant of science....
    • by xaxa (988988) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:45AM (#20397593)
      Maybe that's showing the incompetence of the journalist? The correct answer is B.

      The next question is worse, question 20:

      Digital technologies, such as CD and DVD players, have increased
      A) the speed at which sound travels
      B) the quality of sound you can hear
      C) the range of frequencies you can hear
      D) the loudness of sound which can be produced
      Apparently the answer is B, but C and D are also correct (at least, compared to vinyl, which is what CDs replaced).

      Look at 23!
      Assume the orbits of Pluto and Earth are circular. Earth is 150 million km from the sun. Pluto is 5913 million km from the sun. What is the smallest distance between Pluto and Earth in million km?
      A) 5913 + 150
      B) 5913 - 150
      C) 5913 x 150
      D) 5913 / 150
      Apparently they don't think 16 year olds can count any more!

      The rest of the paper (the higher tier bit) isn't so bad. It's a shame it's still multiple choice though.
      • by Bazman (4849)
        I'm trying to think of a valid reason why A could be right. Maybe air is denser in rooms with CD players...

      • by Hatta (162192)


        Digital technologies, such as CD and DVD players, have increased
        A) the speed at which sound travels
        B) the quality of sound you can hear
        C) the range of frequencies you can hear
        D) the loudness of sound which can be produced
        Apparently the answer is B, but C and D are also correct (at least, compared to vinyl, which is what CDs replaced).


        How is C correct? CDs don't make the ear any more responsive to frequencies. And because of the Nyquist limit CDs can only produce up to 22.05kHz frequencies, a limitation viny
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Eivind (15695)
        no, b is wrong. Digital does not, in general, carry more information than analogue. The sound is analogue at the source, at best the sampling-process preserves all the information that is there (atleast the part the human ear is capable of hearing) but the sampling-process certainly doesn't add new information that wasn't there in the analogue input. (if it did, we'd call that 'noise')

        There are advantages offcourse, no idea why they didn't mention one of them. For example:
        digital sound can be transported, s
    • by CptPicard (680154)
      Question 30 is cosmologically incorrect as well in the sense that there is no origin of the Big Bang anything is moving away from. Galaxies -- the right answer I presume -- move away from each other, but not from some zero-point...
  • by Richard_J_N (631241) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:38AM (#20397481)
    Even when I did GCSE's 12 years ago, the science exam was trivially easy. Admittedly I'm quite a good scientist, but I found the paper simple to the point of being insulting - having worked for 3 years for it, I objected to being asked stupid questions such as "Here is a picture of some plastic water pipes. Why are they made of plastic?". It seems to me that:

    1)In order to make science "more interesting", we should make it more rigorous, and more challenging. At the moment, it's just dull (unless the teachers can ignore the syllabus and not focus on the exams). Health and safety mania doesn't help. [I was lucky: my teachers had a healthy contempt for the more idiotic rules - we were always sensible, but didn't treat 0.1 molar acids as being more dangerous in the lab than in the kitchen]

    2)We shouldn't worry so much about less able students being put off science; we should care about the bright ones being put off.

    3)A C is not a decent pass grade - it's the lowest grade that isn't a "fail". D,E,F grades are worthless. Likewise, it's simply absurd to consider doing A-level physics without also doing maths.

    4)You can't run before you can walk. The current approach is to supplant the "dry" things like mechanics by "sexy" things such as Fusion,Quantum,etc. But the "hot topics" are too hard, so they get covered at a very simplistic level. That just isn't satisfying - there's none of the excitement that comes from suddenly *understanding* how (part of) the real world works.

    Currently, in a vain attempt to make everyone aware of the basics of science, we're denying our brightest pupils the ability to actually *do* real science. And by dumbing it down (either by making it very easy, or only covering the "sexy" stuff), there's no thrill of actual discovery left.
  • In fairness, the 'telescope' question (oops, spoiler!) that's getting all the headlines is probably the dumbest question on the paper. I'm not adverse to having a question on any exam paper that pretty much anyone who has sat the course can answer.

    The problem, in my opinion, is not so much the dumbing down of science for non-scientists - it's the removal of a challenging and worthwhile option for the scientists (or potential scientists). 'Combined Science' (or just 'Science') is pretty much the only GCSE
  • I strongly suggest that any parents out there with kids in school actively remove them from the public education system and look at an internationally recognised qualification, independent of political control:

    The International Baccalaureate.

    http://www.ibo.org/ [ibo.org]

     
  • "Students taking GCSE scienc[sic] have a choice of two tiers, or papers. The foundation tier assesses grades G to C and the higher tier assesses grades D to A*.

    The Government claims that exams are structured in this way to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to show what they are capable of without being thrown off course by questions that are too hard or too easy. However, many experts believe that this approach to science leaves some students poorly prepared to pursue the subject at A level."

    That's n
  • But in end that makes the results worthless. The universe does not make itself easy in order to accommodate those who live in it. Progress comes from the long and hard work needed to wrest the subtle secrets from nature's hidden glory.

  • by mattpalmer1086 (707360) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @10:02AM (#20397841)
    What about question 6:

    "Identification using eyes. Anne looks in the mirror at her eye. Which part is used to identify her?"

    What has this got to do with science? Identification of people by their eyes? Big brother says "train 'em up early".
  • As a physics teacher in the UK, I didn't think things could get any lower. I wrote an article [wellingtongrey.net] on how crap the new science syllabus is that's gotten a lot of attention. Glad to hear that they think the tests should be easier. Perhaps they should look at the test [wellingtongrey.net] that I made up as an example.

    -Grey
    • Wonderful :) But couldn't you replace the numbers at the start of each question with bullet points? Don't want to scare off the less "mathematical" students ;)

      I read your original complaint about the state of physics exams. It disturbs me that there seems to be so much political interference in the syllabus - really starting to feel quite 1984.
  • Somebody please look at Question 30 on the exam paper linked to in the article and tell me I'm imagining things. Please!
    • by Zelos (1050172)
      I wondered about that one too. They say the answer is A, which I guess means they're trying to refer to redshift expansion?
  • According to the article, the answer to question 34 is 'B'. What am I missing? The Earth is 6370km deep. Going from the surface to the centre and back at an average of 10km/s would take 1274s. 1274!=560... I really hope I'm being stupid here, I really do....
  • by JRHelgeson (576325) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @10:49AM (#20398517) Homepage Journal
    Here in the USA in the 1980's we made a major push to get science taught to school kids. Every one of us kids thought we would grow up to become astronauts. The result is now we have a generation of cynics who still can't point out planet Earth on a map of the globe.
  • Guessing around isn't going to be very helpful when they suddenly find themselves in real world problems [xkcd.com]! hah!

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