Education Icon Education
Evolution Icon Evolution

What Is Science Education About, After All?

Sarah Chaffee

science education

When I was in kindergarten, I remember learning about genetics. A family friend visiting us, a Harvard PhD conducting cancer research, stood up in front of a room of wiggly five-year-olds and captured our imaginations.

How does a teacher do that? Good question, but there’s another question that’s even prior to it: What is science education about, after all?

A new article from EdSource highlights a recent report on early childhood science education based on a review of 150 studies. By the Center for Childhood Creativity, the report is entitled “The Roots of STEM Success: Changing early learning experiences to build lifelong thinking skills.” I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my list.

The article advocates teaching about scientific inquiry at a very young age. Here are a few choice quotes:

“It’s not so important to give the child an accurate answer to their questions. It’s more important to instill an inquisitive, investigative mindset,” she [UC Berkeley’s interim director of the Lawrence Hall of Science, Rena Dorph] said. “Give them the opportunity to explore things they’re interested in, learn more and be curious.”

And —

Curiosity, whether you’re 3 or 30, should be the foundation of all science education, said Bill Sandoval, a professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies who specializes in science education.

“We are born to be (cause-and-effect) investigators,” Sandoval said. “But we don’t always do a great job of promoting this.”

The co-author of the report offers some advice for parents and others who work with young children:

  • Talk about scientific and mathematical concepts at every opportunity: when cooking, filling the gas tank, watching sports, spending time at the beach, grocery shopping, plotting bus routes or other everyday activities;
  • Take your child to science centers and children’s museums;
  • Give your child plenty of free time to play;
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, ask the child what their theory is and try to work through the question together.

This is what science, and science teaching, is all about. And it’s why dogmatism doesn’t belong in science — or in the science classroom. Not least when it comes to teaching evolution, discussion and exploration are the way to go.

Yet in education we emphasize scientific curiosity in all areas and to all ages — except when it comes to evolution. How odd, and what a shame. There is something far more exciting than teaching modern dogmas — it is sparking a lifelong curiosity about the natural world.

Image credit: geralt, via Pixabay.