The Art of Teaching Part 3: Observation

Continuing the posts on teaching and art or the art in teaching or what have you I want to now focus on the second general topic I outlined back in the first post, Observation. Arguably this is the easiest for me to describe and transform into a curriculum based on its importance in the already established science curriculum.

The bigger problem is not with how it is taught but rather with what it has to compete with in the classroom. The problem with the current science curriculum is in the artificial selection of content material deemed important to master at arbitrary grade levels. My students get way too caught up with memorizing the properties and names of rock types to be able to focus in on the simple task of observing them.

My opinion on science is not a new one but it has become more empowered after being a science teacher. In my opinion the most important element of “science” is how to ask and begin to answer questions. The actual facts and figures are irrelevant unless you are studying the relevance specifically. By that I mean geology and the properties of rocks are extremely important when taking geology. But in middle school science (which right now prides itself on being a hybrid of all sciences) the most important aspects are those that help develop your ability to approach the more difficult concepts later on. Ultimately what I am trying to say is that middle school should be devoted to teaching you how to be a scientists. The facts about rocks and elements you will forget by high school, which ironically is completely okay because it is retaught in the curriculum anyway.

So therefore if the content is arbitrary let’s just get rid of it and continue to teach it in high school. This would free up middle school to focus on what are called the process skills necessary for approaching that higher level content. I would be really nice to teach the cell for the first time in high school with all it’s parts rather than introduce it in 6th grade but with the disclaimer that there are only 5 organelles you need to be responsible for knowing. I never really understood what kind of message that sends to our students.

So this brings me to what this course on observation would be. Observation would be the overall theme for the three years, but it wouldn’t be the only element. Making inferences, hypotheses, conclusions, and so on would also take a significant role in this class. In a way you could call it a class on the Scientific Method, but fundamentally it will be a class on observation. Keep in mind the original idea of my first post, much of what we teach specifically is arbitrarily taught at that time except for the skills needed to learn (arithmetic, learning to read and write, how to make observations, and similar elements of elementary school are not arbitrary in their timing). But at the end of the day the most important part of what makes our specifies capable of developing science is our ability to observe, and with that our ability to record and make inferences from those observations.

A class focused around observation would teach that process in all its glory and have at the periphery the content elements through which this process can be practiced and mastered. But unlike our state curriculum which holds as its measure of mastery an 8th grade CONTENT test, I would make the focus of science to be about the process and therefore you will master my middle school science class when you can demonstrate your ability to make observations, and through those observations record and analyze your data to ultimately make conclusions.




One response to “The Art of Teaching Part 3: Observation

  1. In a sense the same method is used in the social science with the things being observed expanded from natural objects, actions and processes to human objects, actions, processes and communications. This class could ask students to observe a Catholic Mass, a college graduation, a wedding ceremony, a jury trial or read an imperial edict or a play. The point is the student would be asked to make observations, inferences and formulate a hypothesis. The conclusions could be wildly off, but the point again is not to teach content but to teach the notion that all “things” need to be examined in a disciplined way. This, I think, would set the stage perfectly for High School as students would have honed the necessary skills to critically read both primary and secondary texts, to think about the importance of archeological materials and the role of sacred texts.

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