It seems like many homeschooling science curriculums assume the parents want lots of projects in elementary school. They don't seem like an efficient use of time to me. Maybe I'm missing something, but my 3rd grader and I have learned a lot from library books and middle school level science textbooks.
This idea that K-12 science must be predominantly hands on, where students play with materials, and make wild guesses about outcomes, is at best a waste of time and more likely counterproductive.
It takes *a lot* of background knowledge--background knowledge that is *not* acquired by playing with materials--to become a real scientist. Most lab work, frankly, should only come to dominate a scientist in training's time in graduate school.
"It's not an efficient use of time" - three cheers and amen! I've posted this before, but I've not seen any sign that the edworld is even aware of the concept of efficiency, let alone any appreciation for it. Even if the "little scientist" stuff (or any kind of group/discovery) works - and I don't think it does - it wastes huge amounts of time. Kids need to learn lots of academic content, in all subjects, and wasting time means they learn less of it.
I think one of the problems is that the people who make the decisions about how science is taught in K-8 especially don't actually know anything about what it takes to be a scientist and in fact, have probably been avoiding science (and math) because they found it difficult or boring (or likely both) in school.
In fact, my sense is that most education majors have never had to learn anything that is not, at its core, intuitive for them. They have never had to wrestle with anything that derives its order from something outside of the human mind. Sure, scientific models are really just human constructs to allow us to understand the universe, but what scientific models are attempting to describe is something that is fundamentally non-human, and for most people, that makes much of science non-intuitive. Since these people have never had to fully understand science before, they don't realize that applying a discovery approach in K-8 (and probably K-12, or even K-16 if a nonscience major) is not only a total waste of time but that it also makes a mockery of the scientific method.
Far better than creating "little scientists" would be to have the goal of developing *science literacy* in all students.
The hands-on elementary science activities I remember weren't true experiments, but demonstrations of concepts that aren't intuitively obvious, like taking a flashlight to a globe to show how day and night happen, etc. (which, I should add, my parents did with me, not something we did in school.)
As for actual experimenting, baking seems like a better real-world, hands-on activity than trying to be a "real" scientist. My mom (who had studied food science in college, so I think baking can be real science) allowed me to try making cookies without flour, baking soda, etc... The results were predictably inedible. Of course, between using ovens, tasting something with raw eggs, and the actual mess and clean-up, I doubt most teachers would want to deal with real experimenting... And, of course, the lesson I learned was that the people who write cookie recipes know what they're talking about, and I shouldn't waste my time trying to make major changes, at least not until I had at least an undergraduate-level knowledge of food science...
There is one math experiment I'm sort of shocked doesn't get done. All it takes is a gym with the right paint on the floor, some string, and something to measure length (if a gym floor isn't available, teachers can probably do it with chalk on the playground). I suggested it at our school, but they didn't do it.
Have the kids go to the gym with some string. Have them lay the string around the big circles on the floor (usually, there is one near the center line and two more around the free-throw lines.) Mark or cut the string to the length of the perimeter of the circle, then measure the length of the string to find the circumference. Use a measuring tape or another length of string to measure the diameter of the circle. Divide the circumference by the diameter to calculate pi.
The big circles make it easy to get quite accurate results. I did this once with our kid using a car tire, and we calculated it to within a couple hundreths, something in the 3.12-3.15 range, I think. The tire was really a messy way to do it, and the bigger the circle, the more accurate the measurement will be.
You could also use it as a statistics exercise, averaging the results across the classroom and among classes to improve accuracy and teach how redoing an experiment repeatedly improves the results.
Katharine Beals, PhD, is the author of "Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World: Strategies for Helping Bright, Quirky, Socially Awkward Children to Thrive at Home and at School" (Shambhala/Trumpeter)
Katharine is an educator and the mother of three left-brain children. She has taught math, computer science, social studies, expository writing, linguistics, and English as a second language to students of all ages, both in the U.S. and overseas. She is also the architect of the GrammarTrainer, a linguistic software program for language impaired children.
She is currently a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and an adjunct professor at the Drexel University School of Education.
This site uses left-brain and right-brainnot as physiological terms for the actual left and right hemispheres of the brain, but as they are employed in the everyday vernacular. They appear here in the same spirit in which people use type A and type B (themselves the relics of a debunked theory about blood type and character type): an informal shorthand for certain bundles of personality traits.