I miraculously remained motionless as an enormous dirt-colored spider lumbered across the open notebook in my lap; its jointed legs and numerous eyes and what looked like giant jaws were extra startling against the white paper. But although it felt like an invading alien, again, for emphasis, in my lap, it was I who was actually the foreigner, so to speak.
It was the first day of summer session of graduate school. Instead of being held in a classroom at the college, this particular class met in a forest. From the first moment, we were scientists. We began by spreading out in the woods, unobtrusively observing our surroundings, and recording our observations, which we would eventually use to craft the questions that would guide our studies. The class was Integrative Learning for Children in the Natural Environment.
The motivating ideas behind the course were: promoting authentic inquiry and exploration; understanding that science should not just be “a tool for analyzing, classifying and compartmentalizing the world, rather than a tool for unifying it”; understanding that science should not merely be a “study dispassionate and divorced from human feelings and disassociated from the creative experience.” We learned that best practice was an integrated approach and that inquiry and guided exploration were not just for the realm of science. I was so thrilled when we joined the Mack community and found that their view on science education was similar.
Mackintosh Academy’s IB curriculum is all about an integrated approach. From Sharon Muench, Mack’s Curriculum Coordinator: “Throughout their years at Mack, our students gain core competencies in science. But science is not just for science class. Going beyond the dictates of a traditional academic discipline, Mack students experience the joy of science, discovering the connections between science, the humanities, and service–a critical nexus that helps address the What?, the So What? and Now What? of true education.” (Read more from Sharon here…)
As a parent now of three boys who are all passionate about science, having my children at a school like Mack that approaches science in this way is so important. I want my children to grow up knowing how they can use their interests and passions to affect positive change in the world around them.
But what can parents do at home to support the spirit of inquiry in their children while also encouraging them to develop a feeling of agency? Don’t we all want to do what we can to support and extend what they’re learning in school?
- Getting outside and out into nature is good place to begin. You don’t have to sit on a forest floor and invite spiders into your lap if that’s not your thing. (It’s not MY thing.) But hiking and being out in the woods, at a stream, a lake, or a beach is awesome (as long as nothing crawls on me), and my kids love the time together as a family while also developing an appreciation for the natural world.
- Model and encourage noticing. Point out things you see and show an interest in the things your children observe. Kids love to discover things.
- Carry small sketchpads or notepads to make it convenient to keep track of what they see. Recording observations is an important scientific skill. In the spirit of using technology as a tool, take pictures when appropriate and even record unidentifiable birdsong or other things to later investigate their origins.
- Encourage wonder and give time and space for exploration. Don’t rush. Scientific learning comes from a place of wonder, of being curious. If they have questions have them record them. Don’t just be their encyclopedia but instead help them find ways to figure out the answers to their questions.
- Science is everywhere. Playing with blocks or balls or even bath time can provide the opportunity for scientific thinking. What do they notice? What can they try differently? What floats? Why? Does a ball fly farther when hit with a short stick or a long one? Turn over a big stone or log in your yard or a park to see what you find, but be sure to put the stone/log gently back where you found it to model being a good steward of nature.
- Support taking action. If your child shows concern about the trash along a hiking trail, take along a sack and help them clean it up. Maybe your child would want to post a sign at the trailhead reminding people not to litter. Find age appropriate ways for your children to get involved in advocacy for issues about which they are passionate. Highlight for them ways science is used to help.
- Check out our blog post on gift ideas; it contains many other suggestions for ways you can support your children’s passions around science.
So, what happened to my lap full of spider? I was able to keep my cool and slowly tip my notebook towards the ground to make a fun spider slide- without screaming my head off and disturbing all of the other “scientists.” It was not the last spider I saw that day. I observed others crawling around on trees and the ground; I saw several more in orb-shaped webs, some in other less organized looking webs, and even more in funnel shaped webs. I noted them all in my notebook. When we met back in the stone structure for the next portion of the day, our instructor had us share our most intriguing observations. He then had us brainstorm questions we had based on our observations. After some time spent grouping questions according to what seemed like broader topics, we all then selected one of those topics we’d like to study further. I ended up in the spider group. After a life spent fearing and avoiding spiders, I found myself wanting to know all I could about them.
No, I didn’t give up teaching to become a devoted arachnologist. But as a teacher and as a parent I’ve always tried to honor the integrated, inquiry-based approach I had learned, and I’m happy to support that approach to all curriculum at Mackintosh Academy.
by Darsa Morrow