Doing science

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I have said this before, we live in an over structured world, here in the upscale western world. This lesson has been brought home to me in a personal way lately via my classroom. At the start of the year and in past years I would invest a lot of time and effort to research and type up picture perfect lab projects for my students to do. Things that, to be perfectly frank, if a teacher had given me to do in high school, I would have looked upon as busy work or wonder what the point was. Small wonder that I got nearly the same response from my students. The thing was, I had invested all this time into writing the stupid thing up, I was going to nag them to death to do it. Anyone who has or has taught teenagers knows how well that worked out for me.

I teach science. Science is creative, fraught with trial and error and mistakes while the scientists figure out how to answer what ever question they have in mind to answer. When we develop picture perfect lessons and labs, be they at home or at school, and ask kids to fill in the blanks in order to insure that they get all the right ideas into their heads we are robbing them of two vitally important things: the right to learn by trial and error and the right to “do science”.

Think back over your life… stop now and take a moment… How much have you learned from someone who told you just exactly how to do the thing? Now, how much have you learned because you got it wrong the first half dozen times that you tried? If you are anything like me you learned far more the second way than the first. Yes, I have learned from others, but mostly because I went to them for their expertise and then tried the thing on my own afterwards.

So, it is important to remove as much of the structure as possible, as fast as possible to facilitate learning and curiosity. You don’t learn to ride a bike by reading about it or watching someone else do it. You also don’t learn to ride a bike with training wheels on. Training wheels serve one purpose only, to keep the bike from falling over while one develops muscle strength and coordination sufficient to keep peddling once the trainers are off. The training wheels have to come off or the one never learns to ride. It takes a few scraped knees to get it down and even the best riders get thrown now and again.

Over the next two or three weeks I am going to be presenting some “how to do science lessons” for kids in nature. This writing is as much for me as it is for any readers out there. I am learning how to let go of the structure and control so that I can help kids learn how to learn. I hope you will join me for this exploration.

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