I have been reading an interesting little book of late. It is Schmidt and Rockcastle’s, Teaching Science with Everyday Things (AIMS Education Foundation, 1995). It was written in part to be of “practical help to teachers…and to college students preparing to be teachers,” with a special emphasis on those “who may lack confidence in teaching science or whose background in science may be limited.” (vii) That last part defines me pretty well. I was a great K-12 science student. In fact, I entered college with the intent of becoming a research zoologist. To make a long story short, some things got in the way: calculus, physics and the ‘60s. Mostly, I think, it was the ‘60s and the challenges that era presented my generation. I moved into the Social Sciences and became a historian with the intent of finding the “truth,” exposing the “corrupt,” and making sense of a world that seemed upside down. Yet, I never truly forgot the lessons and approaches that science had contributed to my education. When I moved into teaching, I found that the “real sciences” both supported and helped explain many of the concepts I attempted to “teach” my students. Finding and reading Teaching Science with Everyday Things, I was reminded once again, just how interconnected “real” science and the Social Sciences remain.
I am a major proponent of interactive, collaborative learning focused on teaching with artifacts. As I have tried to make clear over the past several weeks and months, artifacts teach the 21st century skills that colleges and employers require. Among those skills are the ability to think critically, to synthesize many sources into a cohesive whole, draw conclusion from and make an argument based on evidence, and communicate that argument effectively to a wider audience. It is comforting to find those same statements made not only about science in general, but also about using artifacts (everyday things) to teach science.
Schmidt and Rockcastle make the point very early that, “All learning in science is based fundamentally upon firsthand experiences with real things.” [My emphasis] (vii) They repeat their assertion again later in the text, “First-hand experiences are, in the final analysis, the basis of all learning.” (6) They also define teaching in a modern fashion. For them, teaching is, “setting up situations in which learning cannot help but take place.” (2) They wisely suggest the use of everyday objects in creating these situations as the objects engage students because they are familiar. This familiarity allows the application of ingenuity in answering the question or solving the problem posed. Everyday objects are “as intriguing and challenging to slow learners and poor readers as to gifted pupils.” (2) In other words, artifacts engage science students in an effective learning environment that allows naturally for diversity. Are those not the goals and objectives established for all 21st century classrooms?
Schmidt and Rockcastle also demonstrate that using artifacts in science teaches important attitudes and skills. The first of those is the formation of a “scientific attitude.” This is defined as an attitude that promotes finding answers through observing, experimenting and reasoning. This sounds very similar to the Social Sciences definition of critical thinking. Furthermore, teaching science with artifacts, “ allows all students to practice analytical and observational skills, develop communications skills and apply creativity in problem solving. “(7) It would seem that teaching science with artifacts is very much like using artifacts to teach the Social Sciences.
At the philosophical level, artifacts teach science well. They avoid the 20th century model of disseminating information from those who “have” to those who “have not,” and allow for both personal and collaborative investigation and discovery. Additionally, artifacts engage science students, with more familiar objects engaging students more readily. Using artifacts in the science classroom develops the 21st century skills (critical thinking, communication, collaborative problem-solving) that college admissions deans and corporate human resources directors seek in today’s world.
Next time, we’ll talk about specific examples and demonstrate classroom examples of teaching science with artifacts. Until then, remember, using objects to teach science is a philosophically and pedagogically sound approach in science. Or as they say at my house,
ARTIFACTS TEACH – SCIENCE