Friday, May 09, 2008

Doomed to Failure?--A Heirarchically Based Science Course for Elementary Students: Part 1

I got a look at what I'm competing against (not really a competition since I wouldn't expect anyone to treat this as more than an enrichment). A mother brought over Real Science for Kids. This is a fairly popular science curriculum for homeschoolers. This particular book is for chemistry, biology, and physics for 4th through 6th graders.

Chemistry begins with introducing the periodic table of elements. They explain that it is periodic (good start for the periodic table) and that elements in the same column behave in similar ways. Then you look at lists of ingredients and try to find materials that are listed in the table (i.e. how we interact with elements everyday). The next lesson explains that there are molecules that use ionic and covalent bonds (what each might mean is briefly explained without actually mentioning shells--see here, but it goes on to state that they shouldn't really worry about it right now). The exercise for this lesson is to use big and mini marshmallows and toothpicks and build the molecules for water, methane, etc. They tell you to use one toothpick for hydrogen and four toothpicks for carbon.

I didn't get any further than that right now. What I gather from this (and a conversation I had with a homeschooling mother who would like the government to oversee homeschoolers' progress) is that my pittance of an offering--a few tidbits of science from 3000 to 300 years ago is probably not going to make much of a splash. Certainly not because the approach is wrong, but because the parents expect the type of information supplied above and would probably feel that their kids aren't learning anything 'real' if the big conclusions aren't discussed.

What does this mean for me? Of course I know that introducing subjects using heirarchy is absolutely meaningful and will actually lead to understanding (instead of the memorizing with full understanding perhaps--and I mean if they're particularly intelligent--coming if those students take chemistry or physics in college). I want other kids to have a good concrete basis for their abstractions so that they can be good thinkers when they become adults--and thus help the world I'm living in fight bad ideas. But will anyone be interested in a science course they may believe is too easy for their kids?

I probably cannot convince everyone of the pedagogy and I really can't spend that much time or find every person who might be convinced. So I'm rebranding the approach. I'm planning on presenting a course in science from a historical perspective (providing that phrase doesn't have some other connotation of which I am ignorant). Problem solved, I think. The parents won't be expecting a bunch of Mad Scientist type of non-integrated experiments and I'll get across the approach I'm planning on taking. When their kids come home talking about the discovery of the compass, then their parents won't wonder why I'm not discussing the entire theory of electromagnetism.

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