Education of children about science in grade/primary schools is supposed to provide some fundamental body of knowledge about major concepts in science, including specific real examples for each branch and sub-branch. This key background is needed to enable their later learning about more complex and detailed treatments in subsequent science courses in high/middle school. At present, most science education for young students still involves memorization, watching demonstrations and cartoon presentations, working with models, playing “science games”, “doing research” with some search engine on the internet, and, going on a field trip to some place like a natural history museum or some science exhibits featuring more models and games for entertainment. All of this scenario deals with what I call “empty science”, and is inherently boring and misleading to young students. The fundamental fact that science is real people is ignored. Somehow, science teachers should remember how these same courses and activities came across to them when they were only youngsters many years ago.
Quite frankly, I do not blame very young students going through the usual introductory courses for feeling that science must be an amusement and is some kind of game played by peculiar adults in laboratories. If the nature of research is included, it is seen by the children as being some sort of game played for money, and it is clearly very inferior to playing sports or musical instruments. These early strong conclusions later are cemented into adult minds, where science and research today very commonly are viewed as an entertainment, as something that normal average adults just cannot possibly understand, and, as a nonsense that has no importance for daily life. These very wrong views have led to the large estrangement of the modern public from science, and their lack of personal interest in science progress; most people just do not feel that science has any role in their personal life.
Dr. M is convinced that science education for children should involve very much less memorization and very much more hands-on work with actual materials, using examples that are more strongly related to everyday life. As a minimum, science courses must show basic interrelationships between the different sciences, introduce simple quantitation and statistics, and, feature hands-on collection and examination of measurements (data) for some real variables in everyday life (e.g., age, gender, body weight, body height, etc.). In addition, they should present some interesting biographical stories about how real scientists actually made their research discoveries and why they now are considered to be very famous; this will enable the understanding of how scientific research today consists of real people working on important unsolved problems and developing amazing new technologies. Outside the classroom, visits to such local features as nearby landscapes, zoos, farms, water treatment plants, mines, weather stations, etc., rather than only to dry museums, will show students hidden features of nature, geology, ecology, chemistry, and even astronomy. Class visits to an industrial research center will provide valuable personal examples of scientists working right now in the real world.
As part of these revised educational goals and activities, it first will be necessary to re-educate the educators. Adult teachers must learn or re-learn about (1) the essential nature of science and research, (2) organization of science, and interrelations between its many subdivisions, (3) the value of a question and answer format even for grade school classes, and, (4) how principles, examples, and derived reasoning can replace the standard need for learning only by memorization (i.e., unlike knowledge, memorization only rarely leads to increased understanding). In my view, the effects of these new learning modalities will be well worth all the new efforts involved. From the corresponding changes for science courses within high/secondary school and college, ordinary adults then will stop being afraid of science, will become more interested in research activities, and, even will be able to perceive that scientific research is a vital and interesting part of daily life.
Different aspects of the important topic of science education will be discussed further on this website in the coming weeks.
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