Why don’t kids like adults also using what the kids consider their technology or their domain? Could it have anything we do with the way we treat (teach) them?
In celebration of International Year of Forests, launched on February 2, International Year of Chemistry, launched on January 27, and International Year of Youth, running between August 2010 to August 2011, I offer this post about Science and science education.
All the time wondrous things happen around us. Most we aren’t even aware of; a lot we depend on. Our species wouldn’t even be where it is now without science. But then neither would the Universe.
Even animals and plants use science. Look at the beaver (Castor canadensis) and the Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). In fact, look at every species in each of the kingdoms.
The study of the interaction of species on many scales is ecology, which is the field of my previous career.
I entered the field of ecology because I have always been fascinated by the interactions of living things with each other and their ecosystems.
When we notice things – patterns and gaps in patterns – we see how wondrous the World really is.
We also learn to use these patterns and gaps to improve our lives.
The very civilizations we live in owe themselves to science.
What is Science?
I claim that there are two faces to science, just like there are two faces to math, and for that matter to each field of knowledge and subject in school. Big-S Science is the underlying overarching processes and patterns of being, of behavior and of thinking, and a way of viewing, thinking, inquiring and learning about the World with these interacting and interconnected patterns and processes in focus. Little-s science is the technical professional-lab, field or school-work study and experimentation done to realize the big-S Science.
Science is a way of noticing the World. If Math is a series of puzzles and riddles and games, so is Science. In fact, science can be seen as a form of math, or at least as a familial relation to math. It is a series of processes, of patterns, and gaps in patterns, of connections and relations, and of causes and effects and decisions.
Science is about inquiry and exploration. It is about curiosity.
Science begins with noticing
Science begins with noticing.
We engage Science when we ask why (what caused rather than the reason for) certain patterns, or gaps in patterns, exist, existed or no longer exist.
David Pimm held that math and Math do not exist until a question is asked. I think the same holds true for science and Science.
Teaching the meta-content
So which is the best way to teach Science?
I learned Science from text books, and teachers well versed in the subject. And to be quite honest with you, I got the facts, I got the processes, I got the patterns, I got the gaps. I even deepened my love for science and my curiosity about the World. My teachers were the best. But what I didn’t get was the Science.
Text books indoctrinate. They feel like unshakeable axioms pounded in stone. I did not get a feel for the development of science and the discovery of knowledge. Sure I was told about it. Sure I read it. Sure I can track history. But what happened in text books always existed right from the Beginning of Space and Time (Adam and Eve for some of you, the Big Bang for others). And teachers always knew what they know.
Labs are no better. Lab methods and outcomes are pre-determined. There is no Science, just science. It is important to learn how to conduct scientific experiments, but there is a threshold where learning the skill of science has to give way to experiencing the process of Science.
I never did until I engaged in independent studies and my Masters degree.
What I was learning were various methods to conduct science and multiple broad and deep layers of scientific knowledge. And prior to my independent studies and Masters degree, these were all I needed to successfully conduct science.
But I was missing something. You see all my knowledge was given to me, whether by teachers or professors, text books or labs, or library books, or even experts in specialized fields. But I never learned how to be a Scientist, how to do Science.
Before I learned the terminology of little-s science and Big-S Science, I refered to Science as deep science. I engaged Science during my independent studies and Masters degree, when I started asking Science questions. I learned, or relearned, how to notice the World, wonder about what I noticed, ask questions from first-principles and follow up on them.
That is when I experienced Science and morphed from a scientist into a Scientist.
I have had several university students noticing the same difference between science and Science and asking when they begin to learn Science. I promote independent and graduate studies whenever I have the chance. I truly believe we don’t teach Science in schools or even undergraduate programs. We teach science.
Labs and text books are the way to pass on content. But is it the way to teach Science?
Which science would you like to teach?
Little-s science is about technique and fact; Big-S Science is about noticing and inquiring.
One of these fuels curiosity and exploration; the other fuels procedure and drill.
Exploring the World
Science should be taught by experiencing the World, noticing it and its patterns and details, wondering what makes it how it is, and asking questions so both sciences can begin.
Teaching toward Big-S Science encourages creativity, curiosity, problem-solving and playfulness. It builds passion and inquiry. And creates life-long problem solvers and learners.
Realizing our students
The realization of the underlying and overarching patterns and processes in all subjects should top our list of goals for the little-subject stuff we offer our students. The relation of Big-subject, little-subject should form part of our consideration when we teach.
Doing so will determine what kind of people we “raise” in our classrooms.
So when they leave your care who will your students become?
Isn’t it time to decide how we teach (treat) them?
The following links open pages with videos on science discoveries.Follow @stefras