Why should we teach science?

One argument made against teaching science is that students will not need science in their careers. Michael Leyden points out that only 1.2 percent of incoming high school freshmen will end up with a bachelor’s degree in science; therefore, the goal of science education may need to be reexamined (Leyden, 1984). One traditional goal of many science education programs has been to enable the student to get on with the process of becoming a scientist (Harrison, 1982). If only 1% of students will become scientists, how has this ideology survived? Is scientific literacy the goal of science education? If so, Morris Shamos would argue that the goal has been widely missed, and he would further argue that scientific literacy is not the goal of science education. Shamos feels it would be more desirable to nurture an appreciation for science rather than force-feed facts which create a distaste of science in students. By nurturing students’ appreciation for science, the prospect for creating more fully literate individuals increases (Shamos, 1988). Shamos was criticizing a definition of scientific literacy that many teachers hold: science literacy is in the details. This view of scientific literacy only sets teachers up for failure, and gives students the idea that scientific thought is not useful outside of the science classroom! This limited view of scientific literacy is expanded by the National Research Council (NRC) who discusses the scientifically literate person as one whom:
-can ask, find or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences…
-has the ability to describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena…
-is able to read with understanding articles about science in the popular press…
-is able to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately. (NRC, 1996).
These ideas agree with Shamos’ ideas of how science should be taught, with less emphasis on the details and more focus on the intellectual value of scientific thought. If the above is how scientific literacy is defined, then why do science programs spend so much time on rote memorization of facts and so little time on developing curiosity and problem solving skills? A student would be hard pressed to support the idea that the ability to solve problems is not useful in the “real world”. Perhaps the question science educators need to ask is why we teach science the way we do, rather than why teach science at all?

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5 Responses to Why should we teach science?

  1. Bronwen Eady says:

    An excellent post, about an issue very much in the forefront of my mind at all times. I have a passion for teaching science and believe it should be a fundamental part of every child’s education from a very young age.

    Children are born with a natural curiosity about the world around them and undertake valid scientific investigations from a very young age, with no prompting from us whatsoever. Anyone who has watched a 1 year old repeatedly drop something from their high chair, no matter how many times you pick it up for them, knows this to be true! They are in the middle of investigating the world and making generalisations – “every time I let go of this, it falls to the fall!” No one would argue that the 1 year old should then memorize all the detailed facts about gravity, what is important is that they are constructing understanding.

    These children then turn up to school where most education systems set about beating the curiosity out of them and teaching them to hate “science”, which they believe is about rote learning of dry information. They switch off, they learn nothing, and not only is an opportunity lost, but it becomes increasingly difficult to recapture their sense of wonder.

    I truly hope that by scaffolding science lessons for teachers, Captain Curiosity (http://www.captaincuriosity.net) might be able to overcome some of the hesitation that many teachers have about teaching science. Understanding the purpose of teaching science – inspiring investigation and curiosity, developing thinking skills and encouraging life long learners should help with their confidence too.

  2. Ariellah says:

    Thank you for this insightfull post!
    And for this reason i believe you can start teaching science from a young age if you focus on the questioning and encouraging curiosty.
    many people saw apples falling from trees before Newton – but only Newton asked Why?
    and this is what Science is all about, asking the most relevant questions and not taking things for granted.
    Thanks againg for reminding us what science is all about!

  3. Tami says:

    I would add that teaching rote information and following prescribed, canned, textbook xperiments not only sucks the life out of students, but also out of teachers as well.

  4. [...] 16, 2009 at 3:54 am (Science, teaching methods) In my previous post, why should we teach science, I argued, as many other have before me, that teaching science as rote memorization of facts is not [...]

  5. Kanyonga says:

    I think those who submited there point have much adressed on these issue.Thanks.

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