Dad: Primary School Science Drives Me Mad

A parent was terribly frustrated with the manner in which his son's science exam script was marked. He rants about it at Reddit Singapore, citing examples to back his point:

Q1: There is a hot cup of coffee on the table with a metal spoon in it. What will happen to the temperature of the metal spoon and the coffee after one day?

My son answered simply: "The temperature will decrease." The accepted answer according to the teacher is "They will cool down to room temperature.". To me this smacks of rigidity and only sticking to one accepted solution.

It gets better. Next question: It is possible to hold the handle of the cup even when other parts of the cup is still hot. Explain why.

My son answered: "The handle of the cup is likely made of a material that is a poor conductor of heat." Again, marked wrong. WTF?

Model answer: The handle of the cup is made of a poor conductor of heat so heat cannot pass through easily.

He discovered after consulting other parents that supposed template answers to specific question types were furnished by tutors for students to routinely memorize. And because he doesn't send his child to tuition classes, the boy is somewhat losing out to the "robotic" rote learners. Is there genuine cause for concern?A few Reddiporeans, some presumably educators themselves, offered their views on this matter faced by the thoroughly worried and perplexed father:

By dtwn:

"It's exactly this. The kid's answers imply that they understand the underlying principles, but it's not absolutely clear. A kid who has been sufficiently coached without a clear understanding of the principles involved could give similar answers. For that matter, a kid who has real life experience could give that answer in question 1 without knowing the principles involved.

I tell my students to assume the marker is an idiot because they are going to do the same of you. Unless you demonstrate a clear understanding of the topic, they cannot assume in your favour that you understand it fully."

By DirtyWeeb:

"While I agree Q2 is a bit too strict since "poor conductor of heat" pretty much means that heat cannot pass through the material easily, Q1 was marked reasonably. Everyone knows hot objects cool down, much like our bodies after exercising, but the whole concept is about thermal equilibrium and if you'd like, maximising of entropy."

By Dracovoid:

"As someone who loves science and has taken Biology, I think it's best to understand the topic instead of blindly memorising. That easy it comes second nature when explaining answers. That being said although both questions seem unreasonable, your son was missing quite a few of the expected "keywords". So practice makes perfect when it bubbles down to time constraints."

Veryfascinating advises:

"From what i see it seems that while your son's answers are somewhat correct, they're not complete or they do not convey the full understanding of the science behind it. There's no doubt that your son knows his stuff, but he needs to be a little more specific. "The temperature will decrease" but to what extent? Decrease by 1°C? Or to -20°C? "The handle is a poor conductor of heat" and what does that mean? So what? How will it cause a temperature difference between the handle and the mug body?

I know, it sounds a little silly of me to nitpick on a 12 year old's answers. He's only a kid right?!! But this highlights an underlying issue. You see, Science is not just about knowing theories, it's also about applying it, and more importantly it's about communicating knowledge. The ability to communicate your idea across to others efficiently is an important skill, one that even many scientists lack (I know because science is my bread and butter). But the thing is, good communication is not just applicable to science. It is an essential soft skill that you'd use even in adulthood. If we want to talk about the system, when your son goes to secondary school and start learning humanities, this skill would come into play big time.

So I'd say, don't blame the system. Don't try to twist it to fit what you have. Instead, train your son to improve his communication skills. Teach him to read into what is really asked of him and then answer in entirety. Start him young while it's easy so he would have the edge over everyone when he's older. So that he can rise above the system and not be just another chess piece in the game of life."

By cgtk:

"By way of phrasing, the question is testing your son's understanding of thermal equilibrium. Your son's answer, that it simply decreases, doesn't demonstrate this; because it can mean that the temperature decreases below room temperature, which is wrong. At most he will get 1/2 mark, because the point is that the temperature goes down to room temperature and stays there, which is the part he did not answer. How is your son supposed to know that he has to answer like this? Because the question specifically asked for what happens after one day.

"The handle of the cup is likely made of a material that is a poor conductor of heat."

This is also a half-answer. He's not answering the implied question, which is: how does it being a poor conductor of heat make it possible to hold the handle? There's a missing link there. For P sch science its not enough to just state the concept. You have to explain it and link it back to the question, which is not done here.

Teach your son to look at the number of marks given and give sufficient substantiation based on that. Also, all these questions are testing concepts, and usually there are obvious hints in the question that tell you how you're supposed to answer them."

By omnirai:

"Second one is quite silly, fully agreed on that. First answer is not sufficient though, and should probably not merit the full mark if it is a word problem.

Nevertheless "keyword" based learning is inflexible and rewards rote learning, that's definitely true.

To further elaborate...

Q1: For full credit I would expect the student to identify that both objects will eventually reach equilibrium with the surroundings, which will be room temp. This is Science, specifying the parameters/end point is basic and should be expected at any level.

Q2: For full credit, I would expect the student to point out that the handle is a poor conductor of heat, and be able to explain what that actually means in relation to the question (even though it is almost self-explanatory in this specific case, that's not always the case). The given answer in the OP should probably not be given zero marks, but I can also understand not marking it as completely correct.

If you want to reward understanding, demanding elaboration is usually the way to go (while avoiding rigid keyword-based marking, which requires good teachers)."

And the most epic reply which was written by one nyvrem:

"Not happy migrate loh. Singapore everything must do with template and give model answers."

Carefully harvested by the Czar (Site Founder)

Dated 25 February 2017


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