chapter  1
1 What is science?
Teaching science in secondary schools Michael Reiss
Pages 1

Awhile ago, I happened to see a new set of postage stamps produced in theUK, enti-

tled ‘Scientific achievements’ (issued 5 March 1991). It’s worth spending a few

moments imagining what you might expect (or hope!) to see on these stamps. Well,

whatever you thought, the RoyalMail produced four stamps under the heading Scien-

tific achievements’ with the captions ‘Faraday – Electricity’, ‘Babbage – Computer’,

‘Radar – Watson-Watt’ and ‘Jet Engine – Whittle’. I find it difficult to imagine a

narrower conception of what science is and who does it. The image seems to be that

real science is hard physics, with military applications, done by males who are white

and worked on their own between about 1820 and 1940. No wonder so many

students drop science at school as soon as they have the chance! Children come to

school science lessons with clear impressions of what science is, how it operates and

who does it (Driver et al. 1985; Osborne and Freyberg 1985). There is a limit to what

science teachers can realistically be expected to achieve in terms of challenging

social perceptions and changing received wisdom.