A Path for Excellence in K-6 Science
by Richard Bliss, Ph.D.
The advent of home-school and Christian-school education brings with it a challenge for excellence in science education. It seems that the door of opportunity is wide open for curricular excellence in science to be brought into a God-centered context. There is, at the fingertips of every parent and Christian school teacher, an opportunity that transcends anything that public education has to offer children at this time.
Today we hear leaders in education claiming that they are ready to try new approaches in educating young people. Nevertheless, in spite of all these new efforts, there is turmoil in the teachers' camp.1 Former Education Secretary William Bennett says the nation's education system "is getting a little better, but it is nowhere near where it should be."2 It seems apparent that, by every standard for quality science education, the average classroom is found wanting.3
Whether in the public school classroom, the Christian school classroom, or in the living room of those courageous parents who are teaching their children at home, the evidence appears to indicate that fewer students, tending to bring the instructor closer to the learner, is certainly a part of the answer. A smaller class size not only offers a more "individualized" approach, but it appears to be the most productive approach to science education and education in general. In view of the studies that are on record, it also appears that both the Christian school classroom and the home school classroom have a distinct advantage in producing the better-educated product for this world in which we live. The question is, are they capitalizing on this advantage and producing this better product in science education? A secular-based survey of 58,728 high school students showed that the students believed Christian schools are better because academic standards are higher, there is stricter discipline, and there is greater dedication to the teaching profession than is generally found in public education.4
The following is what we should not expect, according to the best research in science education:
- that science courses would be nothing more than a repetition of facts;
- that science courses would be nothing more than history courses;5
- that science courses would not provide activity-oriented hands-on experiences.
Clearly, this kind of science curriculum does nothing to develop critical thinking skills in the student at the elementary level. Also, there is ample evidence that science, as now taught in many elementary classrooms (repetition science), does not carry over into real life.6
On the other hand, what should we expect from Christian education, according to the most current research on methods in science education?
- that science courses should develop the necessary skills in the critical thinking process, as well as the skills of scientific inquiry;
- that science courses would be developed through activity-oriented curricula;
- that science courses would be challenging to the students on the higher taxonomic levels of learning, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (note diagram of Bloom's Taxonomy);
- that science education would incorporate math, reading, and writing, and be generally interdisciplinary;
- that our science courses and accompanying curricula would be clearly centered on the attributes of God.
Considering the five foregoing statements of expectations for good science education, what should we be doing in the Christian and home school classroom that will not only bring about the highest quality of science education, but, of necessity (we don't have tax-based funding), bring this education about in a financially reasonable context?
Considering the first statement, what objectives should the Christian and home school teacher have that will develop critical thinking skills? From current thinking, it appears that these skills should be basic to all education practices. The skills to which we refer are often divided into three general sequential categories:
- the enabling skills, such as perceiving (observing-comparing-contrasting),
rizing), seriating (ordering-sequencing-patterning-prioriti zing);
- the process skills, such as analyzing (fact/opinion-relevant/irrelevant
information-reliable and unreliable sources), questioning,
and inferring (meaning of statements-cause and effect-generalization-predictions-assump
tions-point of view);
- the operational skills, such as logical reasoning and evaluation. Placing all of these skills together in the learning process ultimately results in critical thinking.7
Critical thinking is creative, and leads to higher levels in the thought process. In this respect, critical thinking should be the aim of all Christian educators who are looking for quality-curriculum development.
Critical thought also requires the keenest thinking process, and therefore resides at the higher levels of learning.8 In science education, we can reach these goals through the process skills of scientific inquiry.
The second statement is that science courses should develop skills of scientific inquiry through activity-oriented curricula. Reading about and repeating what the scientist does is not the way to develop an operational (working) understanding of the skills of scientific inquiry. Repeating an experiment that has prescribed correct answers offers the pupil no opportunity to think creatively about what he has observed; therefore, the key to developing inquiry skills, in an operational sense, seems to reside largely in open-ended science activities. For the student, this means that he will make key observations in the physical and life sciences, and then answer, "I-wonder-why?" types of questions. The freedom to explore leads to further discovery, and, in the process, develops the crucial skills of scientific inquiry and critical thought.
The third statement is that science courses should be challenging to the pupil. Motivation in science, or any other subject matter, is predicated on making the learning challenging and relevant. This can be done through enthusiastic instruction and challenging activities in the real world. The excitement of observing real live guppies and plants in the aquarium is highly motivating for a first-grade pupil. Working with living communities, ecosystems, electricity, and models is equally exciting for 5th and 6th graders. The observations the pupil makes help in developing critical thinking when attacking the "I-wonder-why?" questions. The same is true in the physical sciences, when the pupil is dealing with objects, properties, interactions, systems, etc. Furthermore, a "scope and sequence" for science that is developed around general concepts of science (environments, energy sources, ecosystems, systems, etc.) is more likely to develop challenging inquiry experiences that are more in tune with the real world.9 For example, studying about astronomy, the atom, geology, human anatomy, etc., offers excellent ancillary reading for the student, and should be included in the total education package; however, none of these specific topics offer much, if any, opportunity for open inquiry in the K-6 curricula.
The fourth statement is that those in Christian schools and home school education should expect science education to be interdisciplinary and in context with the total learning process. We should avoid the idea that science is somehow separate from reading, writing, and arithmetic. Making use of the excitement of scientific observations, pupils can be challenged to read, write, do math, and respond orally to the activities in which they are engaged. In this manner, science should become part and parcel of the whole curriculum. Scientific studies have shown that an interdisciplinary approach to science education in K-6 enhances success for the pupil in key areas of learning. In recent studies reported by the National Science Supervisors Association, we see reading in the content area of science showing a statistically significant gain in short and long term recall.10 There are additional studies that clearly show the advantages of using the "process skills approach to scientific inquiry" (note the diagram above) as a significant aid in developing reading readiness and math readiness."
The fifth statement is that we in Christian education should expect our science courses and accompanying curricula to be clearly centered on the attributes of God. Science has "built-in" qualities that make the inquiry approach particularly adaptable to this curriculum imperative. The frustrations of science, when attempting to get at first causes in the question of origins, are eliminated when we accept the clear and tested historicity of Scripture; therefore, this must be a mandate for any God-centered curriculum. Creation will become an integral part of learning, when the K-6 child explores the handiwork of God.
The path for excellence in science education in the home school and Christian school classroom is clear and available. The new curriculum, "Good Science for the Home School and Christian School"12 appears to offer this path in a realistic way.
1. Education Week, Vol. VII, No. 26, March 23, 1988.
2. Education Week, Vol. VII, No. 29, April 13, 1988.
3. "What Works" - Research About Teaching and Learning. U.S. Dept. of Education, 1986.
4. 1. James Coleman, (Survey 58,728 High School Students), National Center for Education Statistics, University of Chicago, 1982.
5. The Spirit of Science, Thomas M. Weiss, NARST, Vol. 53, No. 4.
6. Evaluation of the Use of Science: A Process Approach with Pre-School Age Children: Jerry Ayers, NARST, Vol. 53, No. 4, October 1969.
7. Project Impact, Orange County Dept. of Education, December 1982.
8. Bloom, Benjamin S. (ed.) Taxonomy of Education Objectives (New York: Longmans Green, 1956).
9. From SCIS to PELE: Herbert D. Thier, Science Education, 65(l): 105-113 (1981) John Wiley and Sons Inc.
10. Reading in the Content Area of Science, Thomas M. Fisher, NSSA Summer Issue, p. 6, 1987.
11. Teaching Science in the Elementary School, "Total Conservations by Task Using Inquiry Based SCIS Approach," John Renner, Don Stafford, William Ragan, Harper & Row, 1973, pp. 88,89.
12. Bliss, Richard, Good Science Under the Attributes of God, Master Books, 1988.
*Former Director of Science Education, Unified School District #1, Racine, Wisconsin. Former Director of ICR's Curriculum Development.
Cite this article: Richard Bliss, Ph.D. 1988. A Path for Excellence in K-6 Science. Acts & Facts. 17 (11).