View Full Version : Goals for Science

03-31-2014, 01:44 AM
I have always had mixed feelings about science. Personally, I either hate most of it, or I just don't care. As a homeschooling parent, I acknowledge that it's probably important, but I have never done a very good job teaching it. I have one kid who feels the way I do, and another who seems to have picked up a fair amount of scientific knowledge completely independently (thank goodness).

Right now, I'm wrestling with the idea of what exactly is the goal of science education. I see 3 possibilities:
1. to understand how science works (scientific method)
2. to be able to DO science (e.g. chemistry experiments, or dissections, noting observations, writing lab reports, creating graphs, etc...)
3. to understand how the world works (e.g. a variety of topics like photosynthesis, gravity, human anatomy, animal habitats, greenhouse effect, etc...). This is really about the content.

What do you think should be the priorities or goals of a science education? Skills or content? Which programs do you think are best at either skills, content, or both?

I used to complain about various science programs I purchased because they either seemed to cover a bunch of random topics (butterflies! simple machines! weather!) or their "experiments" were more like magic tricks and I couldn't explain the purpose of the activities (especially when the "tricks" didn't work).

03-31-2014, 06:09 AM
I'd say content, though not in any particular order (ie: doesn't need to follow the classical cycle). Engaging in the scientific world and gaining an understanding about how and why it works is the fuel that leads to more questioning, and to taking an interest in it. Anyone can perform the skills (well, not necessarily in the case of magic trick "experiments"--I get what you're saying!). Writing up a lab is just a process, but the real magic comes in the questioning and passion to learn more.

I don't think that science needs to or should be taught in isolation. I honestly don't think there's even a need to for labs if a child isn't interested in them. But if it can be interwoven with subject a kid is interested in--history, for example, or art--an awful lot can be researched and delved into, without necessarily looking like "science".

I feel like we all make those choices--my kid doesn't do art, for example. Is it vital that he get an art education? If I make him sit down with watercolors and "create!", it will end up in tears. But if I can skirt around and introduce it other ways, he'll at least have something to build on later should the interest arise. There are going to be "holes" in everyone's education, there simply isn't the time or need to cover everything. But I think if we can give them the tools they need--and the ability to use those tools and find new ones--they'll turn out just fine. Whether or not they've dissected an eyeball or floated a paper clip on top of water. :)

03-31-2014, 10:10 AM
I'm more a content person, but I think its a personality thing. I find the way science explains the world to be just fascinating. My boys dont much like hands-on, and the 'scientific method' the way its taught is, imo, not as meaningful as ppl think it is. But you have to find what draws you in. If your kids like experiments, do experiments. if they like reading, let them read. what matters most imo is to have some idea of how the world works. Its kinda like you dont want your kids to have no idea who george washington is, or to have no idea that there used to be slaves . . . that would be kinda embarrassing. You shouldnt want your kids totally ignorant about science, either.

03-31-2014, 10:20 AM
Little man is only six years old and we are in the Calvert K curriculum which is pretty light on science content. At this age, I am just trying to expose him to ideas about science. We have done a little bit with an age appropriate approach to the scientific method, done a few hands on things which he loves, but mostly we have been watching vids. Recently he is very into the old Bill Nye the science guy episodes. There are like 75 of them and they are only 20 minutes long which seems to work for him. It gets him asking questions and showing more interest in certain things. Particularly fossils right now. We are taking a trip to the natural history museum later this week. When he gets older, I am sure that we will approach things more formally, but right now, it is just the fun part of our day. I was a hopeful biology major in college until I figured out that math and chemistry were also required neither of which were my strong points.

03-31-2014, 10:59 AM
I think the goals can depend on the kid and the educational philosophy. I also think they can change a lot from elementary to high school.

But for us, my goal is basically an understanding of the world. I think it takes two basic tracks. One, they need to be able to question and understand, which is the ability to "do" science - to set up an experiment, to observe, to figure out what are the right questions to ask to get the right answers to what they want to know. Second, it's exposure to content to build their network of understanding about the world.

I also dislike a lot of the "magic trick" science experiments. Sometimes they're fun, but there has to be a deeper purpose - something you're learning about. I've really learned that a lot of the best "experiments" (really, demos) about science (definitely for elementary, but all the way up to older kids as well) are really simple, not magic tricks. They're looking at your veins and feeling your heartbeat when you study blood flow or pulling rubber bands back and forth when you're studying energy or dissecting a chicken leg when you're studying muscles. It's really about the observation.

And then I think there's a related thing, which is engineering - and having kids building real things - real circuits, real model buildings, etc. - feeds into that ability to design and guess and test and play around with concepts.

03-31-2014, 11:07 AM
I think content is important. You might want to steer clear of science curriculums. I am a biologist and am interested in many types of science, but most (all?) of the the curriculums that I have seen are painfully boring. Science is how we explain the world around us. I think everyone finds that interesting. I think your kids will like science if you use it to answer their questions.

The question, "What makes a rainbow?", requires an understanding of light, atmosphere, and hydrology. It can be taught using very simple or very precise terminology.

The question, "What is a good diet?", requires a knowledge cell theory, what food is, etc. Again, you can answer it to the level of depth that matches your interest. Either one of these questions could be turned into a year long unit.

What is a thought? What is fire. Why do animals live where they do? These simple questions are entire units.

I'm sorry about the soapbox, but science tends to be taught so poorly that someone like yourself will say, "Personally, I either hate most of it, or I just don't care." To a scientist, that sounds like, "I'm not interested in the world around me", and I know that's not true!

03-31-2014, 12:20 PM
I agree with freerangedad - books are boring. Science is about curiosity and wonder of the world - how does it work? You can easily teach science by just answering their questions. Watch shows like the new Cosmos - we finally watched the first episode last night - very cool. We're heavy on the science in this house with two PhDs in physics but their calendar of the life of the universe impressed my boys with how short a time humans have been around. Then if they get interested in a topic dive in. My older son got really into carnivorous plants so started collecting them and learning about them, he ended up giving talks at the local nursery (when he was 10!).

03-31-2014, 01:16 PM
He didnt say that books are boring, he said that curriculum are boring. we love books . .

03-31-2014, 03:47 PM
Skills (I like this chart (http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2012/07/a-quick-guide-to-21st-century-critical.html)). Let them pick the content. It doesn't even have to be science. It just has to be something they are curious enough about to backtrack to it's starting point, including the side trails.

I like citizen sci programs best. There are so many out there, you can pretty much pick any topic and find a program that exists.

That is a great chart! Looking at it carefully, I am barely at a Level 2 with any scientific topic, which explains why I'm a terrible science teacher. (For instance, I can explain something like "rainbows" as "something to do with light passing through water, and it splits so you can see the colours!" - totally lame, I know. So, we look it up in a book or on the internet, but honestly, the kids don't even ask me science stuff anymore.They ask their dad or look it up themselves.)

If the goal is to work on those skills, then how many content areas do you need to be able to do it in? My son is really interested in space, physics and engineering-type topics, but not really interested in biology-type topics. I think my daughter works on those skills in the areas of history & politics, not science.

I will have to look into citizen science. All I can think of is stuff like counting butterflies or birds in your backyard. Can you give me some more ideas?

03-31-2014, 04:02 PM
Yeah, I have to say, I haven't found a science curriculum I loved, but I've found many great individual science books. Scientist in the Field, for example, is one of the greatest science for kids series of all time. And we've found many great science activity guides and making stuff guides. I think it's not especially empowering for people who know less about science to say to them, don't bother with books or curricula. Well... you need a starting point.

03-31-2014, 04:31 PM
If the goal is to work on those skills, then how many content areas do you need to be able to do it in? My son is really interested in space, physics and engineering-type topics, but not really interested in biology-type topics. I think my daughter works on those skills in the areas of history & politics, not science.

That's a very good question. I hope a lot of people join in to try and answer it. I rank science 2nd only to communication skills in my priority list (cue physicist's rant about the need for math). Yes, I am biased due to my own interest, but I feel a general knowledge about health is necessary to make wise life choices. A populaces general knowledge of science is crucial to a functional democracy (note America's debate about global climate change, stem-cell research, and bioengineering of crops). I hope others join in.

03-31-2014, 05:03 PM
People were talking about this on another forum. Ellen McHenry's Basement Workshop Free Educational Downloads (http://www.ellenjmchenry.com/homeschool-freedownloads/) It looks fun.
This is totally random, but you might like it Circulatory System - YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqhvmUEdOYY&feature=related).

I agree with Anonyms to an extant, but I think it is easier to fill one's knowledge gap in history than it is to fill in science. Yes, we like books.

03-31-2014, 06:01 PM
Hi Avalon - I read your OP and have been thinking about it. And a line in your later response - about your DD getting critical thinking skills from politics/history not really science was interesting too...

I'm no use (too new at this!) for resources for you - but in terms of ways to think about priorities/goals for science education, here's my two cents - and like others have noted, it's about skills and content:


Science education as inoculation - Exposure to science (but maybe not thru experiment kits, necessarily!) so that they can have practice asking good questions, matching info/data/observations to those questions, reasoning about findings/interpretations of data, judging others' and their own conclusions.
I totally agree that people can get those skills from studying history, literature, philosophy, and also hands-on skills/trades/activities, etc. The 'scientific method' is idealized - science doesn't have a lock on observation, hypotheses, reasoning and so forth.

I call this priority 'inoculation' b/c a real danger (IMO) of the advanced state of our science and technology is the development of a technocratic elite allowed to make decisions for us all. Studying the history of science shows it can also be wrong...or oblivious to important questions...People with a basic understanding of science are less likely to fall prey to politicians and others with political/policy/value-based agendas saying some decision is (or is not) based on 'sound science'. Nearly all of those decisions need "sound science" for good information, but the 'what is to be done' part of any major issue always involves values/politics/beliefs which all of us should be able (ideally) to weigh in on without being intimidated by the scientific/technical basis.


I'm appalled at college freshmen and sophomores who can't tell me in a basic way why we have seasons. Or who are surprised to find out that an object's color is connected to light and is not (solely) a characteristic of the object. Everyone can't know everything. I joke that I think the internet is a magic ether. Heck, I didn't really get how TV works, much less my computer! But maybe you and your kids could list the things you want them to know to be able to make their way in the world and delve enough in the science behind that they have a basic understanding (in the end, maybe not at age 8!).

I think that would be more than sufficient if you have a kid who is not jazzed by science (and you'd at least know that the lack of interest wasn't b/c they they were intimidated by it).

If your ds is interested in some topics, I'm liking BFSU for helping me follow an organized track for my (younger - 6.5) ds. But what got me interested as a kid were books by good writers (not always scientists) about topics of interest - fiction and non fiction. A lot of the nonfiction books for a mainstream audience might be accessible to good middle school readers. And I'd start out with a younger one with easier biographies or fiction books with science - based themes.
Do you have a university near you? They might have programs geared to school-ages. Mine sponsors some summer camps for upper elementary on up on science-based topics.

03-31-2014, 06:21 PM
I think it's not especially empowering for people who know less about science to say to them, don't bother with books or curricula. Well... you need a starting point.

I don't think sciencegeek has anything against books. I think she was implying to just go outside and turn over some rocks and see what you find. THAT IS science. I was actually trying to be empowering.

Avalon, I thought your explanation of a rainbow to be fine. Yes, you could get into light wavelengths if you want to, but your explanation was fine. Again, the explanation can match interest and knowledge levels. The only reason I suggest steering clear of curricula is because they tend to take the joy out of science.

03-31-2014, 08:25 PM
We’re heavy-duty science people in this house. What drives my passion, and my husband’s and my childrens’, is ... well, I’d have to say wonder. Curiosity about how things – everything, anything – works. And then, there’s what I called the "Aw Cool!" moment when you understand something new that you didn’t understand before.

I say that because while all the discussions about critical thinking skills etc are laudable – and yes, they can and do come out of a good science education -- I’m also noticing the theme of wonder from other users who’ve posted on this thread and have identified themselves as science-types.

I think that the best kind of science education instils that kind of wonder. I know it’s a bit abstract, but have you considered making that one of the goals of your childrens’ science education? It’s not a concrete suggestion for a curriculum or an activity, but it could be a criterion by which you evaluate the choices you have about how to teach science.


04-04-2014, 07:55 PM
I am thinking about buying some of those massive pre-packaged science kits (such as from Thames & Kosmos) and framing discussion around the experiments, adding additional reading material when needed. My kid walked in on me looking at some just now and flipped out. "YOU HAVE TO BUY THAT NOW, MOM."

04-21-2014, 06:03 AM
Contrary to how you feel about Science, I actually love it as a subject ;-) Maybe it's got to do with the fact that I'm a teacher or maybe it's just like that, but I do enjoy wholeheartedly explaining the basic concepts of science to kids. So maybe I could help you out a bit in this regard.

One general argument made against teaching science is this - Students (barring few) will not need science in their careers once they grow up to be adults, so why brainstorm them with experiments and what-nots which are not going to bear them fruit later? According to a research study carried out by Shamos (1988), by nurturing students' appreciation for science (and this appreciation can only come if they are exposed to scientific concepts at the elementary level), the prospect for creating more fully literate individuals increases.

A very limited view of imparting science education held by quite a handful of people is that scientific thought is not at all useful outside the science classroom. But, here's what we mean when we talk about 'a scientifically literate person':
1. He can ask, find or himself determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences.
2. He has the ability to describe, explain and predict natural phenomena.
3. He is able to read with understanding articles about science in the popular press.
4. He is able to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately.
(And these aren't my word, they are the findings of the study I was talking about earlier).

So, how best to go about teaching science to kids, so that neither is it too harsh on you (as a non-science loving parent) nor on your little one? Provided you know the right ways, Science can be one of the easiest subjects to teach your child.

1. Questions: The first step in teaching Science. Encourage your kid to ask you questions. And teaching your child Science could be as simple as helping them find the answers to those questions (no need to fret here: Thank God for Google!)

2. Reading: But of course. Even if you aren't very well-versed with Science as a parent, you'll at least be knowing the names of flowers in your garden, right? Teach your kid their names. Then ask him to come back and read about them. This is nothing but teaching Science! We don't need to cram our kids' heads with all sorts of scientific jargon, especially at this young age. Just help them to explore the natural world, encourage them to ask questions and then find out the answers (albeit with a little help from your side) from books and the internet.

3. Simple Science Projects: 'Simple' is the word. Consider, for instance, this website: Hiccup's Science Workshop ? Fun Projects & Activities for Kids - School of Dragons (http://www.schoolofdragons.com/hiccups-science-workshop/) .. From Science news, to simple Science projects to interesting Science activities, your kid will more likely than not love it. Get him to explore such sites and keep abreast of Science developments in the real world. Let him carry out simple Science activities and experiments at home, nothing too elaborate. He'll keep learning all along.

Remember one elementary fact: Children's play is not supplemental to their learning. It is their learning. The more they play around with things, the more questions arise in their brains and in the process of learning their answers, they learn Science. Just a little bit of backing and support from your end would do.

All the best!

04-21-2014, 09:31 AM
I'm still new to homeschooling; and one of the main complaints I had when my kids were attending private school was how science was taught. The sense of wonder, of excitement, that should accompany science was simply not there.

I'm an engineer (chemical & environmental) so science is "my thing" and that's probably one of the main reasons I am so adamant about my kids' science education.

Science has to be discovered and enjoyed and you won't be able to do that reading a book. You have to experience it, whether you are outside and discovering nature, or doing a chemistry experiment inside. Until you've had a chance to see it, it's all going to be a bunch of words in a boring book.

In the past year, my boys (7 yrs old) have learned so much about science, just watching documentaries and PBS shows on tv. They are passionate about animals and taking care of the environment to keep them from being extinct. No way I could have inspired them by having them sit and read a book (although they do reference the encyclopedias we have after they watch a show that interest them).

As to what goals I'm trying to achieve with, I hope to inspire them to follow in my footsteps :o but more importantly to ask questions, to want to learn the why behind everything they see; to appreciate science even if they don't love it.
I do want them to learn all about the scientific method, and how to do an experiment, etc; but not as the main goal for their science education, but as a supplement and to help them be prepared for college science.

04-21-2014, 12:06 PM
I would not have said that I was a science person.
I think learning to hold a logical discussion, knowing what a provable fact is vs. an opinion, determining what are reliable sources, being able to organize and communicate what you find out, question and draw conclusions are important life skills that go beyond just science. You are going to apply that to learning history, determining what to buy at the store, what news source to trust, etc.

I think some content is pretty important for everyone. Not everyone will need to know in detail how an engine works but knowing how your own body works is pretty important.
I think age and interests will guide how you might approach topics and what might be interesting. I don't feel that you should only study what is interesting to your child but you might wait on certain topics until they are older. A lot of science topics relate to each other or real life interests your child may have though. My dd first wanted to know about the world around her, animals, the human body and weather. As she got older, we have learned about other things that maybe she wouldn't have thought to study on her own.

I feel that exploring something first hand is awesome. If you can take something apart, or build something or get out in nature that is great.
I like books, games, and videos too. I feel there are a lot of good books that are not boring (not textbooks).
I don't like doing hundreds of random experiments just to be doing "science" but a relevant experiment can increase interest or help explain a topic. So I would figure out my topics I want to cover and maybe find one or two experiments that fit.

I don't buy a program. I choose topics for the year and then pick and choose resources.