Training to Think

Imagine a gym teacher welcoming her elementary school students to class and informing them that they are going to learn about basketball today.  Big and small cheers come from the students as they are excited to learn how to play.  There may be a groan or two heard, perhaps from those that prefer other physical activities, but for the most part the group is eager.

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The gym teacher begins her class by talking about all the skills a person needs to play the game.  She then describes the basketball court, and the purpose of each line on the court floor.  After some more discussion, and a question and answer time, the gym teacher then fills the students in on all of the rules of basketball.

All this time students have been sitting on the hard gym floor, listening intently yet somewhat impatiently as they are enthusiastic about playing the game.  As the gym period comes to a close, the gym teacher reaches into a bag and pulls out a basketball.  This is it!  The moment the students have been waiting for!  But the gym teacher calmly explains to the class that the next time they meet they will be discussing the history of the game, as well as the composition of the ball.

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A student raises his hand.  He asks when they are going to get a chance to play the game.  The gym teacher responds that there are not enough balls for the entire class to learn how to play, but that students need to pay close attention to the lessons because there will be a test in a couple of weeks on what they have learned.  And it is important for them to learn about basketball in case they get a chance to be on a team someday.

All of the students are discouraged.  Many students have lost interest.  Many will remember what they have learned, but the joy of the game…the desire to participate is lost.

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This is what science class is like without hands-on activities.  Yes, instruction needs to occur.  Yes, facts need to be addressed.  But without the ability to participate in science – without the ability to learn science by doing science – interest is lost.  And when interest is lost, ability is lost, and when ability is lost, scientists are lost.

I am thankful that our school’s district is currently investigating how to make our science instruction and curriculum even stronger this year.  A committee I am proud to be a part of is currently working hard to ensure that each elementary classroom is providing as many meaningful science instruction opportunities as possible.

Recently our class has had the privilege of participating in a pilot program using Foss Science kits.  These kits contain a well-blended mixture of instruction, reading, mathematics, and hands-on activities that have not only taught our class vocabulary words and science content, but it has encouraged students to participate as scientists, peaking their interest and increasing their abilities.

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After all, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” – Albert Einstein

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