Why do kids love learning at a science centre?
Spark, the Calgary Science Centre, lets you in on some tips that will inspire your kids at home with Zack Anderson, Director of Youth Programs at Spark!
1. Let them lead
If you’re asking your child to build a roller coaster and they want to build a spaceship, let them. Students will get excited and learn more when they have a passion for the project. Their passion will elicit questions, which can then be explored with further investigations. And this, dear educators, is the fundamental basis of science.
We often say, "Replace sage on the stage with a guide on the side.” The greatest learning occurs when students have grabbed the reins and are trying things out themselves.
For example, take two routes to build a paper airplane. In one route, you give them the tools and let them try things out with gentle guidance (eg. I wonder what would happen if you tried different materials or I wonder if larger wings help a plane fly better?). In the other they follow instructions to build a plane. The former teaches problem solving and an understanding of aerodynamics, the latter teaches how to read instructions. The best lesson is usually in the process, not the product.
2. Teacher, take notes
Exploration of a particular subject often leads to more questions. Write them down! This is your fodder to go deeper and deeper, and this is what learning is all about. If you don’t write them down, you will forget them. Start a field journal where observations, conclusions, and new questions can be recorded. Maybe you have a whiteboard, or a blackboard, or, heavens, paper!
One of the greatest challenges for adult is resisting the urge to take over, to tell the students what to do, in order to help them achieve the final product. If you realize your main job is notetaker, it does two things: you can resist the temptation to take over, and you will find yourself gathering the very resources you need to be an excellent guide.
3. Questions are the goal
Science, at its core, is about asking and answering questions. Facts can be found anywhere (thank you, Google) but broader understandings are far more valuable than the memorization of facts. What it comes down to is that questions are the currency of science. It’s less about learning science and more about doing science!
4. Think of time differently
Being at a science centre creates an opportunity to get outside of the everyday routine. When students are really into something educators will look to flex the time. For example, if they are building a mini version of a town or painting their view out the window with water colours and are super-engaged there’s nothing wrong with extending the time in that area and moving onto something else another time. It never hurts to slow down. In learning it can be very valuable to take time to look deeper. Take the backyard for example….. It is just a backyard, but is it really? Are there any footprints in the snow? I wonder what made them? I wonder what they were doing when they made them? What about the fence? Is there anything between the wood? If so what is it? How did it get there? You’ll be amazed how many questions will come up when you take the time to look at any subject more deeply. Those questions only beget more (good thing you have a field journal for gathering those questions J)
5. Creativity is crucial
Permission is granted to draw outside the lines, in fact, to remove the lines altogether, especially between subjects. Subjects are often taught by discipline in the classroom because it is an effective way to see if students understand specific concepts. A science centre, however, is not bound by those constraints. And that’s how the real world works! So mix art with biology, or creative writing with physics (interplanetary rap, anyone?). Not only do kids find it inspiring, you can teach the “whole” child in a way that helps them be the best versions of themselves. How do you do this? Work on projects rather than subjects.