Roll over Newton – here come the preppies!

No-one would dispute that some understanding of science is essential learning to prepare students for the world of tomorrow.  So it’s hardly surprising that science is now included in educational activities as often as possible, even, it seems, at preschool.

“I think creativity and play are key in those (prep and pre-prep) years, but then often times those opportunities for creativity and play are directly tailored for opportunities to learning science concepts, interaction, communication strategies, so they’re quite rich years.”

Professor Claire Wyatt-Smith – Dean of the Faculty of Education, Griffith University

The Future of Education in Queensland (February 2010)

Hmmm.  Learning science concepts in preschool? It seems like rather a tall order, given that it is generally accepted that preschoolers struggle with abstract concepts, but perhaps I’m being pedantic.

What does concern me is that the enthusiastic rush  to nurture junior scientists skilled in scientific method will produce a crop of students who are turned off science for life.  Students who think that all there is to science is observing, measuring, plotting graphs,comparing and learning the meaning of lots of big words, like precipitation.  Recording measurements and observations is a mechanical and frequently boring activity, not a scientific one.  This is the hack work of science – it’s the means to an end, not the end in itself. The heart and soul of science is not the results, or even analysing the results,  but discovering unanswered questions, and then embarking on a quest to find the solution.

Ask Einstein. He didn’t do one single experiment, or record one single measurement. Not one!  He didn’t even supervise any experiments. Einstein’s brilliance was his ability to ask the amazing questions that were his “thought” experiments, and then find a logical, provable  answer.

The essence of science is curiosity. If we want more future scientists, then we need  develop student’s abilities to ask questions, and be motivated by their curiosity to look for the answers.

Come to think of it – that’s what the preschool and prep year children already do quite well.

Further reading:

A Physics teacher begs for his subject back An open letter to the British education department by a physics teacher protesting that the GCSE physics examination questions are vague, stupid, political an non-scientific.

The sad state of science education A dramatic (and hopefully atypical) example of misunderstanding what science is about in a class of New York 5th and 6th graders.

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