The third-graders looked puzzled when asked what they liked best about science. No answer.Then there is the inevitable NCLB excuse:
OK, then, next question: "What is science?" a visitor asked the children in a hallway at Bessie Carmichael Elementary School in San Francisco.
"Science is like art," said Manuel, 7, who let that cryptic response hang in the air as he ducked away.
He might have meant that both can open the heart to beauty. Or maybe he was saying that science, like art, is something students don't get much of these days in elementary school.
If it were the latter, a new survey of 923 Bay Area elementary school teachers would agree.
About 80 percent of those teachers said they spent less than an hour each week teaching science, according to researchers from the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley and from WestEd, an education think tank based in San Francisco.
In contrast, a national study seven years ago found elementary school science instruction averaged more than two hours per week, said Rena Dorph, the lead researcher on the new study.
"It's alarming because it's a very short amount of time per week dedicated to a subject that's considered a core subject in schools," said Dorph, who is director of the Center for Research, Evaluation and Assessment at the Lawrence Hall of Science.
Understanding science helps children learn to think and solve problems while questioning the world around them, Dorph said.
There is also evidence that people who go into scientific fields generally learned to love science as children, she said.
And as a practical matter, colleges require applicants to have taken science in high school.
"And how are you going to understand high school science if you haven't had it before fifth grade?" Dorph asked.
"The demands of No Child Left Behind have made it almost impossible to devote enough time to science," said Melinda Dart, a fourth-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary School in Daly City's Jefferson Elementary District.I thought NCLB now requires science teaching.
Part of the problem also seems to be poor teacher education:
-- Ten times as many teachers say they feel unprepared to teach science than feel unprepared to teach math or reading.This points to a fundamental problem with ed schools. Ed schools don't value academic knowledge and thus elementary teacher training consists mostly of moronic activities devoid of academic content. Once upon a time, teacher training institutions (so-called normal schools) were responsible for both academic knowledge and pedagogy. Ed schools went off the deep end when academic knowledge was divorced from pedagogy and pedagogy floating in a vacuum became their only responsibility. Lacking a meaningful purpose, ed schools needed to find ways to kill time. Vapid courses and frantic, mostly trivial activities were the answer.