Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/314

This page has been validated.

which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly-organized creatures." The coral animal is their most conspicuous rival in this claim.



I HAVE for some years been much interested in trying to introduce improved scientific teaching into girls' schools; and I propose to tell the result of some experiences in teaching astronomy.

Of course, the astronomy taught has been of the most elementary character. But it is therefore exactly the foundation which it is important to lay well. My object has been to gain for my pupils from this study, not merely knowledge, but all the mental discipline it could afford. In order to accomplish this, I have made it an invariable principle to make them do all the observing, all the thinking, possible. They have watched the heavenly bodies to discover their appearance and motions, and then I led them on to discuss the causes. It has been genuine inductive study, so far as it has gone. My own work seemed very simple; but it occasioned me a great deal of observation, thought, and study. I have simply kept them on the track.

It may at first seem a little absurd to talk of a set of school-girls treading, with any degree of mental independence, the path which Kepler and Tycho Brahe found it so difficult to walk in. Of course, it would be utter nonsense to say that they could exercise anything like the mental activity of those great men. But there are various degrees of the mind's activity, and it is possible to arouse, even in school-girls, a very wholesome and improving. amount of it.

When I first began, I merely intended to make some girls of seventeen years old, who were soon to study Lockyer's "Astronomy," do some preparatory observing. I soon saw that it would have been desirable to begin earlier: and, in the room in which I talked to these young ladies, there were seated at desks some young girls of Thirteen and fourteen years old, who listened to my talk and directions with great interest, and, as I soon found, were observing and thinking with as much energy as their older companions. It became out of the question to refuse instruction to those who showed themselves so capable of learning. All the work of which I am about to tell was well performed by girls of fourteen years old.

The method I tried can best be understood by one or two illustrations. I will first say, briefly, thai they found for themselves the chief stars in nearly every important constellation by drawings I made on the blackboard or on bits of paper (aided by my hectograph). As