Monday, May 12, 2008

Why is science so cool in school?

There was the science room in elementary school where we could touch frogs and taxidermied skunks. There was Mrs. Stemler’s dissection of a pig uterus in middle school. And all of my most potent high school memories come from biology, chemistry, and physics.

As a high school English teacher it did not escape my notice that the most memorable things were still happening in the science wing of my building. I married a science teacher and for years I’ve seen that his dinner-table school-stories are way more engaging than mine.

This has prompted me to wonder, why is science so cool in school?

I think it’s because the root of science as a study is inquiry and inquiry requires problem-solving and an active approach to learning. By its very nature, the subject of science requires inspired teaching – especially if teachers build their instruction around the scientific method and use exploratory experimentation as the foundation of their curriculum.

While there is plenty one can read about science in textbooks and magazines – the subject lends itself so well to hands-on investigations of every concept learned. From the kindergarten grow-a-lima-bean experiment to the high school physics matchbox-car-derby, there are a million and one ways teachers can bring exciting experiments into the classroom.

But why should science teachers get to have all the fun?

No matter what subject you teach, there’s probably some way you can link your curriculum to the fun of science. Students can read about the latest scientific discoveries in English and discoveries of the past in History. They can write biographies of famous scientists, or perform an experiment and practice writing directions to describe how the experiment was done. Experiments that require measurement obviously involve math. Physical education can easily lend itself to experiments that study heart rate, speed, and even the biological wonder of how we turn food into energy. Art teachers can revel in the beauty of nature and tie into math as well as they look for geometric patterns in the growth of all living things.

As our young people grow up into professionals in a highly specialized job market, the need for scientists will never be greater. No matter what we teach in school, science should not be a side-subject and it can easily play a feature role in the “core subjects” we must teach every day. Perhaps if that happens all of school will be cool – not just one subject a day…

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