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Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Countdown to school: looking at science with Ruth Beechick
I'm looking at the chapter on "Science and Health" in Ruth Beechick's You CAN Teach Your Child Successfully, Grades 4-8. Ruth Beechick, if you're too young to remember, is one of the homeschool grandmas of "common sense learning." She teaches a very conservative view of young-earth Creation, but even those who disagree with that may find she makes some good points in this chapter.
"This last point is the second fallacy of the 'strict textbook' thinking. For high success we must take into account the way people learn. The textbook style of science learning is traditional in our schools, and research is showing that as students progress through the grades they like science less and less, until after grade 12 only 10% still give 'attention' to science. The other 90% are considered scientifically illiterate."
Dr. Beechick doesn't give footnotes or sources for her statistics, but I'd guess that current research (twenty years later, since she says she was writing in 1993) would probably back up the general idea of what's she's saying.
"Research into the causes has shown that students, especially in high school, perceive books and teachers as 'knowing' science and as 'answer givers.' This progressively turns off students' own curiosity, motivation, and interest in the subject....So as teacher, you do not have to be an 'answer giver.' That should take pressure off practically all of us, since only a few science professionals probably feel qualified to take that role."
She also makes this important point:
"Is it science that will improve the lot of mankind? Will science literacy for all citizens lead to better decisions?....The world may need better scientists and a nation may need citizens who are scientifically literate, but far more do we need leaders and citizens in the moral and religious realms. With that we would make better use of our science knowledge."
She refers to a project that was in progress at that time: the NRC (National Research Council) national science education standards of 1996. Writing in 1993, Dr. Beechick considered it "the greatest effort ever toward reaching a national consensus on what children should learn in school science." The basic idea sounded good: get students more interested, more involved, give them more ownership over their science learning, let them design their own science experiments, let them think about the "why" of science. I do not know what she said about the NRC standards afterwards: it turned out to be one of the "outcomes-based" educational initiatives of the '90's that left homeschoolers and other educators either scratching their heads in bewilderment or pulling their hair in frustration (Plutarch might say eating their fingers). In other words, the same stuff happened to science teaching in the American public schools as happened to math and English.
How does knowing all that help us, or not help us?
Well, we can still take what Dr. Beechick felt was good about the move towards a more human, maybe more holistic understanding of science, even if its public-school application turned out to be a turkey. While recognizing the limits and the dangers of worshipping science, she wanted her students to finish school at least "liking science." ("How much does he care?") She seemed to like the idea of including the philosophy, history and sociology of science in the curriculum, along with the more facts-based material. You can sprout beans, study volcanoes, melt and freeze things all you want in science class, but there has to be a reason behind it.
Next time I'll post about what the science plans are for the fall. (Hint: it involved the World Book Typical Course of Study. Another hint: it turned out to be more or less what we were already doing.)