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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/69

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THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD WITH CHILDREN.

to the best materials and methods to be used in teaching elementary science may be found in the public schools of Boston. About a dozen years ago a course in science for elementary schools was formulated and an attempt made to carry it out. The systematic study of animals was begun in the lowest grammar grade, fourth year in the elementary course, and the specimens to be studied in order were thus laid down: "Sponge and coral compared; starfish and sea urchin (dried specimens) examined and compared; oyster, clam, and snail compared; shells of different forms compared." The lessons that preceded the study of the objects named were information lessons on "grass-eaters, flesh-eaters; animals with hoofs, claws, wings; land animals, water animals, etc." Systematic mineralogy, without any previous work on minerals, was begun in the sixth grade on these mineral substances: "(1) metals that are native minerals (gold, silver, copper); (2) metals from ores (lead, zinc, tin, iron); (3) non-metals (sulphur, carbon); (4) gases (oxygen, hydrogen); compounds: iron rust, carbonic-acid gas."

This course, of which parts have been given as illustrations, was the best product of one of the leading spirits in science work, aided by the advice of teachers of science in the scientific schools of that time. It is questionable whether the scientific schools of to-day can formulate a better course for children. The method employed to carry out the course satisfied the demands of those who were regarded as experts in science work as to elements, natural sequences, synthesis, and system; but although the work was pushed vigorously in the beginning, it soon began to stick, and finally failed altogether. Of course, scientists called the work scientific, and teachers who were simply literary thought it discreet not to question that decision; but it is evident now that a very important scientific element was lacking namely, the science of success, knowing how to succeed; and that lack resulted from a failure to recognize the child's standpoint.

It is claimed by teachers of science now that the reason why such a course in natural science can not be carried out successfully is the lack of specialists to teach in every class the particular subjects named by the method used in the scientific schools. Doubtless an adequate supply of specialists would suffice to force the study to an apparently successful result; but the necessity for the application of so much force to a study that has the term "natural" so frequently applied to it should make us pause and consider whether the resistance to be overcome is not caused by some artificiality into which we have unconsciously drifted. Natural education is unconsciously easy, and difficulties increase as it becomes artificial. "The lines of least resistance" should not be overlooked in any educational plan.