Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Need for science education

As I've written before, homeschoolers are in a perfect position to provide the best science education for their children, because we can take our kids out into the field and do things with them that make science fun and interesting! My daughter who blogs at Science on the Farm is taking her first college science class this semester, and she already said that she can see why most students say they "hate" science. There is a lot of memorization, and without the practical background, it seems pointless and boring. Here's a quote that pretty much sums up a great article on the need for better science education. (STEM is an achronym for science, technology, engineering, and math.)

"What is most dramatic about this survey is the extent to which the Fortune [1000] executives speak with one unequivocal voice on these issues," said Attila Molnar, president and CEO of Bayer Corp. "Almost without exception, they overwhelmingly recognize this country's great need to tap the potential of the entire STEM talent pool, and the importance of doing so at every point on the development continuum--beginning in elementary school with high-quality, hands-on, inquiry-based science education, through college where STEM talent is refined and recruited, and then into the workplace where it must be further nurtured and encouraged."

Yes -- hands-on, inquiry-based science education -- not memorizing anatomy charts and periodic table of the elements. The people in education know what we need, and the executives in businesses know what they need, but the current educational system is not equipped to provide it.

And I especially liked one of the comments posted by a reader:
Teaching "what" to think (STEM content) is insufficient; they also need to learn "how" to think. Too many of our best minds are crammed full of content but don't know how to make the most of the knowledge. We need to push critical thinking, creative thinking, and systems thinking in the curricula even before the STEM (or any other technical field, for that matter) content. It's like having a huge database but no program.

Again, kids need to be out in the field, getting dirty, doing stuff, rather than sitting in a classroom memorizing a bunch of stuff. Even if you live in an apartment without a yard, you can grow plants, keep an aquarium, or have a couple of pet mice. And you can head out to nature preserves, the zoo, and museums. Most good science teachers would do this if only they could, because they know this is how kids learn science. But alas the schools can't afford field trips every week for their students.


Mamacita (Mamacita) said...

Many families, and this includes a lot of homeschooling and unschooling families, rely on Steve Spangler's blog to supply them with information, ideas, and experiments. I signed up for the Experiment of the Week there, and every week I get a new experiment, complete with videos and instructions that are easy to follow.


Susan Ryan said...

Hands on is absolutely necessary to study the sciences. We have never used a science curriculum and I have not had any desire to hunt down a textbook.
Science is observation and hypothesizing and experimenting.
How can you learn about decomposition unless you go out in the woods and see what the bugs, elements and such do to a fallen tree.
It's tragic what our society's children miss out on. Just as Katherine loves science from seeing and doing, others would do the same.

Carletta said...

Great post! As one who hated science growing up, I am dedicated to giving my children a totally different experience.

Alison said...

I think I read somewhere that the challenge of the next generation is to think and be creative. We have so much information readily available to us in this day and age. Looking up facts is easy. Understanding and analyzing that information is a skill that will be in ever greater demand.

I agree with you, science is best learned in the context of life. There is plenty of time to learn the fundamental facts and vocabulary of science once we understand the significance of how science, engineering and math contribute to our lives.

Harry said...

I cringe when I see people equate "hands-on" science with growing plants or other life stuff. That stuff is just one corner of science.

Whatever happened to physics, astronomy, chemistry, molecular biology, geology, and so on?

Hands-on may be necessary but is not sufficient unless you're very gifted financially.

Science is about thinking. The "facts" are what you apply the thinking to, what you think about. If your students have no understanding of the periodic table, they won't understand chemistry except as a bunch of memorization.

Which hands-on experiments do you do to illustrate the important relationships in the periodic table?

Besides, hands-on is not just doing stuff with your hands. It should include experimental design -- and redesign. You must collect, analyze, and interpret real data. Those data are flawed. Those flaws are important to understanding what science really is all about.