So what’s the best way for young kids to learn about science: reading books and watching it done or actually doing it themselves? That’s the nutshell of a debate going on in California over a new curriculum that limits the amount of "hands on" science instruction (experiments and projects) in grades K-8 to no more than 25% of the classroom time. Since I’m not a science teacher, I’ll let a couple of successful ones tell you why this is wrong.
"What is being proposed is beyond idiotic," said Jackie Goldberg, a former teacher who chairs the state Assembly’s education committee and recently was appointed to the curriculum commission. "There isn’t a scientist who thinks you can do science without hands-on, and then you say, ‘We are going to artificially limit the amount of instruction that can be hands-on.’ It is unbelievable."
"I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous in my life," said Peter Petrossian, a science teacher at Pyle Middle School in Bethesda. Petrossian, who uses numerous innovative hands-on activities to engage his students, said: "It flies against all the current thought in educational psychology and, well, common sense. I think one of the things science has going for it is the fact that we can use so many modalities to reach our students — even the old adage of ‘tell a man how to fish versus show a man how to fish.’ Yikes!"
On the other side of the issue are these arguments.
Thomas Adams, executive director of the curriculum commission, said critics are misrepresenting the panel’s views. He said commission members are trying to balance the need for a comprehensive science curriculum with the limited science background of many K-8 teachers. Twenty to 25 percent of hands-on instruction seemed like "the most reasonable amount of time for someone faced with the challenges of limited facilities and limited time," he said.
Supporters of a philosophy known as "direct instruction" believe that students are served best in teacher-led classrooms that rely on structure, drilling and textbooks. They say that without the basics, students can’t learn more complex scientific theories, and that hands-on-dominated curriculum doesn’t offer enough content.
If teachers don’t have enough training in science, then get them more training! Better yet, put a science specialist in every elementary school to help general classroom teachers with their lessons and to teach the more complex subjects. This approach also addresses the limited facilities and limited time issues. I find it amazing that we continue to expect elementary teachers to know every subject in the curriculum and to teach them all well. Every elementary school needs a core of specialists (science, math, music, etc.) to provide the necessary support for that specialty and to improve the knowledge of the adults in the school as well as the students.
As far as the "direct instruction" philosophy goes, I’ve never heard of anything more boring in my life. Just imagine how a ten year old is going to react.