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the framework of the science curriculum

This is part two of this post.

In that post, I argued that the reason we aren’t producing the scientists we need is fundamentally because we are teaching science incorrectly: we are teaching the class without the tools, which are the seven liberal arts.

Well, it’s time for me to fulfill my duty and offer some suggestions about what we can do, so here I go (and please note that these are meant to be thought about and challenged – the unexamined thought is not worth thinking).

The basic idea: teach the seven liberal arts.

The contemporary application: Pull out a sheet of paper and create a chart like this:

  • create three columns, labeled “facts/content,” “Concepts” and “Skills”
  • Above the title of the first column, create a box and write in it “isolated facts”.
  • Above the second, do the same but write “general ideas”
  • Above the third, write “Basic logic”
  • Under the first column’s title, write: rudimentary and below that write Sophisticated
  • Under the second, write: basic and then Advanced
  • Under the third, write: lower order and then higher order
  • Below Sophisticated, add a box like the one at the top of this column. In it, write “Integrated facts”
  • At the bottom of the second column, write “highly specialized ideas”
  • At the bottom of the third column, write “Scientific logic”
  • From the box at the top of each column, draw an arrow down to the box at the bottom of each column.

If you have created this table, the rest of your work is rightly judging what should be taught when in each column. Think of it like this:

The Natural Sciences are domains of knowledge that are ordered around a unifying principle or logos. In biology, that logos is bios or life. In physics it is forces; in chemistry, matter. The other sciences integrate these three.

The unifying principle of each science is a concept or an idea and within each science is an army of sub-ideas, many of which transfer from science to science. Some of these ideas are very powerful at organizing vast amounts of knowledge (e.g. life), while some are able to order a smaller domain (e.g. vertebrae).

The child has to grow from basic ideas to advanced ideas in order to become a good scientist. The basic ideas are highly generalized (they contain a lot of sub-categories and applications) and include things like forces, matter, order, life, etc.)

But the child also has to grow from lower order scientific skills to those of a higher order. He has to learn to use his powers of perception with great skill, then introduce powers of basic reasoning. Then he must climb the ladder to the higher order scientific logic skills of advanced math, extreme patience, refined inductive reasoning, etc.

And he also needs to gather a significant amount of scientific content or facts for him to have a future in science. He has to know a great number of the names that have been given to things, the categories into which they have been divided (e.g. kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species), and other basic facts of science.

At first, these facts will be rather isolated. This rock is pink, that one is grey. The frog begins as a tadpole. Without a wide-ranging experience of these isolated facts (using the lower order science skills of, for example, perceiving and grouping) when the student is older he will have to spend a lot of otherwise profitable time in remediation when he should be developing higher order scientific skills.

In time, the facts will become integrated and the child will grow in his ability to use higher order scientific skills in order to understand highly specialized scientific concepts from which he will be able to make highly sophisticated scientic applications.

But only if all three columns (content, concepts, skills) develop in a coordinated manner from the earliest years.

It begins with poetic knowledge – the personal knowledge of particular things.

It ends with scientific applications: the ability to apply what has been learned.

But there is an irony to all this: the more you push scientific skills into the lower grades, the more you undercut the prerequisites for scientific skills.

What should a child study in K-2 to become a good scientist? Things that will train her faculties of perception and cultivate her faculties of reasoning.

Most of all, a classical language, either Greek or Latin. She should learn how to produce representational art so she can learn how to see. She should listen to fine, sophisticated music, so she can learn how to hear. She should learn grammar and math, strictly and according to the rules, so she can begin to refine her logical skills.

She should tend a garden, learn the constellations, play with water and sand, memorize some lists and tables, smell soil and (safe) chemicals, taste foods and liquids very consciously and comparing them with each other, take care of a pet, etc.

That’s the foundation of a science program that attends to the future scientist as well as to the science taught.

The scientist is one who has mastered the higher order scientific logic skills so thoroughly that he is able to explore the ideas of the given science on his own authority. That takes steady, wise, consistent training from the earliest years.

What materials have you found that fit this vision of a science program?

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