November 28, 2010

On Friday afternoon I trudged through  3 feet of snow searching for animal signs with a 10 year old girl named Rabbit. No, she was not unfortunately named by her parents. I was teaching outdoor science to a bunch of 8-12 years olds at the Ski Fest in West Yellowstone and that morning we had all chosen animal names to use for the day. The theme of the day was animals in winter. Seriously, I love animals, I love winter and I love skiing so I was pretty jazzed.

As Rabbit and I (I picked the name Cougar for the day, completely forgetting the connotations that now go along with a woman named Cougar) made our way through the snow, we started talking about science and she told me:

“We haven’t done an experiment in science this year in school.”

Now my coworker told me to take this with a grain of salt because kids have selective memories of school and don’t always realize that experiments occur in the science classroom. First of all, I think that her statement both blatantly shows the universal habit of teachers to blindly defend one of their own, and is beyond the point, because if Rabbit, who was a very intelligent girl, couldn’t remember the experiment that occurred in the last 3 months then it probably wasn’t interesting and should not have been taught.

Rabbit’s statement struck me because it correlates so well with my experience in science in elementary and middle school. I had a great science teacher in 5th grade, but after that, I cannot remember much EXCEPT one time when we had to perform and present experiments in 7th grade science (positive) and many many times when we had to take of quizzes directly from the book (negative). Oh, I also remember reading in the science book that pulling is easier than pushing and the corresponding picture showed a girl pushing with all her might on a door clearly marked ‘pull’, which takes the believability of the textbook and throws it into a cesspool of muskrat droppings.

I realize teachers are pressured to teach curriculum based on testing standards. I also think it is clear that elementary science in the classroom could be made a hell of a lot more interesting by basing it on observing, hypothesizing and testing. In other words, teaching children science instead of only reading comprehension (which is also obviously, but not singly, important) during science class. All the scientific knowledge we as a species now have has been derived from a series of experiments. Doesn’t it make sense that personal knowledge could also form from a series of experiments?

I know there is a lot of pressure on teachers to teach their kids to perform well on tests, that things such as behavioral issues can get in the way of experimental science (which is part of why my middle school science education was less than thrilling) and that teachers teach their strongest subjects best.

I also know that there are good science teachers out there. I hope that Rabbit gets one some day soon so that the only experiment she does this year is not Fur, Fat and Feathers during lunch on the Friday of Thanksgiving vacation.


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