Is Science in Your Home School Heading for a Meltdown?
- Thursday, March 18, 1999
To be effective, science education should be enjoyable. Science is a source of enjoyment much as music is. The appreciation of science is likely to increase, as the audience becomes more knowledgeable about the workings of the discipline. Science is concerned with all of nature, medicine, and technology; it can prepare students for decisions they must make as adultsdecisions that are increasingly dependent on a clear understanding of science.
Children begin to learn science from the moment they start to perceive their environment. They have an innate need to make sense of what happens. They make assumptions based on their perceptions and they begin to predict what will happen and to test their predictions. Bit by bit, they form a useful model of the world around them. Often, as children grow older, parents unwittingly begin to turn off this natural curiosity by their concern for the correct answer. Once out, it is difficult to rekindle this curiosity, as children grow older. Some attribute this to their fear of giving an incorrect answer.
Teaching science to your students using hands-on resources and methods will expand their universe and open new areas of inquiry for them. Conversely, you can quickly turn your student's natural curiosity completely off by teaching science merely as a set of words and rules to be memorized from pages in a text book. You want to do everything possible to avoid closing off your children's natural thirst for new knowledge and their curiosity by keeping your science curriculum and teaching methods both fun and interesting. Always be enthusiastic.
I recommend that in the early grades, science is taught using only hands-on teaching methods. Use a good hands-on science book as a guide. The experiments in the book should be easy and fun, have clear and complete instructions, and provide explanations and information about the experiments so the why's, how's and what's can be quickly answered. Often, these questions will develop into ideas for new hands-on investigations. A good science text or an encyclopedia should be available for reference. While in the "science laboratory" always stress safety, and remain upbeat and enthusiastic. As students reach junior and senior high school ages, a more equal use of hands-on methods and traditional texts is more appropriate to an effective science program.
Don't be overly ready to directly answer your student's questions about science. For instance, if your child asks you why about an area in science or any other subject for that matter, reply with how could you find out or what do you think. Don't do what is most expedient which is usually to directly answer the question. Replying with a question as suggested encourages your student to persist in finding answers for themselves, builds self-reliance, and develops and tests their critical thinking skills. You as a teacher in this scenario are acting more as a guide to keep the student's thought processes directed and on track.
Science is a process and a way of thinking in a logical manner. Both require active participation by the individual learner. Students should have many opportunities to carry out scientific investigations in a broad range of scientific areas, such as chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology, and the life sciences. Using a wide variety of concrete materials, students should learn to set up and conduct their own experiments; to predict; to systematically change variables; make accurate observations and measurements; and to record, graph, and analyze the data they collect. Predicting correctly is nice, but not nearly as important as the process was to reach an answer.
Science is one of the most important subjects in our curriculum and it so easily integrates with so many other subjects, like mathematics, social sciences, and English. However, don't integrate it so far into the curriculum that it looses its independent identity and becomes complicated and not fun.
Numerous independent research projects have shown that most children learn science more effectively and have sharper problem-solving skills, when hands-on methods and materials are employed. These experiments do not have to be elaborate or employ expensive materials and equipment to be effective. In fact, the simpler the better.
Science experiments that our childrenand often, real scientistswill do, don't always achieve the expected results. We can get a very valuable lesson when this occurs. If the results are different from those predicted, repeat the experiment. Did you get similar results to the original ones or were they different again? If results are not repeatable after several attempts, carefully review the experimenting steps to be sure chemicals and equipment are not contaminated and that the process used in each experiment is exactly the same in all cases. Real scientist always repeat their experiments to insure they are receiving consistent results and usually ask scientists in other labs to do the same experiments to insure independent repeatability. You can do this in your home school by having another student in your family do the experiment or by having a student in another home school do the same experiment. We can learn from our laboratory "failures" just like real scientists do.
There is little that is more exciting than to achieve the predicted results of a science experiment and understand why and how the results were achieved. The sense of discovery and accomplishment are exhilarating.
Science is a living adventure, not a thing. It allows the young student to explore and better understand the natural world in which he or she functions. It is important that parents do everything in their power to maintain and nurture the natural curiosity that we are born with. Parent teachers should urge their children to investigate, understand, and appreciate science. Hence enjoying it, much like music. Since our children are the future, we have an obligation to give them the best tools available, so that they can bring about future improvements to benefit mankind.
About the author.
Jane Hoffman, the Backyard Scientist, is the internationally known author of the award-winning Backyard Scientist hands on science books and science kits. These science books and kits will excite, motivate and instruct any student.
Also available from the Backyard Scientist is the Parent Guide to Teaching Science. This work covering grades K -12 helps parents insure they are teaching the science subjects and materials their students should be learning by grade level.
The recently published supplement, Biblical Applications enables parents to incorporate a Bible lesson to each experiment in the Backyard Scientist experiment books.
In addition to writing and developing these exciting materials, Jane is a sought-after speaker at Home School and other educational conferences nationwide where she makes science come alive. Everyone leaves her sessions better informed as well as motivated and enthused to apply the concepts they learned. Hoffmans teacher inservice workshops for teachers are rated the best available by teachers and administrators. She has been serving the homeschool and educational markets with quality materials for more than 20 years.
For a free brochure, send a self-addressed, stamped ($.55) envelope to: Backyard Scientist, PO Box 16966, Irvine, CA 92623.
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