Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wednesday with Words: Teaching Science

It is hard for me torest in what I am doing as we homeschool.  I am improving but this book is one of the few that I have read that made me think "Wow, we are doing okay at this."  It is the science education philosophy book from Novare Science, Teaching Science so that Students Learn Science by John Mays.   

This book focuses on covering the fundamentals of science for teachers (and homeschooling parents). He starts by defining science vocabulary that may seem basic but is essential to thinking clearly.  He then delves into helping students grasp these key ideas. He talks about the scientific process in a way I hadn't heard before but makes it very clear.  He goes beyond the "scientific process" and encourages us to teach 
Key concepts embedded in the Cycle of Scientific Enterprise are: scientific facts, theories, hypothesis and experiments and the roles each of these play in the ongoing progression of scientific knowledge. 
He clearly defines each of these ideas and why they are fundamental to the process.

As he discusses methods of teaching science he starts by discussing the verbal answers students should be able to give in science.  Yes, he doesn't just want calculating machines - he wants students to clearly express their thoughts about science in complete sentences.  He then dives into  the details of "quantitative matters" which introduced lots of good vocabulary and distinctions in science.

His key contention is that students need to be building layers of scientific knowledge and ability.  He puts it this way.

Thinking about it this way makes sense.  I just never understood what those fundamental skills would be in science.  Mays clearly lays it out in general terms in this book and his curricula continues this theme.  He also provides great tips for structuring a class and thoughts about how students should study for mastery in a science class. 

The next chapter covers his thoughts about science in the "grammar" stage.  This is the part that helped me breathe a huge sigh of relief.  He doesn't focus on cramming in tons of content but encourages wonder and play with scientific concepts.  The book includes a chart of the things that "a rising 7th grader" should know.  As I looked over the list I realized that my kids are pretty familiar with most of these concepts.  It also helped me see what ideas we might want to spend a bit more time discussing.  He doesn't outline a curriculum but he provides a general course of studies. 

His last chapters are a quick overview of the history of science, doing lab work and dealing with evolution in the science classroom.  

This short book covers a lot of ground quickly and well.  He taught for over 15 years in a classical school and his experience is obvious in his writing.  This could be great to support any science curriculum but obviously his is designed on these principles.  

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  1. I have never heard of this book, but I think I need to read it this summer! Knowing what I should be doing on the science front is where I'm weakest. Thank you for sharing!

    1. It really is excellent and useful regardless of the specific curriculum you use for science. He is NOT a young earth creationist. If you visit his website his newsletters give you more insight into how he approaches some of the bigger issues of science and his general educational approach - they are free. I hope you find it helpful.

  2. If you are interested. He is hosting a free webinar on Wed. June 1st that is an overview of how he does science 7th through 12th grade. I also realized he has a bunch of talks and videos on his website that I hadn't seen before. To register for the webinar you can go here: Hope it's helpful.