Notes From a Science Teacher
I have taught science to elementary and junior high students for over a decade, and Astronomy For Thinkers is my attempt to share some of what I've done in Astronomy. Over the years, I have created a number of useful teaching aids, and I have placed some of these in my download section. I also have a certain philosophical point of view about science education, and a certain method of approach, which I would like to add to the discussion. I try to synopsize my point of view below, and you can get a sense of it in my first two articles Science Indoctrination and Playground Astronomy. I have also written quite a pile of curricular material using my method of approach, and I hope to gradually draft this material into a more organized set of lesson plans and make it available here in the future.
The content here is aimed primarily at science educators, especially homeschool teachers who may be interested in helpful material. But I hope that it will be of interest to any amateur star-gazer or astronomy enthusiast who enjoys the beauty in the sky, and to any parent, aunt, coach, or teacher, who wants to share that beauty with a child. This website was launched in March, 2019, and I expect it to grow gradually over the next couple of years.
A Little Bit of Philosophy
In a word, I think science education should be rational. I think that one of the primary goals of education is to teach children how to speak, write, and think clearly. And Science is supposed to be the shining example of the power of thinking in human civilization — of the power of intelligent inquiry, evidence, and reason in human life on earth. Children should be taught science not only as a way of making them aware of how the world works, but just as importantly, as a way of making them aware of how thinking works, and the great power that you gain by thinking well. Science education should help children learn how to think in an orderly way, starting from objective clues or "evidence", and following steps that make sense.
I don't expect many people would disagree with this. I imagine many science educators share similar goals. But I don't think that the way most science educators are going about education is producing these results. I think children should be taught to think in the same way they are taught any other skill — by being shown how to do it, and by being coached as they practice it. Children should not be "taught" science by unsubstantiated assertions about invisible things. Children should learn science by getting to see many examples of good thinking in the discovery of scientific truths from evidence. They should see examples of how to notice interesting patterns, how to ask sensible questions, and how to go about trying to answer the questions. In the case of astronomy, a child's education should start with numerous first-hand observations of his own sky, with simple logical arguments based on those observations, and build in a systematic way from the obvious and curious observations in the world around us to our modern grasp of our place in the universe. The historical development of science can be an enormous help here. I don't think that teachers should attempt to re-create the entire journey of discovery by which mankind rose from complete ignorance, through thousands of years of mental effort, to an understanding of the smallest atoms and the farthest galaxies. But children should at least witness the major steps of the journey, they should see that it was a journey, and they should see that all valid knowledge came from observation and careful work. (And I find, to my fascination, that children often have the same questions that original scientists and critics of scientists had. Rather than ignoring ancient points of view — like the theory of the four elements or of the geocentric universe — because they are now "outdated", and we now "know better", these questions and puzzles of early scientists should be accepted as plausible and questioned. It’s fun and natural to chew things through, as long as you start from things that a child can actually see and ponder and find interesting, instead of starting from what we "now know" as given facts.)
I’m trying to show students the main storyline, the line of reasoning, by which we found out about science. Rather than just "teaching" the facts that students should believe, I'm trying to show students how to judge whether a belief makes sense or not, and to understand why we believe what we believe.
If you would like to support the growth of this website, one of the best ways you could help would be to tell other people. Tell your friends, children, parents, teachers, and anyone else with an interest in astronomy or education. You can also use the "share" buttons at the bottom of any page to email a link or to share a page with your friends and followers on social media. I have started a Facebook Page, where I will make announcements about what I'm working on or recent additions to the website. This website is written, funded, and maintained entirely by myself, and I am looking into a number of ways that supporters could provide financial support to help keep it alive and growing. I am currently experimenting with ads and affiliate links, and one way you can support the site is by visiting my advertisers and sponsors. You could also help support me by buying stuff from me, through my recently opened Etsy Store. There are only a few items for sale so far, but I have several more in the pipeline. If you are feeling particularly generous and simply want to contribute financially, you can also buy me a coffee!.
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