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# The problem with A-Level science practicals watch

1. Any real scientist knows that even if you set up your experiment perfectly, it's possible to observe effects that aren't there, or fail to observe effects that are there. We use statistical objects like the p value to account for that. Yet at A-Level and in secondary school, if you don't get the 'correct' results, you just don't get the marks. I think that's doubly harmful - it punishes students on the basis of random chance, and worse, it inculcates them with wrong ideas, with an entire wrong mindset, about how science works. They get to university and go through a sort of whiplash - now we're doing real science, we're genuinely doing science to find out things we didn't know before - we're not doing it to get 'the correct result', because we truly do not know what the correct result is yet. And they get frustrated because they can't get 'the correct result' on the first try, and decide that real science is not for them.

What do you guys think, anyway?
2. Good and valid point, however, the counter argument is also equally true

Usually in practicals you repeat the experiment to get an average result - If you got it wrong each time that means you're fcking up somewhere
this would imply that you're either doing something wrong and don't know the science or theory behind it
or it could be a systematic error, which would imply that you weren't able to successfully eliminate this error; this would imply bad scientific procedure

in theory you should be able to get the results- not getting them means you're making errors, which would imply you're bad at practicals
and thus deserve the grade you got

You should be able to observe the effects to unless you're not doing/having something in the right way/proportions
3. (Original post by anosmianAcrimony)
Any real scientist knows that even if you set up your experiment perfectly, it's possible to observe effects that aren't there, or fail to observe effects that are there. We use statistical objects like the p value to account for that. Yet at A-Level and in secondary school, if you don't get the 'correct' results, you just don't get the marks. I think that's doubly harmful - it punishes students on the basis of random chance, and worse, it inculcates them with wrong ideas, with an entire wrong mindset, about how science works. They get to university and go through a sort of whiplash - now we're doing real science, we're genuinely doing science to find out things we didn't know before - we're not doing it to get 'the correct result', because we truly do not know what the correct result is yet. And they get frustrated because they can't get 'the correct result' on the first try, and decide that real science is not for them.

What do you guys think, anyway?
Yeah I hate this. One of the reasons I didn't want to do Science at A-Level.
4. (Original post by anosmianAcrimony)
Any real scientist knows that even if you set up your experiment perfectly, it's possible to observe effects that aren't there, or fail to observe effects that are there. We use statistical objects like the p value to account for that. Yet at A-Level and in secondary school, if you don't get the 'correct' results, you just don't get the marks. I think that's doubly harmful - it punishes students on the basis of random chance, and worse, it inculcates them with wrong ideas, with an entire wrong mindset, about how science works. They get to university and go through a sort of whiplash - now we're doing real science, we're genuinely doing science to find out things we didn't know before - we're not doing it to get 'the correct result', because we truly do not know what the correct result is yet. And they get frustrated because they can't get 'the correct result' on the first try, and decide that real science is not for them.

What do you guys think, anyway?
While I agree with the premise, I think the aim of the practical side of A level sciences is to get students comfortable with the procedures and methods as well as consolidate their understanding of the concepts. Most of the practical you do at A level, (well for Physics) are pretty easy to get accurate results unless your procedure or calculations are wrong.
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5. (Original post by ScienceGeek1878)
While I agree with the premise, I think the aim of the practical side of A level sciences is to get students comfortable with the procedures and methods as well as consolidate their understanding of the concepts. Most of the practical you do at A level, (well for Physics) are pretty easy to get accurate results unless your procedure or calculations are wrong.
Consolidate their understanding of the concepts, yeah, okay, I'll give you that one. But my other problem with the practicals is that they don't even use any of the same procedures and methods that you use at university. You get into a real lab and discover that they stopped doing what you did at A-level about 40 years ago. They have devices that automate the procedures that replaced the procedures that made the procedures you do at A-level obsolete.

Now I realise that you can't expect every secondary school to have university-level kit, but I feel like their practicals should at least be prefaced with, 'Now in a real lab, you would actually be using X procedure...' which I don't remember ever hearing.
6. I was always really confused with my practicals in my biology A-Level. We were told we had to do certain experiments, write them up in a book and then we will either get passed or failed by the exam board on our experiments. We did an experiment about every month in year 12 until about April time. And then in year 13 we did no more than 2, yet we should have done so much more. We never even handed in our books to our teachers, they never marked about 5 of the experiments we did, yet somehow I still got a B in my overall A-Level despite not actually having this practical element assessed. I just don't understand why we had to do them if it didn't actually matter. I know we had exam questions to answer, but the methods could have been learnt (for me anyway I could have learnt the process just be revising it regualrly) without doing the actual practical.
7. (Original post by anosmianAcrimony)
Consolidate their understanding of the concepts, yeah, okay, I'll give you that one. But my other problem with the practicals is that they don't even use any of the same procedures and methods that you use at university. You get into a real lab and discover that they stopped doing what you did at A-level about 40 years ago. They have devices that automate the procedures that replaced the procedures that made the procedures you do at A-level obsolete.

Now I realise that you can't expect every secondary school to have university-level kit, but I feel like their practicals should at least be prefaced with, 'Now in a real lab, you would actually be using X procedure...' which I don't remember ever hearing.
This, in my opinion, would just create more confusion. Not all A level students will go on to university, and some just wouldn't be able to keep up with the advanced methods.

I do agree that the A level science practical should be modernised though, but the current way has it's positives too.
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