Long before a child ever begins their formal education they are developing “personal ideas” about science in the physical world around them. Infants and toddlers begin their exploration of their surrounding world by observing, testing, and discovering – learning by using their available senses. One might even describe their propensity to do this as habitual, using their senses to test their surroundings as “little scientists” through day by day exploration while developing their skills in simple reasoning and inquiry.
I think that many of us as parents and educators continually underestimate a young child’s capacity to learn basic core ideas within science through their own conceptual understanding. After all, children have been exploring their physical world for many years before they come to us in the classroom. Whether it is stacking blocks, learning how to talk, or even learning how to balance and walk, children begin to develop an intuitive understanding of how the world “works” around them at a very early age. They do not approach learning in science as “empty vessels” but often come to the table with ideas of their own, sometimes quite intricate and robust due to repetitive personal reinforcement.
As parents and teachers, we need to be aware of these well-developed preconceptions and how they can affect the learning of abstract science concepts. But most of all we need to find different ways of fostering a child’s curiosity and enjoyment with a “constructivist eye” toward exploration to help develop a progression of science learning that children can use throughout their lifetime.
Part of my work with the AIMS Center is to carefully examine and understand the current research being done in science education involving how children approach learning science. It has been a fascinating look at a progression of ideas in science education from the constructivist viewpoint of childhood development provided by Jean Piaget to the current “melding” of disciplines within science education, cognitive psychology, and brain research. There is an exciting future in the direction of research within science education which I will continue to explore in future blog posts.