Friday, October 25, 2013

Teaching Science to Non-Scientists -- Which is MOST of Us

If you read here much, you've probably picked up on the fact that I'm more of an English/History gal than a Math/Science one. My girls are the same -- which is why I'm quite interested in how they are taught math and science, because I suspect some of my dislike for science, anyway, is related to the way I was taught.

So, I was pleased to be invited to a meeting at my youngest's school to discuss the science curriculum they may implement starting next year. (Although I'm still not quite sure why I was invited. I may have signed up for a committee at the beginning of the year. Or I may have annoyed the principal too much with my questions about high school. In any case, I was happy to be there.)

The curriculum they are looking at is brand new.  There are only a couple of textbooks written at the moment, but more in the works. What I liked about them is their approach.

The author (who presented at the meeting) explained that most science textbooks are massive, back-breaking tomes stuffed with far more information that a person can master in a year. (No lie -- have you looked at a high school science textbook lately? Picked one up? Holy smokes.) Because of the overload, students have no choice, really, but to fall into the pattern of cramming for the test and then immediately forgetting everything they've learned to make room for the next flood of information.

(Can I hear an "amen"? Preach it, brutha!!)

This guy's textbook's were small. He said he pared down the content to only the essentials for the course and then focused on mastery of those essentials

Mastery!!  Actually learning the stuff. What a concept!

He has taught science for many years and has seen how much more effective this method is. But I didn't need to hear that to be convinced -- COMMON SENSE tells me that's a much more effective method.  What possible good does the cram-test-forget method accomplish?

He also recommended only 5-6 real experiments during the year and teaching the students to write up high quality lab reports over those experiments. Again, an amen from me. Hands-on stuff is important . . . discovery learning has its place . . . but I've observed that the plethora of experiments my eldest has done in her science classes have not accomplished what the teachers hoped they would. Again, it was overload. Do a few really good ones and integrate the writing skills with that.  (I've become more and more convinced that writing cannot be taught well in isolation by high school -- writing has to be about something.)

This guy also had recommendations about math offerings at the high school level, because math and science are so connected.  The one I liked: for the kids who are not math whizzes and who DON'T need to learn trigonometry and math analysis and pre-calculus, offer them AP Statistics after they complete Algebra 2.  (Aha!!) Much more practical, but also at a high academic level to push them a bit . . . and they get college credit when they're done.  Love it.

Really, I loved it all.  It was enough to make me want to be a science teacher. (Ew . . . okay, that was hyperbolic.  Big words. Whew. I feel better.)

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