Child Development Expert Offers Ideas for Promoting Early Science Learning

December 14, 2009 at 3:52 pm 3 comments

“By focusing more on middle and high school kids, we are already missing the boat because we are saying that this is where science starts,” she explains, “when in reality attitudes toward science, perceptions of science, and identities —where children start to see themselves as people who do science—begin much earlier and in home contexts.”

via “Educate to Innovate” Campaign: Child Development Expert Offers Ideas for Promoting Early Science Learning.

Is the above true?  I do believe that children’s identities and home contexts influence their attitudes about science. However, I believe that the those studying children (including Piaget, in this wonderful piece by Seymour) have suggested that young children act as scientists.  My read of the literature suggests that kids don’t turn away from science until middle school.  Thus, focusing on middle school is an appropriate point of intervention, because that’s when the identities start changing.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Leigh Ann  |  December 14, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    Have you seen the work done by Rich Lehrer and Leona Schauble at Vanderbilt? Here is one of their talks:

    They are doing great things to encourage young children to see science as an exploratory process as opposed to a fact finding mission like history can be. I’ve met them and heard them talk at a few psychology events and I think that aside from teaching kids great science concepts they are really working with teaching kids about what it means to “do” science. Perhaps we are having a similar problem with CS – is programming what it really means to “do” computer science?

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  December 14, 2009 at 8:41 pm

      Hi Leigh Ann! Yes, I know about their work. They visited a few years ago when they first started on having kids build “models” of scientific phenomena as a way of coming to understand them, e.g., is that a correct model of an elbow that you made with Tinkertoy if it can bend in ways that a real elbow can’t? I think that’s great stuff! What I’m challenging is the claim that it’s wrong to focus on middle school, if the goal is to keep students interested in science. I believe that earlier is better. That doesn’t mean that later is wrong.

      And yes, I still believe that programming is the majority of what it means to “do” computer science. 🙂 I just think we need to come up with broader meanings for “programming.”

  • 3. Alan Kay  |  December 15, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Just to keep on reminding …

    1. It is indeed that case that we can start to learn something at any age …


    2. for many areas, the knowledge and skills and especially the outlook of the subject are harder to learn when older, and do not get as well “seated” operationally.

    (This is modulo many individual differences, etc. — but is most certainly true enough in this forum.)


    3. there is quite a bit of evidence now that children make a real commitment to the world view and categorizations (especially those in language) of their culture around age 7.

    We have certainly noticed the influence of 3. over the last 40 years of experiments with children of most ages.

    All other things being equal, I think it is better to put a lot of effort into learning the epistemological outlook of science into ages 4-7.

    The downside is that it is even harder to find adults who really resonate with these ages *and* have a real sense of science and math.

    The lack of these got us to retreat to ages around 10, where the children have made some commitments which have to be gently reversed, but where what the children can do can make up to some extent for what the adults around them lack.

    Actually, quite a tough set of tradeoffs.




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