I joined my colleague Emily Alpert in soliciting your thoughts on science education for this story she wrote today on the subject. I got a couple interesting takes on the subject that didn’t make Emily’s story.

Both a teacher and a scientist are critical of science education in the United States, and both impart the familiar refrain that it is not individual teachers, but the system that is to blame.

First up is Judy Ki, a retired teacher living in Poway. She imparted this wisdom based on her years of teaching:

From K (through) 6, science instruction is spotty at best. Many elementary teachers are not trained in science, and the curriculum is not covered every day. In a self contained class, the teacher has to cover reading and math in the morning. After lunch, it is usually Social Studies and P.E. A few teachers (like myself) taught science regularly because it was our strength, but then we had to ‘borrow’ lab material from other teacher’s kits (we actually call it raid), we’re not given enough lab material by the district for an entire class to do any hands on science. Many of us just buy the stuff ourselves and bring in supplemental curriculum (we attend workshops in our spare time to get training). I purchased tons of books for experiments (using the scientific method).

In summary, science teaching is in sad shape in our elementary classrooms. Some teachers really dread it.

And Dr. Brett Goldsmith, a University of Pennsylvania scientist who grew up in San Diego, had these insightful words:

San Diego is a great place for a kid to get interested in science.

The unique biological diversity, geology and oceanography provide great natural sources of interesting science. The space museum, air show and military presence in San Diego provide a kind of engineering based science background which is also very stimulating. The problem with education is not that schools and teachers are not using these tools to get kids interested in science, but that there are parts of science education that discourage students from going into science.

The rote bookwork, memorization and endless equations may be a necessary part of science education, but they really are nothing like what a working scientist does. My days are more similar to what kids do at a good science museum or shop class than in most science classes.

Doing science professionally is about building new things, or putting things together in unfamiliar ways, not re-solving problems “the right way.” What is important to me at the elementary school level is that students learn that science is about creativity with a purpose and understanding how things work. The “boring” parts of science education often overshadow these core ideas. There are 8 to 10 years of college awaiting future scientists, that’s plenty of time to get all the math and equations right. The early years should be dedicated to teaching them what “science” means.

Good stuff. Lets keep this conversation going, its an important one. E-mail me your thoughts at david.washburn@voiceofsandiego.org.

DAVID WASHBURN

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