Science in the Classical Curriculum


Susan Wise Bauer

Copyright 2000 by the author.  Please do not reproduce.  This material is adapted in part from The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, which contains much more information on this topic.

Grammar-stage science:

What are your goals?
– Arouse enthusiasm and satisfy natural curiosity
– Accustom child to reading and writing as a method of discovery
–  Teach child how to observe carefully
(this isn’t natural as observation is – you use this also)
(don’t do lots of experiments: at this age, it is frustrating.
– Show science to be a coherent field of study with its own rules
(schools use the spiral approach, six weeks of this, six weeks of that, which is great for a skill but NOT for a content area!  Science is, slightly, on the border between the two.)
– Introduce child to the vocabulary of science

What is your method?
–  Study those aspects of science which the child finds naturally interesting
–  Read about each subject; write briefly
–  Focus on observation-centered study (NOT deduction-based study)
–  Use a science “spine” that concentrates the child’s attention on a single area
–  Find a program which uses, and explains, proper vocabulary

What do you require of the child?
– Concentration for 15 minutes to 45 minutes at a time
–  Reading of 1 paragraph to 2 pages on a scientific topic
– Writing of 1 sentence to two paragraphs in summary
–  Proper use and spelling of vocabulary

Logic-stage science

What are your goals?
– Teach the proper use of the scientific method
– Teach the limits and biases of the scientific method
–  Accustom child to proper record-keeping methods
–  Lead child into an understanding of the goals and limits of each scientific field
– Teach child to follow a logical progression of thought

What is your method?
– Focus on one field of study long enough to learn its procedures
– Use a curriculum that focuses on experimentation and deduction
–  Require proper record-keeping:
1.  What question am I trying to answer?
2.  What could the answer be?
3.  How will I test this answer?
4.  What result did I get?
5.  Does this agree with the answer I thought I would get?  If not, what
answer should I give instead?
– Teach child to question the basic assumptions of the text
– Use multiple sources
–  Look for logical fallacies and presuppositions.

What do you require of the child?
Require child to read more than one source
–  Ask child to outline material and look for logical fallacies

Rhetoric-stage science

What are your goals?
-Instill a technical knowledge of the scientific disciplines
-Help the student understand science as a “human endeavor”
-Put science into its historical and social context
-Use science as a way to discuss ideas

What is your method?
-Use a technically thorough, upper-level science text
-Pursue an outside course of “science reading” in chronological order
-Discuss the philosophical issues raised by each field of science
-Trace the development of technology through history
-Question the “facts.”   Always ask: why did this idea arise now?
What do you require of the child?
-Diligent mastery of the technical aspects of science
-Outside reading in the “great texts” of science
-Regular 2-4 page papers summarizing the lives and historical settings of
-Research projects tracing the development of particular ideas and technologies
-An attitude of healthy skepticism.

Go back to the Well Trained Mind Home page  or Workshops and Handouts page.


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