Year 10 Science Deepens Student Knowledge

Who does the vacuuming in your household? In my house it is me.

I love doing this domestic task although perhaps many would consider it a chore. I used to regard vacuuming with a level of dread but then we bought a Dyson! This little cordless and lightweight marvel transformed a once thankless task into a joyful one (for me). I enjoy vacuuming so much that my wife thinks I am somewhat obsessed by it. Maybe I am a bit weird, but I genuinely love using this beautifully designed piece of modern engineering. It is just plain fun to use.

Sir James Dyson, the creator of the Dyson vacuum cleaner and a host of other household products, started from humble beginnings. Now, his company is a multi-billion-dollar global behemoth manufacturing 30 million products per year.

Oddly enough, Dyson is not a qualified engineer. He trained as a designer at the Royal Academy of Arts and in an interview with The Australian he said, “I’m an ordinary person. I didn’t even do science at school and yet here I am developing new technology.” Dyson goes on to say, “I don’t want young people to be put off by what their education has been, or what people have told them they are, because actually, they can do whatever they want to do, provided they are motivated.”

Dyson has just released the book, Invention: A Life, in which he encourages young people to take risks, be resilient, pick themselves up off the floor when things go wrong and to possess the courage to commit and jump in when things go right.

An interesting element of the memoir is where Dyson explains the continuing ‘snobbishness’ he encounters about his non engineering and manufacturing background. Dyson in effect, highlights a famous analogy written in an essay by C.P Snow in 1959, The Two Cultures, where Snow argues that the intellectual life of western society was divided by science and humanities. Effectively Snow establishes there are two cultures of thought which created a major handicap in solving the world’s great issues.

Snow explains the division in a most elegant way:

“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists.

Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked those present how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s. I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question – such as, what do you mean by mass, or acceleration which is the scientific equivalent of saying, can you read? – not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their Neolithic ancestors would have had.”

Lawrence Kraus laments the cultural divide “that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, science and the arts still exists.”

Snow’s influential essay, even though it was written more than 60 years ago, still resonates. Lawrence Kraus writing for the Scientific American laments the cultural divide “that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, science and the arts still exists.” Kraus writes, “Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.”

In recent years there has been an emerging focus on STEM in schools and the need to improve the scientific literacy amongst our graduating students. At St Catherine’s we have also been focused on encouraging and supporting our students in STEM.

A most recent example has been moving our Science curriculum in Year 10 to disciplined-based semester long courses. Traditionally, Science curriculum is taught as a single subject with the scientific disciplines of Physics, Chemistry and Biology embedded within a year long course. At most, these specific disciplines can only be covered for one third of a year.

At St Catherine’s our semester long courses enable students to engage with these disciplines for at least half a year and study the equivalent of two years of Science in Year 10, if they choose this pathway. Not only does this mean essential scientific concepts are covered, but teachers can also introduce supporting materials to enable students to expand their knowledge and develop deeper understanding. Aspects of VCE courses are also introduced within the Year 10 offerings to better prepare the girls for their Senior Years of schooling.

St Catherine’s is also currently exploring the learning offerings within our School, particularly in Years 5 to 9 and how we can further enrich STEM within the curriculum.

While Science is an important feature of our curriculum, we are mindful of the need to ensure we have a balance of intellectual offerings. We must do this so our students have an intellectual bridge between the “two cultures,” so in the future, our students can further the progress of human knowledge and society.

Dyson has managed to bring art, design and engineering together and create extraordinary devices that have changed the world.

Must dash, I have some vacuuming to do!

Mr Robert Marshall

Deputy Principal, Director of Teaching and Learning

Behind Dyson’s Greatest Reinvention, The Australian, Friday 3 September, 2021

An Update on C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures,” Scientific American, 1 September 2009

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