Kids can learn about biology by picking up leaves in the park, figure out the basics of chemistry by mixing cookie dough, or explore astronomy by gazing at the stars, but too often classroom science is lifeless and dull, a study released Tuesday reported.
Teaching science through fun hands-on experiments is critical for nurturing curiosity and developing long-term interest in the sciences, but the report said very few elementary schools are using such innovative activities.
The report was based on a survey of 1,000 elementary school teachers and 1,000 parents around the nation by the National Science Foundation and the Bayer Corp., the pharmaceutical maker. The study found that twothirds of teachers surveyed said schools should increase their emphasis on science education, and especially the use of hands-on methods.
However, half the teachers said they were not well trained in these new methods and also lack materials and time to explore them.
Only 56 percent of the teachers said they felt qualified to teach science, and 68 percent of parents said they do not fully understand stories about science on TV and in magazines.
Elementary school years are a critical time for cultivating interest in the sciences, educators said, referring to studies that have shown students already develop a dislike for science by the third grade.
“Children have an innate curiosity about the world around them and how things work, and we should try to exploit that,” said Anne Petersen, deputy director of the National Science Foundation.
But too often their curiosity is thwarted by traditional memorization and dry textbook instruction.
Petersen urged teachers and parents to use every opportunity possible to show youngsters that science is a part of everyday life.
There are many simple ways for parents to teach children about science, from watching a spider spin its web, to following a caterpillar as it changes into a butterfly, to looking at weather maps together in the daily newspaper.
If a child likes to cook, the experts suggest allowing him or her to measure and mix ingredients, pour batter into a mold and see mixtures change as they are heated.
Parents should also be prepared for “science moments,” when a child becomes curious after noticing soil getting washed away on a rainy day, or a full moon shining in the night sky.
In addition, parents should teach children it is OK to say, “I don’t know.” Science is all about searching for answers.