Teaching Science Process

Scientists and science educators often say they wished they could teach how science is really done. But Katja Grace says it isn’t hard to teach kids “the central idea of science: experimenting for the purpose of changing your mind”:

If you want to learn to do science, with all the thrills of actually discovering anything, you are probably best to pick an area where people don’t already know all of the cheap answers … Does decreasing the length of my skirt increase the propensity of the cool students to talk to me? Does learning the piano as a child really make people happier later in life? Does Father Christmas exist? Do the other children hate me or are they just indifferent? What factors best cause my brothers to leave me alone? How much do my grades change if I do half an hour more or less homework each night? Does eating sugar all evening really keep me awake? How often will I really be approached by potential kidnappers if I hang out at the mall by myself after school? …

Most children and teenagers disagree with their parents, teachers and other adults on a large number of issues. Investigating those issues scientifically might have the added benefit of getting students in the habit of keeping their opinions related to reality. (more)

Given the typical expression on the typical student’s face, it is amazing that schools present themselves as sanctuaries of personal fulfillment, and sacred founts of creativity and innovation. School advocates imply: “All the great artists, scientists, etc. did well at school, and without school they’d be so much less.” But in fact schools arose with industry to get folks to accept the regimentation and ranking of the industrial workplace, and to curb natural human creativity, exploration, and challenging of authority. As Katja’s proposal’s illustrates, schools could in fact teach folks how to question common beliefs “scientifically,” if in fact authorities wanted common folks doing that sort of thing.  As I’ve written:

School is mostly not about the material taught in classes. I’m less sure to what extent it is about learning-to-learn, coming-to-obey, bonding with other kids, and signaling these features as well as intelligence and conscientiousness. I’m pretty sure signaling of various sorts is at least 30% of the average private value of school, and it could go as high as 80%. … The best evidence I’ve seen that school adds great value is the stories I’ve heard about how difficult are employees who grew up in “primitive” cultures without familiar schools. Apparently, it is not so much that such folks don’t know enough to be useful, but that they refuse to accept being told what to do, and object to being publicly ranked relative to co-workers. (more; see also more)

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