My grandson came to me one day when he was four years old and said, “Let’s do an experiment.”
“What’s an experiment?” I asked him.
He said, “It’s when you try something and if it works it works. If it doesn't that's okay too.”
I can’t imagine a better definition.
So he put water, flour, oatmeal, oil, baking soda and an egg in a cup and covered it with plastic wrap. Something actually happened. Over the next few days the concoction grew. The next time he came to visit, he saw this wonderful explosion of things he threw together just
to see what would happen. (He wanted to cook it in the microwave for twenty-four hours too. That didn't sound like such a good idea).
Isaac didn't discover anything concrete through this experiment, like how baking soda ferments the oatmeal and causes it to rise like yeast does in bread (if that's what caused it). Through being given the freedom to try something and let it simply unfold, he discovered that the world is a pretty interesting place filled with wonderful amazing things.
Science is about discovering what would happen if . . . ? It is about giving students the time, space, materials and gentle guidance to look at the world in unique ways.
I recently read a newspaper editorial that said the challenge in science education “is getting children and teenagers to enjoy learning it.”
I take great issue with that statement. I have never seen a child who
wasn’t intensely curious about and excited to learn how the world works. Children ask endless questions and wonder about everything. Why do we have night and day? What happened to the dinosaurs? What would happen if I add these two materials together? Why do worms like dirt? What would happen if I put the eraser side of the pencil in the pencil sharpener? Will peanut butter freeze? Why can I write on the sidewalk with this rock? What would happen if . . .?
The biggest challenge in science education is not in “ getting children and teenagers to enjoy learning it.” The biggest challenge is that we don't allow them the opportunity to do science in authentic ways.
The focus on data-driven instruction has allowed science and social
studies education to be thrown out the window. You can’t discover the way the world works in two twenty-minute science classes a week (if we get all the reading and math done we need to). In a twenty-minute block students don’t have time to wonder, discover, ask questions, seek answers to those questions, analyze, evaluate, text hypotheses, document their findings, or engage in deep conversations with their classmates.
Scientists don’t read chapters in text books, define the words in bold print and answer the questions at the end. Scientists explore the world in real ways just to see what happens. Scientists don’t do structured experiments from a book where every step is explicit. Scientists try new things just to see what happens. Scientists don’t always predict every little thing and fill in a graphic organizer. They put things together just to see what happens. Science done from a textbook is not science. It is reading.
The emphasis on high-stakes testing, Common Core standards, and data mania is the biggest challenge in science education. People making decisions for their district should take note. You must stop allowing data to drive educational and curricular decisions.
Teachers: we must take back our classrooms and reclaim our curriculum. Kids want to discover their incredible world. Let's let them do it in their own way and in their own time.
Let's give students the opportunity to find out “what would happen if. . .?”