Reviewing the 'faces' of Primary Science.

Following on from a brief discussion during this weeks' #ASEChat, in which the selection of science personalities listed in the new (draft) primary curriculum for science (access it here) came under fire for being overwhelmingly white and male, I have decided to review and revise this selection to include a more diverse selection of science personalities. The science personalties currently in the revised primary science curriculum are: Charles Darwin; Carl Linnaeus; Nicholas Copernicus; Galileo Galilei; Neil Armstrong; David Attenborough; Gerald Durrell; William Harvey; Galen; Isaac Newton; The Wright Brothers.

Interestingly, apart from all being white and male, I was surprised to realise that all of these personalities (except Sir David Attenborough) are deceased. While I agree that they have all made great contributions to the advancement of science for mankind. I wonder if they are relevant to the children we are teaching? All throughout my initial teacher training, the importance of starting with what children know, and linking learning to their experiences is constantly emphasised. Therefore, I question how relevant, and subsequently interesting, children would find these science personalities? As an adult, I can appreciate the profoundness of Sir Isaac Newton's discovery of gravity, or how Galen has advanced our understanding of the human body. But, do children understand it?

As a concept, I am pleased to see the introduction of key personalities being introduced as part of the new National Curriculum, to give them positive role models and develop aspirations to become scientists. However, reflecting on my most recent placement (S.E. London) I fail to see how they could relate Mr Copernicus. Therefore, I think the challenge is for teachers to ensure they know what interests the children they teach, and how best to harness their interests and experiences to develop this passion for science. Perhaps starting with TV personalities (such as Prof. Brian Cox), who deliver science content in a comfortable and fascinating manner will lead children to develop this passion and develop their enquiry into the subject. Without forgoing all importance to the personalities listed above, I would rather start with people the children know and can relate to (in the science domain) and develop this onto important and historical personalities.

Personally, Sir David Attenborough ignited my passion for science, and has had a lasting impression on my desire to enquire about science. Although he is a journalist, it is through watching his documentaries that I have been able to delve into the fascination wonders of planet Earth (in fact, to meet Sir David was my 'Jim'll fix it' request!). Ultimately, Sir David was my link from learning about science at school, to engaging with science at my own level, and in my own time. It is only because he sparked my passion, that I am specialising in science and technology during my initial teacher training.

For me, finding this personality, for my students, is the ultimate goal when considering key personalities of which to introduce children. I may not begin by introducing them to Neil Armstrong from the offset. But do I need to? I agree that he is a key figure in our quest to explore the solar system and beyond. But if the children are not interested in what he has done for mankind. Then is there any point in teaching them about him?

Who would make your list of science personalities? Mine are listed below and are in no particular order;

  1. Sir David Attenborough (nature journalist)
  2. Prof. Brian Cox (physicist & ex-band member of D:ream)
  3. Stephen Hawking (physicist)
  4. Marie Curie (researched radioactivity)
  5. Sally Ride (first female astronaut in space)

UPDATE: Here's a link to another blog on the same subject: