You may get scooped by a group of 8-year olds

After watching Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about how schools kill creativity, followed by part of a talk he gave (accompanied by an excellent animation) I got that mix of depression and excitement at the state of science education and the realization that it is changing slowly for the better. Don’t worry, I include a restorative below.

Matthew Nisbet recently posted (and I recommend reading) about the need to widen science education to include what John Falk calls “free-choice” education. Nisbet uses Myth Busters as an example of free-choice education (it’s more inclusive than “informal education” which is a less presumptuous name for “educational outreach”) and reports on a comprehensive review of science education’s trends and  challenges.

To oversimplify it, all these experts find that for science education to be effective, it must engage the student (Nisbet’s post and links within outline how).

And now for that hopie-changie stuff that’s working out for us: a timely example of how “free-choice” science education could work: a paper published in The Royal Society’s Biology Letters by 8-year olds (read: WiredBBC; listen: NPR). The students were asked what questions they would like to ask bees. How awesome of an introduction to the scientific method is that?

I love that the paper‘s introduction starts with “Once upon a time” and continues in their voice.

And what really moved me was the similarity between their science experience as 8-year olds and mine as a graduate student, see the last line of their primary results:

‘We discovered that bumble-bees can use a combination of colour and spatial relationships in deciding which colour of flower to forage from. We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before. (Children from Blackawton)’.

That statement is such a sharp contrast to what mine would have been with the “science is a series of facts” education I grew up with.

But not to oversimplify it, it seems that designing “free-choice” education like this calls for  long-term and funding-independent school partnerships with research institutions, or perhaps a highly specialized teaching staff. That’s part of the paradigm shift Robinson is working for, and I think we should too.


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