Friday, December 28, 2007

An Education Rant

It was probably ten years ago or more than I attended a workshop given by Charles Scaife
, then a professor of chemistry at Union College in Schenectady, NY and his wife Priscilla on doing hands-on science with kids. Talking with Scaife afterwards for a story that ran in one of the local newspapers, I heard how most elementary school teachers have little background in science, and how rarely they feel comfortable teaching it. And that was before George Bush's federal No Child Left Behind school policy put the pressure on teachers to prepare children for high stakes standardized tests in reading and math that leave little room for exploration and wonder. Even after school, homework overload also steals times from kids who might otherwise be messing around with stuff that could lead to scientific insights (but that's another rant). The result Scaife said, was fewer students interested in science in the upper grades, and college freshman who can spit back the right answer without any understanding of the underlying concepts or how to apply them.

I bought Scaife's spiral-bound book of experiments like the ones the couple set out for parents and kids at their workshop to use at home. Although we tried just a few (not always successfully, as seems to be par for the course with use), that evening was definitely the catalyst for this Home Chemistry project we're engaged in this year.

Charles Scaife, whose presentations were the subject of a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal, and subsequent stories in USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor, and Education Week,died in 2003. Priscilla carries on the tradition of introducing the magic of science to children.You can check out the Scaifes' experiments for yourself at the Union College website.

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