Page 1 of 2

Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 10:51 pm
by LongGone
A recent post mentioned Dr Van Praagh, and I started to think about the way the sciences were taught back in the 50's. my memory of the first lesson at CH was the teacher walking into the room, and setting fire to everything on the desk. After we calmed down, he asked us what happened when something burned, and that started a discussion that lasted all term. During that time we discovered (were cleverly lead) that buring involved removing something from the air. This 'Heuristic' approach was, I believe, in part due to Van Praagh's influence, but permeated my entire science education. My later interactions with Richard Fry ( certainly, by far, the best teacher I encountered at CH) , extended this approach to encouraging me to conduct an independent research project that was instrumental in keeping my morale high enough to actually apply for a university place.
Reading accounts of CH now, I see almost no reference to science education, no new buildings, no innovative ideas. Has this part of the CH experience been lost in favor of the arts, or is it simply not reported?

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Tue Dec 04, 2012 10:48 am
by sejintenej
I did 'A' level physics with Mr Crosland. Even now I'm not sure if he was brilliant and laid-back or simply adequate. However, whichever it was he regularly got the entire class through A level. His method was to have a long list of experiments which each pair had to read up about, work out how to perform it and then do so. Performance included, when appropriate, manufacture of equipment so we became proficient at glasswork and my partner and I brazing. Both he and the chemistry teachers were sticklers for complete clear notes made at the time.

Generally not much guidance was given that I saw but of course one learned the ins and outs of every area of the subject. I do remember working out the surface tension of water where the books said that the corners of the glass slide (which is pulled up out of the water) affected not only the linear distance but also the tension; we simply took a bit of brass, bent it in a circle and brazed the ends - no ends, no error. He hadn't seen that solution before.

Chemistry was also heavily experiment based, but could become 'interesting'. Making aniline dye when Mr Potts was out of the room a beaker of boiling N30 (ie very very strong) caustic soda exploded over three pupils. We had been suitably taught so the victims promptly got inundated with water - Mr Potts was displeased. Although their clothes were ruined the boys escaped with just slight skin reddening (?sp). Again, one learned the hard way, sufficient to make it stick.

I seem to recall that if you were doing science at A level you were supposed to do one Arts subject but if so the rule was more observed in the breach.

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Tue Dec 04, 2012 10:53 am
by J.R.
Science was never one of my favourite or best subjects, though I do remember, (as mentioned on here before), many 'amusing' and disruptive lessons with Mr (Phallic) Matthews.

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Tue Dec 04, 2012 12:49 pm
by LongGone
sejintenej wrote: Chemistry was also heavily experiment based, but could become 'interesting'.
Looking back, I am amazed at what we were taught, and allowed to do. Off the top of my head I remember making gunpowder, contact explosives, several poisonous gases, incendiary (thermite) bombs, real (no wick needed) Molotov cocktails and assorted unpleasant brews. I am sure that nowadays the safety regulations would ban all of this, including the trick of pouring some ether into a sink and flicking a lit match(from a distance) as someone walked by and promptly got engulfed in flame. Ah, good times. : :D

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 11:11 am
by J.R.
Nitro-glycerine.

Smeared onto filter paper, and left on a window-sill to dry.

SPECTACULAR.

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 11:31 am
by icomefromalanddownunder
Science, even in the workplace, is now boring as bat sh1t courtesy of the Occ Elf.

While I would not wish to return to the days of smoking and making coffee in the lab (alongside the human pathology samples) or being told that if we caught Hep B it would be because we were slack (this in the days when human blood was mouth pipetted by some), I am tired of being told what I cannot do by people who have no experience of the practices they are banning, and who will not listen to those who have. There is, IMO, no point in having 'Entry Restricted to Authorised Personnel' on the door, because even though we may be authorised, based on our experience and training, we aren't permitted to do anything considered to be dangerous.

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 4:55 pm
by michael scuffil
The 'heuristic' method (learning by doing) was largely confined to chemistry while I was there. It was certainly VP's baby. He'd written a textbook called 'Chemistry by Discovery'. He himself was a disciple of the first head of science at CH Horsham, one Charles. E. Browne (died at a very advanced age, has a plaque in the east cloister). Charles Browne in turn was a disciple of the inventor of the heuristic method, Henry Edward Armstrong. The latter was a governor of CH in the late 19th century, and was responsible for Browne's appointment. (Armstrong was also responsible for the layout of the CH science rooms, with tables on one side and lab benches on the other, and curiously, also for the 'air passages' in the CH houses).

The heuristic method eventually found its way into the Nuffield Curriculum Project. This was taught at CH in the 70s, and my wife, a science teacher, went to observe it in practice while she was a trainee, and wrote her thesis on it. She was not over-impressed; the wheedling out of the right answer, she thought, was just 'telling' in a different form, but took longer. (She was impressed by the ancient voltmeters, ammeters and various other bits of equipment, most of which probably dated from 1902, but being made of cast iron, were amazingly robust.)

The nearest anyone ever came to the heuristic method in biology was Kirby, but he would have despised the concept. His method was more 'learning by seeing', and he took extraordinary steps to make sure we saw the real thing.

Physics was fairly dull; the Nuffield people said that school physics in the 1950s and early 60s generally had nothing whatever to do with physics in the world outside. I remember it as one long round of measuring focal lengths, coefficients of expansion, latent heat and the like.

For those interested in the heuristic method, see http://doras.dcu.ie/16978/1/julieanne_g ... 163553.pdf

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 8:55 pm
by sejintenej
michael scuffil wrote: my wife, a science teacher, went to observe it in practice while she was a trainee, and wrote her thesis on it. She was not over-impressed; the wheedling out of the right answer, she thought, was just 'telling' in a different form, but took longer.
I do note that Armstrong refers to the heurestic method as ' a method of teaching ........'. I don't know if the word 'a' was italicised in the original or done by Julieanne Gallagher but I do read it as emphasising that there exist other teaching methods and at that stage does not suggest one is better than another. Another spot impression I get from this thesis is that many, perhaps a majority of teachers, felt that they themselves were not equipped to teach at least scientific subjects; such hesitance is likely to manifest itself in a negative fashion in the classroom.

That said, whilst your wife might not have been impressed by what she saw (you admit that CH methods were not fully heuristic) I would counter by pointing out that you can tell a child not to touch fire an infinite number of times but it is the one occasion when it feels the heat or sees the effect on a friend that he or she really learns. It is a question of "suck it and see" and I will be the first to admit that there are those who do not need that method. Imperfect it might have been but it worked for me and for people I later taught in other fields.

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 11:13 pm
by icomefromalanddownunder
Horses for courses. I can't remember the terms for the different styles of teaching and of learning, but do remember that it isn't a case of one size fits all. Interestingly, if I answered the questions correctly, I am rare among scientists: needing to see and do rather than just listen in order to learn. This seems odd to me, so I probably either wasn't listening or chose the 'wrong' answers.

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Thu Dec 06, 2012 7:28 am
by michael scuffil
I think one problem lies in the compatibility of the heuristic method with examinations. The Nuffield Project sought to overcome this at least in part -- you could do 'Nuffield' O Level, which was based on the Nuffield curriculum, which tried to be heuristic. All science is of course heuristic (eureka!). But I fear the idea of heuristic science in school is intellectually dishonest. For example 'valency' is a concept needed very early on in chemistry teaching, for example. Now you might just, as a clever 13-year-old, stumble upon the idea (though I doubt it), but it would remain some mysterious property, specific to different stuffs. It makes more sense if you know about atoms and atomic structure, but it took people millennia to discover this heuristically. The trouble is, once you talk about some 'method', a certain dogmatism develops, which then finds itself at odds with reality.

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Thu Dec 06, 2012 10:12 am
by AKAP
During my A'level years 70-72 I took this exam http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/nuffi ... ence-c1965 together with Maths and Biology. The teachers were Mr James (Chemistry) and Chris Vincent-Smith (Physics) both I would rate as excellent teachers. I'm unable to make any comparison to the standard Physics/ Chemistry A level route as I only have experience of the former not the later.

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Thu Dec 06, 2012 4:18 pm
by postwarblue
'Heuristic' may work for some but definitely did not for me - I prefer to mug up facts and then string them together; I never had any skill in the sort of experiments that are supposed to produce a result that teaches. In fact at CH I did one experiment that 'proved' that the specific heat of water was 1.5. Goodness knows how I managed to scrape an A level in the subject. Heuristic methods depend on practical ability oin the student and left this theoretician cold.

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Thu Dec 06, 2012 4:27 pm
by michael scuffil
AKAP wrote:During my A'level years 70-72 I took this exam http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/nuffi ... ence-c1965 together with Maths and Biology. The teachers were Mr James (Chemistry) and Chris Vincent-Smith (Physics) both I would rate as excellent teachers. I'm unable to make any comparison to the standard Physics/ Chemistry A level route as I only have experience of the former not the later.
I knew them both, especially Glyn James -- who taught a Grecians' option 'Science' for non-scientists, where we sat in his study and discussed the philosophy and history of science.* I was quite impressed by his breadth of knowledge. Chris Vincent-Smith looked after my wife while she was visiting, but that was in 1974.

*I recall Walter Raleigh-King (now The Rev. Canon WRK) defending the Bishop of Oxford against Darwin. Glyn James thought he was joking at first, but debated very seriously when he realized he wasn't.

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Tue Dec 25, 2012 5:48 am
by Fitzsadou
I too was not moved by the heuristic method of teaching chemistry. At my introduction to chemistry and meeting the problem of fnding why copper turns black when it is heated, I simply asked someone in a higher form for the explanation. It is surprising that no one else has made a similar comment, for I am sure many others did this too.

In fact the heuristic method seems a bit like Mahatma Ghandi. Both appear admirable, are universally admired and in principle can inspire greatness. But I am unaware that anyone who has been moved by either the heuristic method or by Mahatma Ghandi has, as a result, achieved anything important. (Ghandi’s principles are too idealistic in general to be successful in this wicked world. I know that there was success in his campaign for political freedom from British domination. But he was so fortunate to have the British as adversaries. Many (most) others would not have been so honourable. The whole situation was very complex. For example in exchange for a promise to aid the British during the second World War, India was promised independence. This promise was kept. What if Ghandi had been struggling against Ghengis Khan, or Hitler or even the Inquisition of the 15th century? Please, correct me if I am wrong?)

Re: Science teaching in the 50's

Posted: Tue Dec 25, 2012 10:17 am
by michael scuffil
Fitzsadou wrote:I too was not moved by the heuristic method of teaching chemistry. At my introduction to chemistry and meeting the problem of fnding why copper turns black when it is heated, I simply asked someone in a higher form for the explanation. It is surprising that no one else has made a similar comment, for I am sure many others did this too.

In fact the heuristic method seems a bit like Mahatma Ghandi. Both appear admirable, are universally admired and in principle can inspire greatness. But I am unaware that anyone who has been moved by either the heuristic method or by Mahatma Ghandi has, as a result, achieved anything important. (Ghandi’s principles are too idealistic in general to be successful in this wicked world. I know that there was success in his campaign for political freedom from British domination. But he was so fortunate to have the British as adversaries. Many (most) others would not have been so honourable. The whole situation was very complex. For example in exchange for a promise to aid the British during the second World War, India was promised independence. This promise was kept. What if Ghandi had been struggling against Ghengis Khan, or Hitler or even the Inquisition of the 15th century? Please, correct me if I am wrong?)
Some will find your parallel rather far-fetched, but I will comment on both aspects.
1. Gandhi forced the British either to abandon the claim that they occupied the moral high ground, or to live up to it. Where your opponent makes no such claim, different methods must be employed.
2. Sooner or later, a scientist will have to make his/her own discoveries, because there will be no one in a higher form to ask. The idea of the heuristic method is to inculcate the idea that this is an inherent part of doing science.