The Goal of Science Study
Children's interest in science often seems to decline in grade four and after. I suspect that this happens because science study is too often textbook-driven, passive, formal, and narrow in its scope. But the major goal of science study in these grades should be to keep children interested in science and cause them to believe that they can be successful science students. Not an easy task -- but one that is critically important.
Science in the World
It is vital that children see and recognize "science" all around them in their everyday lives. Basic scientific principles are at work whenever a child rides a bicycle, puts air in the bike's tires and oils the moving parts, runs, throws a ball, gets water from a well or a faucet, uses a flashlight, takes pictures with a camera, or flies a kite. And science is also a basis for understanding what is happening when a child watches cloud formations change or planes move across the sky, plants a garden or trims bushes, reads about drought and gypsy moth infestations, or sees the effects of aging or infirmity in others. Good teachers draw heavily on such examples of "science in the world."
What Kids Should Learn in Science
The natural world was the focus of science study during the primary years of school. While nature studies continue during the intermediate years, technology comes in for an increasing share of attention in the fourth grade and thereafter. Children learn about and examine machines of all kinds, including computers and mass communication systems. They are often asked about the role of technology "in our lives."
Meteorology is also studied in many fourth grade classrooms. Children gain a fairly sophisticated understanding of weather patterns, wind directions, temperature, precipitation, air pressure with high and low systems, and so on. Children will examine weather maps and follow weather reports on television.
Inquiry -- an open-ended approach to the study of science -- also assumes a larger role once students enter the fourth grade. Children will be asked to engage in the process of inquiry, experimenting with ways of finding answers both to their own questions and to questions posed by the teacher. Such questions might include: What shapes or designs will support the most weight? Why do some objects stand and others fall? How much of the school's waste is recyclable? Where in your home is the humidity greatest, and why? What are the effects, if any, of light and darkness on fish? What causes things to either float or sink in water, or in vinegar, or in water mixed with oil? Children's questions are unending, and good teachers use those questions to teach the children about the process of inquiry -- how to go about examining something. The children thus do what scientists do: define a problem and then figure out how to solve it.
The intermediate years are a good time for classes to visit science museums, or for scientists and technologists to visit classrooms. Children may be exposed to more of these experiences in the fourth grade than in earlier grades.
What Kids Should Learn in Health
In regard to the study of health, children continue the exploration of the life cycle that was begun in the earlier grades. What it means to stay healthy -- to maintain wellness -- cannot be overemphasized. Fourth grade children will pay attention to life-styles. They examine life-style choices such as smoking, and they learn about the effects of various kinds of consumption upon health, as well as upon the environment. They also learn something about medicine and its effect on health. And because fourth graders are moving rapidly toward puberty, some attention is given to bodily changes and the further changes that children can expect as they grow.
Reprinted from 101 Educational Conversations with Your 4th Grader by Vito Perrone,published by Chelsea House Publishers.
Copyright 1994 by Chelsea House Publishers, a division of Main Line Book Co. All rights reserved.