Perfection vs Context

April 26, 2012  |  Featured  |  Share

Sometimes you find amazing things in school cupboards and also, it seems, in Universities…

Today I was given this bizarre piece of equipment for a Science workshop on forces. There were several treads from shoes, carefully removed with a stanley knife and glued to a piece of board with a string on it. At first I wondered what on earth it was for, then I realised it was designed to investigate how changing shoe treads affects friction. The question is… why not just use real shoes?

I posted the photograph above on Facebook and Twitter asking what it was for, and got a very different set of responses. To my ‘teacher network’ on Twitter the purpose was obvious… but my non teacher friends on Facebook came up with the suggestions of a waffle iron, and a stamp for marking very bad pieces of work… Ok, so this was a bit of a joke, but I couldn’t help thinking about what possible reason one could have for making such a thing. Some kind of over zealous attitude to health & safety prohibiting children from taking their shoes off?

There were a number of different treads, and the only sensible reason I can think of is that it was to provide a totally fair test in terms of the weight of the items and a range of treads which children may not have on the shoes they wear to school. I can’t help thinking that whilst we might have gained scientific accuracy from using these things, we have lost much of the real context and personal investment in the investigation that would be present if children just used the shoes on their feet…

I think the fact that this item has been stripped of it’s context explains the humorous responses of my non-teacher friends. Obviously a balance needs to be struck, but Science isn’t perfect, and it seems to me that trying to make it so at the expense of context and personal engagement in the questions being asks is tipping that balance the wrong way.

 

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1 Comment


  1. I can see how they would be useful, as you could add weights on top of the board to test how that affects friction. Also, children’s shoes are all different weights and sizes and are often very difficult to attach a forcemeter to! Having said that, when we did friction we just used the kids’ shoes and it was great fun and the children loved it and learnt lots! I doubt those boards would last long in a school science cupboard anyway without “going missing”!

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