At Peregrine School, we try to imitate the actions of a professional in whatever discipline we are studying. This leads to active rather than passive learning. In science, we do the active work of scientists: we observe, record, communicate, question, experiment, analyze, reflect, compare our work to the findings of others, and do it all again.
Science is a major subject at Peregrine School for several reasons. Ours is a science-oriented community which values the kind of critical and creative thinking that science teaches. In addition, science is a perfect subject for project based learning, since it is all about inquiry and problem solving. And most importantly, science is fun for kids.
Science is a process.
Our goal is to engage students in the habits of mind of scientists, rather than to teach them facts that scientists have already discovered. What does this mean?
Young children are natural explorers, so preschool is a perfect time to expose children to the habits of mind of science. Science always starts with a real experience in the world: a plant, animal, rock, nature walk, garden exploration, or experiment in the classroom. From this experience, we challenge children to ask questions, to communicate what they see, to analyze and think clearly. Careful observation and record keeping is an important part of preschool science. Children draw what they see in the garden or classroom, and begin to label their drawings and make inferences about what they see. They communicate with each other, pool knowledge, and ask more questions.
What is the role of experts and expert knowledge in this process? Although we engage children through experience, the process of science involves going beyond experience into thought. That is why we find “real” scientists to teach science whenever we can. A scientist leads children in questioning and in thinking analytically, so that experience transforms into scientific investigation. Peregrine classrooms have science specialists from Primaria on, and sometimes in Escuelita as well.
What about things that cannot be investigated directly? Not everything that children need to learn about science can be explored directly. But the inquiry process we use at Peregrine School can be applied to bodies of information as well as to direct experience. It is a “habit of mind” which can transfer to anything. Even young children might watch a short science video or listen to a naturalist and learn to ask questions to find out what they want to know. Older students learn to develop their own questions and do their own research, using books, internet sources, and media. The point is that they remain the active investigator, even when they use existing knowledge sources. They ask the questions, dig for answers, question the validity of these answers, and share their inquiries with their learning community.
What about science for citizenship? Applied science is very important at Peregrine School, because it makes inquiry “real” and unforgettable. We create “educable, edible” landscapes at our schools, so that children can explore them casually in the schoolyard and beyond. They are the creators and husbanders of these landscapes, which teach them about both basic and applied science: how to conserve water and where their food comes from, for example.
Our foremost science applications at Peregrine School are enhancements of our own environment, creating gardens, compost piles, and solar ovens, among other things, which then become ongoing sources of inquiry. In addition, as children get older, we ask questions about science and industry in our world, and in some cases take actions beyond our school. Peregrine children have written a book about conserving vernal pools and sold it in bookstores downtown, have entered (and won) county poster contests about conserving water, and have participated in habitat restoration at Putah Creek.
Community service learning makes science real, and shows students that they are participators in their world just as they are active agents in their classrooms. That is the goal of science at Peregrine School: active participation and lifelong learning.