What follows is excerpted from “To Make Science Real, Kids Want More Fun,” by Eric Westervelt (NPR Morning Edition, December 17, 2013). It goes right to the heart of life as experience. It has to be “hands on.”
International tests show that American students just aren’t measuring up in math and science. The recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study shows that the United States ranks 28th globally in science.
[Grace Hall,] a high school sophomore, is so frustrated and underwhelmed by her biology and chemistry classes that she is reconsidering her once-strong desire to train for a medical career. “Right now, chemistry seems like, why are we learning this?” Grace says. It would be a better learning experience, she says, “if we were almost forced to really understand instead of just memorizing things … and [went] more in-depth in knowing why the answer is that answer.”
“Making room for science, that is a big problem,” says Mary Colson, an eighth-grade Earth science teacher in Moorhead, Minn. “In the elementary schools . . . science and social studies often get left out because there is just not enough time. That’s unfortunate, because often kids can’t help themselves but be curious about the natural world.”
On a recent afternoon [it was] free-form explore time at the Mission Science Workshop in San Francisco. Program [staff] work with low-income and underserved public elementary schools to get kids excited about science. [They do] it by mixing lots of hands-on learning with specific experiments that teachers can continue back in their own classrooms.
Teacher Sarah-Jayne Reilly [says] “I grew up in Ireland and really didn’t do science until I was much older. And when I came here [to the Mission Science Workshop] the first time, my mind was like, ‘Wow! I just love the way the children are learning to think.’ ‘
“We always tell them, ‘Don’t just believe me, try it for yourself, test it for yourself. It’s OK to be wrong. It’s OK to say what you’re thinking,’ ” she says.
For teacher Sam Haynor, the Science Workshop is about using imaginative experimentation to spark learning, and to counter the idea that science is a set of known facts that students should sit back quietly and receive from on high.
“The idea of this place is really to say that it’s constructive — that you have to build, you have to try,” Haynor says. “You have to experiment and fail and learn again. And that science really is just a quest to learn the truth.”
“When they explore, they’re excited. They find things they are interested in,” says Paul Revere Elementary teacher Jessica Huang, who takes her classes to the Science Workshop regularly. “They want to go back to school and check out books about things that they’ve explored. So I see it as a way of really opening their eyes to things that they didn’t know that they would even be interested in.”