Key Reasons for Science in Grades K-8 (page 3)
The words of Herbert Smith, written in 1963, are no less appropriate today.
One may summarize the historical overview [of K–8 science] by pointing out that the past century has been a century of unprecedented social, economic, scientific, and technological change. The schools are to a very large degree a mirror of the ambient culture, and they are probably more sensitive to social change than any other educational level. They are always, to a degree, consonant with the prevailing philosophies and state of knowledge in existence at any particular time. Fundamental changes in philosophy, in theories of child rearing and educability, in the need for universal and extended educational training for all children and adolescents of our society with capacity to learn, have been accepted within this century. Science, itself, has progressed from the dilettantism of the leisured intellectual to a basic and fundamental activity of a substantial percentage of [all humankind] (Smith, 1963).
Everything considered, the key reasons science is taught in grades K–8 today are summarized in the paragraphs that follow.
Building Positive Attitudes Is Important
Dogmatic teaching is lethal to effective learning in science, whereas unrestrained thought enhances a child’s natural curiosity. You should teach your class as if it were a think tank, encouraging skepticism, suspension of judgment, guessing, and intuitive thought. As the teacher, you must model these behaviors yourself.
Values and attitudes begin forming at an early age. Therefore, there are attitudinal objectives for science learning for the earliest grades that should be incorporated into the science curriculum starting in kindergarten. Sound learning objectives for all grades, beginning in kindergarten, include the following:
- The child demonstrates curiosity about the natural world.
- The child demonstrates respect for humans and other living things.
- The child demonstrates conservation practices.
Children must learn that science and scientific ways of thinking are important to their daily living and that careers in science and technology are open to all. The teacher can and should help dispel myths, superstitions, and stereotypes about science, sciencing, and scientists. Through science, children can develop intellectual and communication skills that improve their ability to get along with one another and to understand the natural world. Our environment is a rich “classroom” in which to teach science to children. We should strive always to leave it a better place. This includes avoiding unnecessary collecting and general “ripping off” of the outdoors. It means encouraging practices of preservation and enhancement of the environment. Such practice should begin with the child’s inner environment (the child’s own self), then proceed to the child’s immediate environment (the child’s own “turf”), which includes the classroom and other places where the child lives. When these environmental aspects of the child’s world have been nourished and cared for, the global environment can be considered. A child cannot be expected to show concern for the future of an endangered species in a faraway place if the world of the child’s own inner self is being inadequately tended. For example, a child from an urban environment in the Southeast who comes to school hungry cannot be expected to show much concern for the depletion rate of aquifers in the Midwest.
A skillful teacher strives for a balance between objective behaviors and intuitive thinking and creates a classroom climate where all children are welcomed and feel free to learn within a rich environment of shared responsibilities and decision-making.
Building Foundations for Understandings
In science, children should practice inquiry skills that lead to higher-order thinking. For example, kindergarten children can be taught the importance of listening fully to the ideas of others—a step toward the development of a critical, questioning attitude. They can be helped in their learning of impulse control, and they can be taught skills needed to generate data, such as observing, recalling, identifying, and measuring. Children should also be taught how to handle and care for plants, for animals, and for one another.
Children should learn cognitions in science that build as they progress from one level of schooling to the next. Kindergarten children learn to identify objects with similar characteristics, to compare and match pictures of animals and their offspring, to predict what will happen in some particular case, and to experiment to discover whether their predictions were correct. These are but a few of the intellectual skills that lead to a child’s developing understanding of the larger conceptual organizations around which the K–12 science curriculum is built.
Science is taught in the earliest grades, not only because that is where we must begin laying the foundation for conceptual understandings, process skills, and positive attitudes and feelings about science and technology, but also because it is when we must begin stimulating and developing the child’s innate curiosity about the natural environment. By doing science and learning science, children can
- Develop and apply values that contribute to their affective development
- Develop positive attitudes about science and technology
- Develop an awareness of the relationship and interdependence of science, technology, and society
- Develop an awareness of careers in science and technology
- Develop higher-order thinking skills
- Develop knowledge, understandings, and skills that contribute to their intellectual growth
- Develop their psychomotor skills
The development of students’ interest in science also appears to have a real influence on their career decisions later in life. In 2006, a study appearing in Science offered evidence suggesting that students who reported an interest in science-related careers in eighth grade were two to three times more likely to graduate with a baccalaureate in a science discipline than their peers who were interested in nonscience careers. This study also showed that standardized test performance was related to earning degrees in the physical sciences, but was not significant in determining who earned degrees in the life sciences. In the end, it appears that what we do as teachers to promote interest in science, may have far-reaching influence in our students’ lives.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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