My better half has been a frequent classroom volunteer leading science lessons in younger offspring’s kindergarten class. This has made it fairly apparent to us that there’s very little of what either of us would identify as science in these lessons.
Most recently, the science lesson centered on nocturnal animals. However, the activity the kids did was primarily a matter of drawing and coloring and cutting and affixing paper with glue. There was a wee bit of classification in here (glue the nocturnal animals on one page and the diurnal animals on the other), but significantly less scientific information than younger offspring would typically get from nature study back in preschool.
Maybe that’s just a kindergarten thing — learning to use markers and scissors and glue is viewed as top priority, and content is mostly an excuse to practice the hand skills. Given that hand skills are not unimportant in the practice of science (including keeping a good notebook), I don’t want to diminish the development of this set of competencies. It’s just that I suspect the kids could handle some more content to motivate the coloring, cutting, and pasting.
Even in second grade, where they seem to be trying to take on some real content (like forces and tools), it strikes me that they back off prematurely. Elder offspring’s class compared the hardness of three different kinds of rocks (by trying to scratch them with different materials), but they did not talk at all about why some rocks are harder and others are softer. I’m not suggesting they needed to break out the X-ray crystallographs, but some explanation here would be nice.
But then, I started thinking back to my own elementary school education — long ago, when a basic education was supported by tax dollars rather than huge numbers of parent volunteers. And, there is exactly one grade from K-6 in which I can remember anything like a coherent science curriculum. I remember the odd in-class activity (stinky aquaria, for example), but most of them were pretty lame — even to a kid of that age. To the extent that I learned any science at all in elementary school, it seems to have come from reading, doing “curriculum fair”* projects (electricity and magnetism one year, the infamous mummified Cornish game hen another), and stuff I learned from my parents at home.
In other words, with a different home life, I might not have arrived in junior high school with any notion that I was interested in, or good at, science. Left in the hands of the guidance counselors, who knows what might have happened to me?
Is the utter lack of a coherent or inspiring elementary school science curriculum a normal thing? Do coherent and inspiring K-6 science curricula exist but run into trouble in their implementation? Or is there someplace where the elementary school kids are getting as much serious attention to science as they are to coloring in the lines? (Where? What’s their secret?)