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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/683

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NATURAL SCIENCE IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS.

urchin, or snail. In many of our schools the lessons on animals begin with the dog, cat, or bird. Ten years ago it was almost a necessity to begin in this way; it is not so to-day. I once began a course of lessons with these familiar but extremely complex animals, and noted the results with interest. Before the course was finished, I had given up practically the four objects I aimed to accomplish. I was so thoroughly convinced that the habit of accurate observation could not be acquired by children with one specimen in the hand of the teacher, or one picture hung upon the wall, that I never repeated-the experiment. I regret now that I did not preserve some of the written work of this class, but it seemed so worthless, as compared with that done by children of the same age who had begun their lessons with the simpler animals, that I did not keep any of it for future reference. When the class numbers fifty or sixty children, those in the back part of the school-room can not see the bird or kitten distinctly, more or less disorder prevails, and disorder always causes the premature death of science work. If the children come to the desk to examine the specimen, time is lost in going to and from the seat, especially by those whose besetting weakness is laziness, while the moments for observation at the desk must be extremely brief. Close, accurate observation of a specimen in the hand of a child develops patience, and cultivates the habit of mental equilibrium or concentration of mind for twenty or thirty minutes, as may seem desirable, which is of incalculable value.

The second condition of successful science work, namely, a well-governed school, is obviously one condition for all successful school-work. The temptation to whisper and be disorderly, caused, possibly, at first by the use of specimens, will soon be overcome if the children understand that no science lesson can be given till order is preserved. The unruly members of the class are usually the first ones to yield, as these are generally more fond of nature than of books. Many instances could be given, proving most happily the invaluable aid given by science lessons to the teacher in the discipline of lawless children.

While the first two conditions depend for their realization upon both teacher and pupils, the third depends wholly upon the teacher. All preparation must be made before, not during the lesson. The questions must be so arranged that each lesson must be a natural growth, a development from the simple to the complex. This method of questioning is the peculiar characteristic of the true science lesson, distinguishing it from the commonly accepted oral and language lesson. Furthermore, each lesson should be related, so to speak, to the lessons that precede and follow it. It can not exist as an isolated thing, but must form an important part of one complete course.