19th of January 2021
Children are naturally active learners - they have a strong tendency to explore, test, and experiment.
The traditional view of learning is that there is someone with higher cognitive abilities, with more knowledge, and professional skills. That someone, often a teacher, shares the expertise for less capable learners, usually children, by telling, describing, and demonstrating. Children are seen as passive receivers of knowledge, almost like vessels into which knowledge can be poured.
Instead, we know that children are naturally active learners - they have a strong tendency to explore, test, and experiment how the world around them functions. Knowledge needs to be built on experiences. These experiences benefit emotional engagement, and they require tactile, hands-on learning in various learning environments. Children are not totally blank slates, but they have very sophisticated ideas about the reality they have constructed in different everyday situations.
We want children to become producers of knowledge and meaning.
If we want to raise children to become the problem-solvers and creative thinkers that future society needs, we can not make children sit down and absorb knowledge. We want children to become producers of knowledge and meaning. For young children, the natural way to produce meaning is by playing.
If we give up feeding children with ready-ground knowledge and allow them to construct understanding with their peers through play, we can raise future citizens who have the capability, creativity and cooperation skills that the very blurry future with its yet undefined challenges require.
“Every invention, whether large or small, before being implemented, embodied in reality, was held together by the imagination alone.” -Théodule-Armand Ribot
So, how do we use play and imagination to teach?
Imagination often feels like it’s at odds with (ominous voice) science. Imagination is messy. It's the unknown. Science is clean, following directions, and memorizing facts on flashcards, right?
Not so much. And don’t get us started on flashcards.
Imagination, as Ribot says, is where invention and creativity come from. Everything, before it was made real, was imaginary. By tying science and art into one activity, we blend science and play in an engaging, learning-friendly format. We also establish that the goal of science is to explore the unknown and learn new things.
Introducing imagination play and artistic concepts into science education can not only improve recall in the students (seems important, right?), but we can increase enthusiasm (a win-win, I believe it’s called). If we can make students more enthused about their science education, it stands to reason that they’ll learn better, faster, right?
With that in mind, here are a few ways to include art in your science education.
A story helps children recall their activities, and it provides meaning and purpose to their actions and experiments. At Kide Science, all of our lessons are designed to help a magical robot and his friends solve the mysterious problems that they encounter. They describe a problem, and students find the answers to help them out.
This structure, or scaffolding, helps students not only to learn individual lessons and skills, but contextualize their learning as well. It also provides a why to the activity. You’re not just learning about refraction of light (zzzzz for kids), you’re helping a lost robot make his way home.
We highly recommend the use of “dramatic objects,” or items that you can include in lessons to further help students realize that they’re not just just kids doing science, they are little scientists. We like to use safety goggles and lab coats (this also makes for a great photo opp for parents, btw), and depending on your child’s fine motor skills, you can include things like pipettes and beakers as well. Measuring cups and straws can serve the same purposes. There’s a bonus if you’re working with multiple learners — these objects can encourage students to treat each other like scientists, and lean on each other to share observations, questions, and ideas.
Asking students to recall what they did doesn’t just help them remember, but it can help trigger emotional responses; they remember what went well, what didn’t, and imagine what they might do differently next time. I’m sure it’s not news that the kids like to share what they’ve done — turns out, sharing also helps them make connections and think more deeply about not only what they’ve done, but the possibilities for the future. If that’s not the goal of imagination, I don’t know what is.