I find it a bit of a mild tragedy that we as students don’t get to feel the joy of discovery while learning new scientific concepts. Classrooms talk about DNA, magnetism, electricity, gravitation, chemistry, and evolution as if they are mundane things. Ideas are introduced, but rarely is there any sort of “discovery” by the students. Instead, the information is clearly meted out in logical sections with almost no flair.
Imagine if you’re reading a book that is typeset in all capitals with very little spacing between lines. No matter how amazing the book is, it will be difficult for a person to get engaged. This is why books aren’t made like that. They are designed carefully so that you don’t experience any drawbacks from the book itself, allowing you to enjoy the words within.
In this same way, I feel like many classes are poorly designed to stimulate student enjoyment. I’m not saying that science and mathematics classes need to be the highlight of every day for each student, but I’m saying there’s probably a slightly more exciting way to deliver information instead of spoon-feeding it to them in class lectures every single day.
I’ve written about this before, but students can be given bits of context to situate themselves in whatever they are learning. Answers to questions that are a bit more deeper, such as “Why did people care about this when it was first discovered?” instead of “Why am I learning this?”, can be helpful to giving students an appreciation of science and how it was developed throughout history. As I look back at my lessons on history, the only time I’ve learnt about scientific history is during brief snippets from my various science teachers, and those were rare. I think if those moments were shared more, I could gain a much deeper appreciation for why a scientific idea is important.
Additionally, most science classes follow the same tried-and-true formula: lecture with notes, homework, test, final exam. Each day is a new lecture, and the students are expected to take notes and absorb the information as it is handed to them. In this scheme, it’s easy to push productivity. A teacher simply needs to write more on the board in a given lecture, while minimizing questions. The problem with this, however, is that the class is reduced to a mere transcription of information. The students aren’t necessarily learning, they’re just absorbing. In my mind, learning happens when one is engaged, and there’s no better engagement than discovering something. After all, that’s the dream of basically every science student. Why shouldn’t we harness this to good use in classrooms?
I envision it working something like this. Students don’t get the full results. They get bits and pieces, and the teacher has to get them to think. What do these two bits of information suggest? What if we look at them in this way? By gently prodding the thought process of students in one direction or another, we can get them to think and deduce in place of just absorbing new information.
As I get older and continue my studies, I fear that I’ve lost many opportunities when I was younger to discover surprising truths about science. I don’t want to be a sponge that soaks up new information. I want to be the detective that takes in new information, thinks about it, and uses hunches to get new results. I believe this can be stimulated by having students discover more things in the classroom. Yes, it isn’t going to help the productivity of the class. But it will give them the tools to think, which is a big part of what science is all about.