Did you love science class as a student? Or, did you find it tedious, difficult, or even just plain boring? I will admit, I did not always love science class as a student. I spent many an hour engaged in what felt like meaningless memorizing and busy work, but despite that, I continued to fall in love with studying God’s creation. I desired to know more about how this world in which we live functions. Each August I ask my incoming freshmen if they love science class. Without fail, I have some students who look at me and boldly say, “No, it’s hard,” or some will say, “It’s so boring.” And then I look at them and explain that my goal is to have them walk out of my class in May loving science more than when they entered my class in August.
Each of these students, whether they recognize it or not, began their lives loving science. Every human being does. Spend any time with a young child and you will recognize this truth. Young children actively observe the natural world with a sense of awe and wonder, curious about the workings of each detail. Why is the sky blue? How come the waves crash on the beach? Young children consistently predict and carry out investigations about how they think the natural world works. Ever watch a child play with a marble run? They build an apparatus based upon what they think will cause the marble to move faster, they then test their prediction, and finally augment their design based upon what they discover. That child conducted science without even knowing it. So what happens? How do our students go from budding scientists who love discovering more about the natural world to students who dislike science class? I submit to you that those students have lost their sense of wonder at the natural world and view science class as an exercise in memorizing information.
At Cary Christian School we strive to teach science true to its nature. We strive to teach science as inquiry, as an academic subject where students engage in observation, investigation, and discovery. And as the teacher, I serve as the students’ guide in this journey to discover afresh for themselves the inner-workings of the natural world. Instead of telling my students how a kidney works, I have them create a model of one with screen, cups, water, and different-sized beads which represent different substances in blood. The students then discern for themselves how a mammalian kidney functions through working with this model, with me there to assess their understanding. And after working with the model, the students then have the opportunity to dissect and view for themselves a real mammalian kidney. I consistently introduce units and lessons with real-life problems and questions which generate in my students a need to know the corresponding answer or answers. To study momentum and collisions, I have students create enclosures designed to protect an egg from a two-story fall onto concrete. Once the students see which eggs survive and which perish, they want to know why. Why did that other group’s egg survive a two-story fall when my group’s egg did not? Now, you have a group of students ready to work hard to learn the principles behind collisions and momentum.
If we teach science as a subject of inquiry and discovery, students never lose that sense of awe and wonder at the natural world. And they will begin again to love science, to love studying God’s creation.
Darla McDonald teaches high school science at CCS.