03 November 2011

Science: Is it Important?

Do your elementary-schoolers get enough instruction in science?  Research conducted by the University of California indicates that if your children are publicly-educated in the state of California, they likely do not.  Get this: about 40% of California students are receiving one hour or less of science instruction per week.  Some of the reasons cited for the overall lack of strong science programs at the elementary level (with my helpful analysis) include:

1. Teachers.  They don't have strong science backgrounds, and therefore feel ill-prepared to teach science to little kids.  Oh, come on.  We're talking GENERAL concepts like why the moon looks different at various times of the month.  The water cycle.  The solar system.  The difference betwen bugs and spiders.  Gimme a break.  This excuse did not hold water with me; how about you?

2.  Instructional materials and facilities.  Yeah.  I'd like a big science budget, too, so I could demonstrate the properties of platinum to all my students.  But seriously.  Materials at the elementary school level do NOT have to be expensive.  Have you guys not done the cardboard and half-full glass trick to show air pressure?  Played with magnets?  Used a lever or screwdriver and hammer to show "simple tools?"  Grown a seed in a clear plastic cup?  Are you SERIOUSLY gonna give the "instructional materials and facilities" copout at the elementary level because your kids are at the poverty level? Are you saying you can't afford to walk outside and look at bugs and trees?  Oh, good grief.

3.  Assessing student progress.  It's a big problem.  We won't know if the kids learn anything if we don't have a standardized test for it!  Wow.  So, when children refuse to learn stuff or pay attention in class when something isn't going to be on the test, we'll know where they got that attitude from.  I know no teacher can do it all, but how much money does it cost to put out a clearly-marked bowl with 300 ml of water on a Monday with the words, "Process of Evaporation" on a paper nearby.  Hm.  On Friday, what changed?  Log that down. What is this "process of evaporation" and how long does it take? Do something small each month to help these children learn more about how the world works.

All that doesn't cost anything... or very little... it just takes a minute of your time.  After reading this report, I was very concerned that this isn't just a "California thing," or if it is, it won't be for long.  I've homeschooled for about five years now and I'm sooo tired of the stereotypical "Christian homeschoolers don't learn science like we do" business.  Maybe that's a good thing!  Why fight over Christians not teaching evolution to their kiddies if you hardly teach ANYTHING at all?

I guess all I can say is that at least my children learn in their elementary years about the solar system.  They know about various sorts of birds and where they live.  They've looked at trees and can identify some.  They know a little about the weather and how weather can change, about the various cloud formations and a bit about the different types of rocks in the world.  Insect and plant life cycles.

I'm not bragging.  I don't even pretend to have a 'world class' (or whatever the current buzzword is) science education going on here.  But SOMETHING is going on here. (At least, when I'm not doped up right after a surgery it is.)

I just found this report to be the biggest, lamest bunch of excuses ever.  I'd actually be ok with the entire state of California saying, "You know what? Science isn't really that important, and so we don't feel like teaching it."  That would be fine because then, I could just figure that I have a polite difference of opinion with the state.  But it chaps my hide to see all this stuff about how vital it is, but they can't dig up a few earthworms for some third graders and talk about soil aeration.  Or get a basketball, a tennis ball and a flashlight and talk about the moon and the seasons.

Maybe I'm just a big meanie beanie because I don't know what it's like to teach an entire classroom full of children.  And I don't know what it's like to be under the constraints of testing and bell schedules.  I admit that.

But less than an hour a week in science?  If you were a parent of a child in elementary school, would that be OK with you?





21 comments:

  1. Elementary school for you equates to primary school out here. I don't know about now, but I remember when I was in primary school we didn't learn much at all in the way of science. Back then it was high school stuff and I couldn't wait to learn something interesting. Sadly the interesting stuff didn't get taught until third year high, and I'd left school by then.
    I'm hoping that by now, primary schools here have upped their standards a bit. Or a lot. Science really needs to start young.

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  2. You know, I'm not expecting high-level chemistry experiments or work with bunsen burners and microscopes, but yeah! Why can't the kids READ about the planets, or the difference between mammals and reptiles... or... SOMETHING in the way of science. It doesn't have to cost a boodle.

    I wasn't trying to be super-critical of the hard job these schools have, but when I read this report, the feeling I got was very much like the time I ordered a "BLT" to find out that it was BOLOGNA, lettuce and tomato. Um, normal people think "bacon."

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  3. On the one hand, (as you note) many important science concepts can be taught in less than an hour a week. Homeschoolers prove this again and again [smile].

    On the other hand, it is sad how little science is taught in some schools. With Sonlight--the only homeschool curriculum I know well [smile]--students cover more science topics more often before jr. high than most students experience even once by the end of high school. And as for the "evolution" thing... yeah, they never taught me that in public school either. They talked about it a whole bunch, but they never actually got down to the details... the, you know, science of it all. That makes me more and more frustrated the more I learn about that subject.

    ~Luke

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  4. I remember doing a project about the solar system in 4th or 5th grade
    we all built planets and wrote reports
    we also had a science fair twice a year

    hope you're feeling better
    I'm schleppin' around as best as I can and counting my blessings :)

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  5. To be honest I am in my 20's, I have no memory of science in my elementary school years and I lived in NC...I remember it in middle and some of high school but that is it...What you posted about is another sign for me to home school my kids...I dont think the excuses they gave for the lack of science are all that great either, but you know people will try to excuse anything...Science is HUGE in the younger years and its simple to supply the materials and talk about things you mentioned or even make a survey sheet and let the kids go outside and mark how many trees with red leaves or yellow leaves and talk about why trees change colors or buy a butterfly kit for $20 and watch the butterflies change from caterpillars to butterflies...The PS system spends so much on new gym equipment but cannot fund the right things for elementary science?! That just blows my mind...its awful...such a sad world we live in!

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  6. Hi, Luke! I'd imagine Sonlight, because science is a separate subject in your curriculum, would also make a fun after-school subject for those children who don't get any science teaching at their schools during the day. :)

    Dianne, that is KEWL! TWICE a year you had science fairs? We were underachievers and had only an annual science fair... now it looks like there are zero at this level. BTW, I love your pic with Hope.

    Kris, exactly. You can learn so much with so little money, it's a shame schools aren't doing more. Are they mandated to talk about sex more than science? The teachers do what they're mandated to do and at the end of the day we all share the blame for not VOTING BETTER. :(

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  7. Blame the MAP test. I spent eight weeks with an elementary school teacher last year who confessed that not only did she not feel confident of her own ability to teach science, but that she neglected subjects not on the MAP for the second half the school year because there was so much pressure to raise MAP scores. To her credit, she traded teaching duties with another teacher who did feel confident of his ability to teach science, but wasn't as comfortable with math. These were both caring teachers who loved their jobs, but knew that keeping those jobs meant focusing on the test.

    Homeschooling--Part note--part boast. Daniel, who graduated from public high school last year, had to take several end of course tests in addition to the GED/High school diploma test. One of these was in a course he'd never had--high school biology. He scored head and shoulders above all of his classmates--earning and advanced score. Was it because I'm such a brilliant teacher? Not even close. We simply taught science like we did geography, including it in conversations, lots of hands on experiments, watching documentaries, and taking field trips. What was for other students "special knowledge" is every day knowledge in our house.

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  8. See, that's just it, Mary. I don't think public school kids/teachers are dum-dums. But you're NOT going to get good at a subject you rarely to never teach!

    I can't blame the MAP tests entirely for this lack of instruction, though. Presumably each of the 500 or so children in a given elementary school have parents who should be asking questions.

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  9. How sad. Science is one of my son and my daughter's favorite subjects. We do science daily just for the pleasure of it, not because we have to. And the excuses for not making it more of a priority are as you said....LAME.

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  10. They're about as lame as my excuses for not losing weight. OK won't go there. lol

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  11. Well, we're not the science sort round here. In fact we ditched science completely this year & it's just a pity we couldn't do the same with math but before y'all start slinging tomatoes, so long as you don't bog us down in the details or actually expect us to do an experiment, we are actually interested. There are some great docos on DVD. Planting & growing a veggie garden is science. Lots of stuff is science; it just doesn't go by that name!

    And therein lies your problem I suspect. Science at the primary level isn't really taught out here either; maybe a double period a week. They save the techo stuff for high school. The whole wonder thing gets missed. We have that here by the bucketloads. There is a wow! factor. Seriously. The stars stay up there. That is simply amazing. Why don't they fall down? What keeps them there? It takes nothing at all to wonder about the world & what you see around you every day. Develop people's curiosity!

    Unfortunately schools are great at killing off all creativity & all real curiosity! Then they bog people down in detail before giving them the spark to want to deal with the details! Can I vote for you as President?

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  12. I don't know about kids in public school, but my kids are little with immature brains. They don't think in hypothesis yet. We don't do science experiments. We do observe and measure. The kids each have a hard art book that they draw what they see. They dictate to me what they found interesting. We call it science.

    My kids know the phases of the moon. They are aces in the garden. They both love bugs. We now have bat houses on the south side of our house. Catching bats would make a great learning experiment. I hope we don't have any moving in. Really. What was my husband thinking. My kids can tell the difference between a worker bee and a drone.

    They can sing the water cycle. "Water travels in a cycle, yes it does. Water is heated by the sun. Yes, it is. It goes up as evaporation. It forms clouds of condensation. It comes down as precipitation. Yes it does." We made beaded bracelets with yellow, clear, white, then two blue beads... they could point to the beads while they sang.

    These are all science-y things for littles. And, they don't cost a lot. The best part? Kids are interested in their environment and will observe and ask questions without too much adult involvement. Here is my suggestion. Give the kids more recess time.

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  13. Such a meanie beanie!

    For the younger grades, I believe in integrating science with history. Adding inventors, inventions, and experiments into the history timeline. Done. It's kinda cool to learn that electricity was discovered the same year Betsy Ross was born and the liberty bell was installed.

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  14. There is a LOT of science to gardening, Ganeida! If I hit you with a rotten tomato, I was really aiming for the compost bin behind ya... :)

    Julie, that's just it. We tend to think of "science" as the bunsen-burner/chemistry sort of thing when really, it can be all about bees and spiders, bats and all sorts of things. ESPECIALLY when we're talking about young children like yours. Let them learn about how things work and why.

    Andrea, I hadn't thought to integrate scientific discoveries on a timeline like that. It makes a LOT of sense, and even if one were only studying warfare for 12 years, think of the math/weapon development and science as it realates to that. Hm.

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  15. Why ya doggin' California?!?!?! We rock! LOL!

    I'm so glad we homeschool.

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  16. Daja, just doggin' because that's where the study originated, though it might just be true across the country. I'm glad you homeschool, too! I hope you share a bit about church history on a post sometime, like a "how to do a unit study on past church leaders" with links and stuff. I think your readers would find it insightful and helpful whether they hs or not! Good stuff! :)

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  17. Elementary students are awed by the world. There's no reason at all they can't learn basic "science" info about identifying planets, stars, etc. purely through discovery and observation. I highly suspect that the reason science is neglected in the elementary grades in ps is simply because teachers and administrators DO equate "science" with experiments and forming a hypothesis, blah blah blah. Way to kill the wonder. This is part of the problem with the educational system. You can't stick knowledge in this box or that box. It's all about organizing your brain and understanding the world.

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  18. Susan, that's a shame that it all has to be thought of as a high-level subject that way. I know I couldn't form a good hypothesis AND the experiment needed to "prove" it; there are so many factors out there that would muddle things up if you know what I mean. I would wind up with odd things like "Can you boil an egg underwater?" and then no way to prove it. :)

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  19. I am basing this on what real kids in the public school tell me. Science is boring. They have to memorize lots of facts and read colorful glitzy texts, but there is a connection missing between what they memorize and what they know firsthand. There is very little firsthand knowledge happening out there between kids being indoors more and schools focusing on books not things.

    Point 1. I have a strong mathematics background. What I learned of science I memorized and forgot what I didn't need. Now, I am learning science firsthand with my daughter through nature study, building things, reliving experiments described in books about scientists, etc. My daughter keeps a nature notebook and a science journal, which is what real scientists did back in the day. We do science every single day of school.

    Point 2. I agree with you. Our science budget is limited but guess what. The great outdoors is FREE! Do you know how much science you can learn for FREE! We do lots of experiments and even built a working telegraph with stuff you can find at home or in a hardware store.

    Point 3. Don't make me get on my soap box and rant. Standardized testing will kill the joy of science if textbooks haven't already.

    Mrs. C. Maybe if they got rid of the bell, schedules, and testing and looked for ubiquitous things like nature notebooks (which involve art because you draw what you see, language arts because you describe what you see, and science because you learn about the things you are drawing). The real problem is education about dissecting and compartmentalizing knowledge into little boxes so that the big picture is completely lost and the love of learning evaporates.

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  20. That is so SAD! They should have a science day where the art teacher talks of, say, drawing leaves, the English teacher helps children with composing a poem or story about leaves, the math teacher discusses how many leaves per tree x number of trees = how many leaves picked up, science teacher talks of deciduous trees etc. etc.

    JUST a little creativity and it could still be done in the bell schedule... And it could be different in every school. I think the children would learn so much; we don't all need to know the same thing!

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  21. Now, there's an idea, Mrs. C. That is a good idea for a blog post. I'll try to work on it. If you don't see it in the next month or so, you might want to nag me to finish it. I'm good and starting things and not finishing them! :-)

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Non-troll comments always welcome! :)