While spending a few hours wandering through the exhibits at the USA Science and Engineering Festival today, it struck me that this is the way we should be teaching science.
Hands-on, working in small groups, on interesting topics, with no textbooks in sight.
Maybe kids like these would still be excited about learning science when they arrived in high school.
I may be mistaken, but I don’t think our district has textbooks through at least fifth grade. It’s the only subject area that doesn’t, to the best of my knowledge. The lack of textbooks makes it so much easier to teach in this way. Textbooks tie us down as teachers (unless we are willing to set them aside and ignore them).
In the spring, come help us work in our garden one day. My first graders learn the majority of their science there.
Hands-on, inquiry based is ideal. The 1st trick is to get kids to become excited about science, to enjoy it. Take advantage of their innate curiosity. In the upper grades, text books can be a useful supplement for teaching some concepts, but the actual experimentation and exploring are key.
2 problems with this: (1) Budgets limit equipment and materials, forcing us to be more creative and to sometimes have to substitute actual science equipment and techniques for simulations, models and kitchen sink versions; (2) it takes experience and creativity to create authentic science experiments (rather than cookbook ones).
I am fortunate in that we do not have science or math text books in my district – at least at the elementary level. Our science curriculum is entirely inquiry based and the kids LOVE it! Through investigations, the students get to explore the world around them and discover science concepts for themselves as they watch real world applications happen right in front of them.
Math is a little bit trickier, but the kids do really well. The parents struggle with the idea because the ones that want to help usually rely on the textbook to tell them what’s been taught and what’s coming. Through parent communication (and thoughtfully prepared homework) the parents are pretty well informed of what’s been taught and where we’re going. In the classroom, the kids love it, because it is so much easier to move away from the “drill and kill” routines. My district has done a wonderful job of supporting us with alternative resources that have games and interactive centers for the students to explore math concepts. We can do centers and teach in small group, or do a whole group math discussion whenever an appropriate situation presents itself. Its a little bit more work in the preparation department, but that “dread” of math that so many people know is beginning to disappear. Sure, students still struggle, but they’re having fun trying to figure things out.