Yesterday I gave a science workshop to my younger group of kids: 6 – 9 year olds. I am typically a high school teacher, but this school year I am trying a different thing: workshops for homeschooled kids. And yesterday was one of those workshops.
I have a really great group of 6 to 9 year olds. At first it was challenging to understand really how small these kids are, how little they know about the world, how easy it is to surprise them with the simplest science experiment. I taught kids, but never this young before. I had to revamp my whole way of thinking about the class, about the kids, about science!
Growing up, children have a plethora of experiences that have to do with the concept of force. Even before they start talking and knowing the word “force” they have an intuitive understanding of the concept of push and pull. It doesn’t take long for a child to figure out that pushing their brother will result in him moving in the same direction. Babies realize from very early on that things fall down. (A common game among babies and parents is the “baby drops toy – parent picks up toy – repeat many times until parent loses patience”.) This environmental input of the force of gravity acting on an object, thus accelerating it towards the earth gets absorbed by the child’s awareness, and becomes second nature to the child. Most children will ask a parent about these phenomena. The parent then tries to explain these phenomena in terms of sophisticated words such as force, gravity, energy, power, and push / pull. The adult might go in depth or just quickly dismiss the inquiry, depending on the adult’s actual knowledge of the phenomenon, the parent’s interest in scientific principles, or even the time and place of the question. Based on these explanations, and the instances of hearing the words of force or gravity in context, children start to associate what force actually means in terms of their world around them. Their understanding however might not be in alignment with the physicist’s definition.
There is a steady increase in environmental issues in the curriculum every year. The environment is important and we must take care of it, thus teaching about it to students that will one day take care of the world is a necessity.
But whenever I learned about it or taught it, I found it to be more of a “social studies” subject and not a science. There’s a lot of descriptions, definitions of concepts, discussions of alternatives, debates. It never felt like a real “science”, with numbers, predictions, experiments, etc. I know that this is not the case. I know that environmental sciences are very much scientifically based and hard core, with lots of experiments and empirical data supporting phenomena, but the way the curriculum has the “environment” presented wasn’t at all interesting to me thus far (since I’m one of those science geeks).