We’re a bit behind on science and I’m even more behind on my science blogging, but to anyone who might actually be reading with interest on the matter, it will be back. Maybe next week or certainly the week after that. In the meantime, I wanted to share some (probably disorganized) musings on science instead.
I sort of hate nature. Yes, that’s right. I’m a nature hater. Well… I take it back. Nature is fine. I like hiking and we try to get out in nature as much as possible. My kids certainly know our national parks around here very well and we’ve explored nature all over the place when we’ve traveled. While they’re city kids at heart, I’ve shown them the swamp, the rainforest, the desert, the mountains, and the oceans. But if I hear one more person say that all you should do for elementary age science is take nature walks and do a few leaf rubbings, then I may go nuts. If you want to ignore science to that extent, then I don’t think it will ultimately harm a child. And I’m sure some people have a plan where they ramp science up in the later grades. I also don’t mean people who do a year of environmental science or biology with a focus on nature study as part of a larger science curriculum during the elementary school years. However, just taking nature walks and drawing pictures of leaves in a nature journal isn’t a science curriculum to me. It’s P.E. and art class, if it’s anything. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, taking “nature walks” every day of my early childhood. It instilled in me a love of the outdoors and an appreciation for the beauty of nature. It did not, by any means, provide me with a firm grounding in science or even a love or appreciation for science.
In fact, I don’t feel that I actually got a decent science education. I remember being in nature, but can’t remember a single thing I learned about science in elementary school. Nor can I remember anything about science from 6th or 8th grade – I can’t even picture the teachers or recall the general outline of topics, which is unusual for me since I could probably list dozens of things about my middle school math, English, drama, French or history teachers. However, in 7th grade, the teacher made us do at least one lab every single week without fail and I remember a great deal about that class in vivid detail. We dissected no less than 6 different animals that year to my memory: perch, grasshoppers, earthworms, starfish, frogs and mice. I remember that the day we did the fish, the cafeteria also served fish. A nasty coincidence. This is just to say that the intense focus on scientific demonstration and experiment did have an effect on me.
However, it proved too little too late. By seventh grade, I already had decided that science, as a rule, was boring. I had already staked out my identity as someone interested in English and the arts. I didn’t pursue science in high school and took no AP science classes. After struggling through chemistry, I took the easy way out by avoiding physics the following year to take anatomy and physiology instead. I didn’t take a fourth year of science so I could do extra English electives. In college, I took geology, which was positive in a way because I did learn about a subject I knew little about, but still a bit of an easy way out because the lab component for the survey class was extremely simple.
It took me growing up and finding books about science to discover an interest in it. Now, I love science and science books. Physics, that subject I completely skipped at every level of my education, is something I’ve read about for pleasure many times. So I desperately want to give my own kids the exposure to science that I lacked as a child. Being taught mostly by humanities lovers and being naturally interested in reading and writing myself meant that I missed out on a lot of good science. If they want to be grow up to be writers or artists, then that’s great, but I don’t want it to be because they didn’t have the right exposure to science. So I don’t want to take the easy way out by hanging out at the nature center and walking around in Rock Creek Park and somehow imagining that it comprises a proper science education. We do both those things anyway and they’re certainly a piece of an overall education, especially for two such urbanites as my boys are. However, they’re not enough. Nor would I ever say that they comprised a curriculum. I’m glad we did biology last year and glad we’re exploring physics this year. Next year, we’ll do earth science and I’m excited about that as well, but I won’t let it just be nature walks.