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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/681

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NATURAL SCIENCE IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS.

Beginning to teach with no preconceived notions as to the practical results obtainable, but with a love for the science of Nature, and a strong desire to make our boys and girls love it also, I soon found out that science lessons were not only helpful in the way of awakening interest, but also invaluable in the way of disciplining the mind. Little children came to me with untrained eyes, hands, and brains; this I expected, and therefore was not surprised; but boys and girls from fifteen to twenty years of age came in a worse condition, and this was unexpected. Not only were their eyes and hands untrained, but their brains were in a pathological condition which rendered independent thinking impossible. The number of my pupils increasing, and their ages ranging, as I have said, from five to twenty years, I had an excellent opportunity for comparing the quality of work done by older and younger pupils, also by pupils whose perceptive faculties had been trained in early life, and those who had not received this training. The inferences I was forced to draw from these comparisons set me to thinking seriously. The inaccuracy of the observational and manual work done by older pupils, the indefiniteness of expression, the lack of system, and the inability to do comparative and inferential work, were so many revelations of the true aims of science teaching. The absolute necessity for accuracy in every study and every department of work made accuracy the first object to be attained in every science lesson; the vagueness of the oral and written statement made clear, concise expression the second object. The want of method emphasized the need of a simple, orderly grouping of the observations, while the painful and fruitless attempts to make comparisons and draw inferences showed the necessity of cultivating the power of generalizing from specific facts.

The objects of elementary science work in this way became clear to me. As time passed, I was convinced that the first two aims might be realized with children of primary-school age; the last two, in greater or less degree, with scholars of grammar and high school age, provided they had received the preparatory training of the primary school. In attempting to realize these aims I strove to apply constantly the scientific or "natural method" of teaching, and, though applying it far from perfectly, I could see that in more skillful hands than my own its successful application would result in that which was most desirable, the development of the child.

Gradually the opinion grew and strengthened, till it has now become a conviction, that those children who have been trained by the "natural method," from five to thirteen years of age, do better work at thirteen than those who have not received this training do from fifteen to twenty years of age. Their work is