Thursday, February 02, 2006

To Dissect or Not

My granddaughter Bryttany loves science. We gave her a butterfly kit for her birthday. Her Mom helped her follow the directions to order the cocoons and set up the hatching area. Then she conscientiously watched every day for the cocoons to hatch.

Asked all the appropriate questions? How long do think it will take? Would they do better in a different place in the room? Should it be dark? Light?  Will they be affected by noise? What happens if I touch them? Should I talk to them? This 3rd grader was doing an experiment.

Well, that’s what we used to call such activities. Now they call it “inquiry-based science education.” It was big for awhile too. Endorsed by the National Science Teachers Association who recommended in 2004 that hands-on and field work should be the center of science classrooms. Hmm, isn’t that what “real” scientists do?

I’m still puzzled. Way back in the middle ages when I went to high school, we dissected frogs.  (Animal rights hadn’t been invented yet.)

Now because of testing mandated in part by No Child Left Behind, everyone’s scurrying to have children memorize material from textbooks and lectures.

I’m still puzzled. Again, in that same biology class where we dissected frogs, we also memorized material from textbooks and lectures. We did both.

I guess the difference is that my science teacher wasn’t just teaching the facts that he knew would show up on some standardized test.

I just never get this “all one way, or all the other way.” What ever happened to good old compromise?  Can’t we teach kids to think critically, to ask open-ended questions, to form scientific hypotheses and to memorize a few facts along the way?   Seems to me that they’ll ask better questions and think more critically if they have a bit of knowledge.

Maybe we should just spend more time teaching and less time testing. After all, this obsession with testing hasn’t helped us in getting our kids to the top ranks of science education around the world.  See yesterday’s rant on that topic.

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