Science can be defined as ‘the study of the physical world and phenomena’, especially by using systematic observation and experiment. One of the late Robert Kennedy's favourite quotes, borrowed from George Bernard Shaw, was: "Some men see things as they are and say 'why?’. I dream things that never were and say, 'why not?' ". In many ways, science works that way. On one hand, finding answers to "why" questions is fundamental to the work scientists do. The stunning breakthroughs, however, are almost always the result of ‘dreams’.
There is a well-known story told by Albert Einstein, in which he explained how, at the age of sixteen, he stumbled upon his theory of relativity. Lying in a meadow one afternoon, a young Einstein fell asleep, before having a dream which saw him ride a sunbeam at the speed of light. The rest, as they say, is history. Although this is one of the better-known examples, it is by no means unique.
One of our aims in the Science Department at Whitgift is to explore the subject, in depth. We want our students to develop a real feel and passion for their studies, which not only enhances their enjoyment, but also boosts their understanding.
We follow an in-house syllabus in Lower First, designed to ignite passion for the sciences at this early stage. We then take a broad sweep through the three science disciplines, by making use of a Cambridge Essentials Combined Science course in Upper First and Lower Third. Pupils take Edexcel International GCSEs in Biology, Chemistry and Physics in the Upper Third and Fifth Form years. A small number may be selected to take Double Science by their Upper Fifth year. This is then followed by A Levels, or the IB, in the Sixth Form.
There is a high level of hands-on, practical-based activity work throughout all the years of Science education at Whitgift. This ranges from the special topics put together in Lower First, looking at forensic science for example, to the well-established Group 4 IB practical project or required practical endorsements in A Level. Our aim is to cultivate an awareness of scientific technique and a confidence in engaging practical skills in pursuit of answers posed by theoretical understanding. Confidence in science is a key factor, and we aim to make good use of ‘Assessment for Learning’ techniques, in feeding back important points, helping each individual mature and develop.
Schemes of Work
The Science curriculum is based on National Curriculum guidelines, and the relevant GCSE and post-16 requirements for the sciences at A Level, or in the International Baccalaureate, are used as a core for the teaching structures that are followed.
The sciences are readily broken down into topics which can then be tested at regular intervals, to give an indication as to how the body of knowledge is building within the pupils.
All Key Stage 2-4 classes are taught by teachers that are allotted to one class for the whole academic year. At Key Stage 5, post-16 students will normally be taught by at least two teachers, broadening their learning experience.
In line with the benchmarks of world-class science provision, as outlined in the Gatsby Report, practical activities within the science department are resourced by a team of specialist science technicians. They are experienced and qualified in their subjects offering expert advice and a quality service, assisting students in extracurricular activities, trips and scientific investigations. Our technicians provide engaging, varied and relevant practical activities to develop students’ understanding of scientific enquiry.
Students in the Department have achieved a lot over the past year, highlights include:
- 1 gold, 1 silver and 6 bronze in Lower Sixth Physics Challenge
- 2 silver and 3 bronze in Brtitish Physics Olympiad
- 1 gold, 1 silver and 23 bronze in GCSE Physics Challenge
- 2 gold, 2 silver, 6 bronze awards were achieved by a mixture of Upper Sixth and Lower Sixth Form chemists in the RSC Chemistry Olympiad
- In the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge, there were two gold, two silver and 6 copper awards for Whitgift boys
- In the Biology Challenge competition, Lower Fifth Form pupils won 8 gold awards, 24 silver and 18 bronze awards
- In the British Biology Olympiad, one boy achieved gold, four gained silver award and two boys achieved bronze awards
Exposing our boys to real world science, we have developed trips to suit various age groups.
• In the Lower First, we take boys to the Surrey Wildlife Centre for pond-dipping and awareness of ecosystems
• In the Upper First, we travel to the Science Museum, in London, for specialised sessions
• In the Lower Third, we run an in-house STEM project
• In the Fifth Form, we have attended science lectures at the Institute of Education and travelled to universities to see cutting-edge science practices in action
• In the Sixth Form, there are numerous opportunities to go on Biology field courses, attend DNA days, go on university science exploration days and attend lectures at UCL. A particular feature was the July 2017 expedition to Costa Rica on a real world conservation project.
The last academic cohort produced 52 successful candidates, who went on to take up science-based courses at university. Covering subjects like Medicine, Chemical and Mechanical Engineering, Biochemistry, Natural Sciences, Zoology, Chemistry, Dentistry, Biology, Physics, Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, there are a number of options available to the boys.
We expect the number of Whitgift students, who head into further education to read a science-led course, to rise this year.
With speakers addressing issues such as green power, fuel cell technology, DNA and medical issues, there is clearly no shortage of inspiration. There are plans to develop formal arrangements for speakers to address our boys, as well as any interested family members. In 2017, the Science Department hosted a scientist-in-residence, Dr Jon Hare, who ran a series of enrichment activities across the Third, Fifth and Sixth Forms. He was commissioned to produce an interactive display for the science corridors, based on the physics of light.