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Science as an Examined Life

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I thought I would share something I have been learning about from my husband, who is a high school physics teacher.  First, let me give you some background.  


Dh has always left all schooling decisions up to me.  But a few months ago, as I was dealing with my own chronic illness, and facing middle school with my oldest, 2e dd, I told my husband that I just couldn't do science with her.  He proposed something really novel--that he do two labs each summer with the children, and if they were done well, they would be sufficient to prepare them for high school.


I was understandably dubious.  But after all, he has taught high school science for 20 years.  The problems that he sees in his students are not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of ability to think and to convey what they think.  He has to teach them seemingly simple things, such as how to use a ruler.  They don't know what all the lines are for.  And once they have taken measurements, they are at a loss for understanding the meaning and implication of the numbers.


The first lab (on density) took my kids a week to complete.  They spent a day practicing using the scale to measure mass.  The next day was spent actually measuring the various materials and recording the results.  Another day was spent learning how to graph the results.  The last day was spent in a Socratic discussion leading up to writing a report.


Yesterday, they finished their second lab (on acceleration).  That one didn't take as long, because they already knew some of the procedures.   


Afterwards, I asked dh, "Is this really enough?"  He responded, "The kids in science classes at school are doing nothing more than regurgitating facts and copying down what someone else tells them to write.  They do not ever think about what they are doing or how they come to certain conclusions based on the results.  But in these labs, our kids are full participants in every aspect.  They are observing, thinking critically, making predictions and writing about their experiences.  In this way, science is what life is all about.  It is observing the world around you and analyzing what you observe and then making predictions about what will happen in the future.  Science is the essence of an Examined Life."


I realize that this is pretty extreme for many people.  But I thought I would throw this out there in case it hit a chord with someone.  

Edited by Tracy
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He responded, "The kids in science classes at school are doing nothing more than regurgitating facts and copying down what someone else tells them to write. They do not ever think about what they are doing or how they come to certain conclusions based on the results.

While that may be the kind of students he gets, it would be a sweeping statement here.


My district makes science fair project compulsory for all 5th graders. While it does not mean that every 5th grader can churn out ISTS or Siemens competition worth projects, it would be unfair to say majority of the kids are just thoughtless doing their projects.


If high school kids really do not know how to use a ruler, and has to be explicitly taught, there are more worrying things like student's attitude to worry about. Regardless of subjects, the student has to make their best effort to think. Critical thinking is a lifelong skill that has to be honed anyway.

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This reminds me of a wonderful post by Lewelma (I'll have to dig it up). She has her children reading books on a wide range of scientific topics throughout the year. Each year, each child does one science project.  Not a "throw a poster board together for a quick science fair" type project, but a real, in depth investigation where they practice thinking like a scientist.  To me, it sounds like a sane and comprehensive way to learn science. We are migrating this direction for our own homeschool science.  

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Two labs each summer wouldn't be enough for me, but that's just me.


I do agree that science isn't about learning facts and regurgitating them. I believe that what he's teaching them is very useful. But I'd do more of it, if it were me.


Maybe look at the book Teaching Science Process Skills. It teaches exactly the things your husband is doing in a nice methodical way. Best for upper middle. We used it last year and it's all about the process of how to do science. It doesn't teach things like chemistry or biology or volanoes or whatever. Just how to "do" science. Exactly what your husband is doing, but a whole school year's worth. Or two years if you stretch it out.



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Real science is about problem solving in the context of a substantial fund of background knowledge.  This is why real science isn't normally done until a person reaches graduate school.  It takes *years* to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to do real science.


My opinion is that the priority should be on cultivating scientific literacy and not on getting children to "think like scientists."  


All of this is to say that I disagree with your husband.

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