The Quiet Crisis in Science

I was recently part of a group invited to examine the education curriculum at a local university. Someone commented, “We could reduce the number of science and math classes – our teachers see science and math and they run.” I couldn’t help but blurt out, “How are the children ever going to learn to love math and science if their teachers don’t?”

As an environmental zoology major in graduate school, the segue to education was natural for me because Montessori is so science based, having been developed by a doctor of medicine. After I’d taught the typical early childhood curriculum for a couple of years and looked at the state core curriculum I developed an early childhood curriculum that progresses in logical order from the beginning of the school year to the end covering just about everything in the universe with a strong science basis. Bruce was developing the Lower and Upper Elementary programs at the same time and with his background as an engineer, the elementary curriculum also included a strong science base. Even our toddler classes have science incorporated into every day activities.

I was speaking at a school once on the importance of a strong science curriculum and said jokingly, “Dusty pinecones sitting on a shelf do not qualify as science curriculum!” I was mortified later that day to walk through the classrooms and see that they did have dusty pinecones sitting on a shelf where science activities should have been!  Since then I have noticed that most of the schools I observe do not have an adequate science curriculum.

The December 2011 issue of Scientific American quoted Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as saying, “A ‘quiet crisis’ in science training is threatening our nation’s energy security in the face of challenges such as global warming and the Fukushima nuclear disaster…Our performance on international tests and achievement in things like math and science is slipping… This is what I call the ‘quiet crisis’.”

In the meantime the country seems to be realizing this too. Last year I was happy to see that Sesame Street had started a campaign to emphasize science in their programming.  Scientific American recently launched three new websites to promote “Science for Everyone.”  These may be a great source of inspiration for snowy afternoons or school science projects – check them out.

Waseca is one of our favorite materials suppliers and is run by a Montessori teacher with a science background. She is known for sharing her curricula generously and offers this resource for teachers and parents;

This may be the best way to approach the problem – just spend more time at home with magnets, bubbles, Legos, cornstarch + water, vinegar + baking soda, ice + salt and anything else that might be an interesting experiment. In the classroom we have long lists of experiments to present every year but sometimes the best ones come from the child asking, “What would happen if I brought this giant block of ice inside?” “What would happen if I let this snowball melt on a coffee filter?”  “What would happen if I put this bean in a plastic bag with cotton balls and water?” In class we like to make predictions – “A dinosaur will eat the ice” “The ice will melt and the water will turn brown” – we write them down then check on the experiment daily to obtain our results.

Children are natural scientists. Help them set up their experiments and they may well become those precocious 15-year-olds whose class projects contribute to professional science. With a sound science background, these children will certainly be better equipped to tackle world issues of the future.

“We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.”
Dr. Maria Montessori

Duna Strachan, AMS
Executive Director
Soaring Wings International Montessori School
Park City, Utah USA

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