The smell alone was enough to alert the entire school that something VERY dead was close by. As I rounded the corner, I saw a large group of students gathered around a locker plugging their noses and laughing. The obvious pranksters were giving high fives in the background while the recipient of the grisly joke was shaking with anger as he tried to clean up the mess.
I craned my neck until I saw the source of the foul stench. It was a decomposing shark that was hanging menacingly from the coat hook in a boy’s locker. The putrid juices were oozing all over his coat and backpack, like fingers reaching downwards to claim another soul.
Earlier that day, to our utter dismay, the science teacher had informed us that it was lab day. He then produced a dozen sharks about the size of a loaf of bread that had been soaked in formaldehyde. During the lab, we learned about the parts of a shark by slowly cutting open and removing the insides. Few students enjoyed this lab, except for a couple of students that saw the potential in a decomposing shark.
The Death of Science
In today’s school system, this prank would never happen. And it is only partly because of health and safety concerns, increasingly strict rules, and anti-bullying policies. This would never happen because few schools have science lab anymore. In fact, science in general is disappearing from schools nationwide.
Why is there less science in schools? Short answer: money and politics. Those seem to always be the reasons/problems, but there it is. If you want to discuss politics in education I am sure there are numerous talk show radio programs that would love to get your call.
But rather than get on a soap box that may or may not be clean, I want to explore solutions instead. Lucky you! (although I will admit that my political monologue is a great one).
Why should YOU care about this slow death of science?
Most people think of science as a collection of facts about the natural world. Many would say a trove of knowledge may be fun to have, but hardly deserves the time and effort to memorize it. If they ever need to know the life cycle of a dung beetle, they can just look it up, right? (click here for the lifecycle of a dung beetle)
While science does organize knowledge in a systematic way, it is far more than just memorization. It is a process used to gather, test and analyze information. It is an effective problem-solving strategy that is essential for both science and everyday life.
So, what is this all-important “process” that our kids must learn? Drumroll please…….
The Scientific Method (Dun dun duuuuuuuuuun!)
Basically, the scientific method is an organized way of making observations, coming up with an educated guess to explain that observation, and finally running a series of tests that will determine if your educated guess is correct. Much of our knowledge of the natural world was learned in this manner. This is how we learned that dung beetles navigate using the moonlight or milky way galaxy.
But, I also use this problem-solving technique everyday around the house. For example, I love to make flat cookies. And by love, I mean it drives me totally crazy that I can never get them to be chewy and risen.
So how do I figure out what is making my cookies look like the face of the undead? I set up a series of experiments where I vary the amount of flour, the mixing time, and the cooking temperature (aka I actually apply the scientific method to my life).
Guess which jobs rely on such problem solving? Mechanics, IT specialists, beauticians (fancy word for people that cut hair), construction workers, architects, evil people trying to take over the world, doctors, scientists, engineers, dung beetle researchers, and basically anyone that works for a living.
Kids growing up without these problem solving skills will be very disadvantaged as adults.
When I was a kid, if I had a problem, I would ask mom or dad and/or work to solve said problem using trial and error. Nowadays, kids rarely even ask their parents. They go straight to Google or SIRI, and seldom try to solve the problem themselves.
Without experimentation and analysis, people lack the necessary skills of being a responsible human being. They struggle at work when the answer cannot be found electronically. They make mistakes when they get bad advice from the internet. And they fail to develop the creativity necessary for innovative design.
And let’s face it, many problems can’t be solved by a phone.
So, what do we do about it?
1 – Encourage our kid’s teachers to use science in the classroom. If teachers know it is important to you, they will be more likely to find time to teach science. Some do try to fit science in with the required English and math curriculum but it sure would be grand to show appreciation for that extra effort.
2 – Volunteer in our kid’s classroom. Teachers LOVE parent participation, especially if they can work on something else while you do it. So, find a lesson, prepare the materials, and help the teacher out.
3 – Teach science at home. Finding opportunities to teach your kids at home can be a very effective way to teach these essential skills. Plus, you will get opportunities to spend more time with your kids.
Are you intimidated by science and do not feel you can teach it? Fake it till you make it!
I’m serious. Find a lesson plan, and get started. Try to focus on lessons with labs, experiments, or anything active. Don’t make it feel like homework. Don’t call it science. Simply tell them you are going to do an experiment. They will love it, I promise.
And they will learn many life skills that they can’t find on a phone or in a video game.
Need a little help getting started?
Grab this Scientific Method Flow Chart with large drawing spaces for kids. Give your kids an easy way to organize their experiments. It doesn’t have to be formal, just have fun! (recommended for K-5th if you need a more advance help with the scientific method go to this post)
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