We believe that science education is all about helping students to develop their capacities of observation and thinking as tools for understanding and participating in the world. It is not primarily about conveying a body of past knowledge.
Since much science today is theory-driven, students often end up taking theories for the phenomena themselves. In the worst case, science becomes a theoretical edifice that one adheres to and everything is subsumed within its categories. It becomes a kind of world unto itself.
Embryologist Lewis Wolpert embraces the idea that science is a practice that drives toward abstraction: “the ideas that science generates and the way in which science is carried out are entirely counter-intuitive and against common sense... If something fits in with common sense it is almost certainly not science.” On this view, the more rigorous and true to its mission science becomes, the further away it takes us from immediate lived experience. Paradoxically, science then arrives at explanations of the world that are utterly disconnected from the world we inhabit.
At The Nature Institute we work to develop a science that is infused with a spirit that Francis Bacon, as a founding father of modern science, expresses when he writes, “man is but the servant and interpreter of nature: what he knows and what he does is only what he has observed of nature's order in fact or in thought; beyond this he knows nothing and can do nothing.”
Science education needs to begin with immersion in the phenomenal world and out of this immersion questions arise that guide further inquiry. Science education should be discovery-based and open ended. It's not about memorizing facts or theories. In this approach, nature is the expert, the teacher is the guide and students are the apprentices helped by the guide to learn from the expert. The knowledge that arises is not knowledge disconnected from human experience; rather, it enhances our ability to understand the world we live in.
Educational Aids for Experiential Learning
“Diversity In Human Fossil History” by Craig Holdrege (2017). A hands-on teaching kit on human evolution, designed to bring evolutionary teaching into closer correspondence with the available evidences, which are never as neat as the textbook theories might suggest. The kit is described and made available here.
“An Environmental Science Curriculum for Middle School: Plants and Human Interactions” by Craig Holdrege (2011). Prepared for the Detroit Waldorf School. One of three courses in a curriculum-development project commissioned by the school that weaves together a phenomenological approach to science, environmental and social justice awareness, and service learning opportunities. This course presents detailed ideas and methods for teaching about and experiencing plants, food, and agriculture over the course of three one-week units for grades 6, 7, and 8.
“The Flaming Candle: Experiential Learning in the Fourth Grade” by Ueli Aeschlimann (2009). Aeschlimann, a professor of physics and physics education for lower school grades at the Bern Pedagogical University in Switzerland, describes here an example of teaching in the spirit of Martin Wagenschein (see below) that is designed especially with the developmental needs of fourth-graders in mind. The goal here is “not to teach chemistry in the fourth grade, but rather for the students to learn to observe closely, to ask questions, and to ponder these questions within a class discussion.”
Do Frogs Come From Tadpoles? Rethinking Origins in Development and Evolution by Craig Holdrege. Nature Institute Perspectives #5 (2017). Illustrated, 85 pages.
Through closely attending to the phenomena of amphibian development, author Craig Holdrege shows that evolution is in reality a creative process, and not simply the inevitable product of lifeless mechanisms. The result is a concrete example of how one can begin to understand, as well as teach, natural science in a truly holistic and living way. The booklet is based on three articles on the frog from In Context #33, 34, and 35. Accessibly written for general readers, educators, and older students. Click here for more information about this booklet.
“Exploring the Exploratorium in
by Henrike Holdrege. In Context #32 (Fall 2014).
Reflections on what a developmentally appropriate curriculum to effectively nourish children’s lifelong love of science learning would really look like, based on the author’s experiential observations at the Exploratorium, a highly-acclaimed “Museum for Science, Art, and Perception.”
“Light in the Dark: A Classroom
Demonstration” by Henrike Holdrege. In Context #29 (Spring 2013).
Description of a simple demonstration for the classroom that can spark students’ reflections upon light, two types of darkness, and the dual role of matter as both that which appears and that which can block appearance.
“Education and the Presence of
by Craig Holdrege. In Context #28 (Fall 2012).
Every student has an unknown future, full of potential. How can a teacher prepare individual students for such an unknown future? It requires that what they do not yet know should play a positive role in the life of both teacher and student as they work together to encourage a mutual unfolding of potential. Craig provides teachers with guidance here in crafting learning encounters for students – that is, opportunities to experience education as attentive exploration of the world and to participate in how living science unfolds.
by Craig Holdrege. In Context #26 (Fall 2011).
A guide for mediating discovery and surprise in science education through the powerful tool of comparison. This article shifts attention from the molecular level to that of common observation of the similarities and differences between phenomena – in this case, comparative observations of trees, and in particular the sugar maple and white oak.
“Reality-Based Education in a Hyperreal Culture” by Craig Holdrege (2015). Based on a talk given at the 2014 Techno-Utopia Teach-In in New York City. This article links to a video.
“The Forming Tree” by Craig Holdrege. In Context #14 (Fall 2005).
“Learning to See Life: Developing the Goethean Approach to Science” by Craig Holdrege. Renewal, (Fall 2005). This article gives a brief introduction to the Goethean approach in relation to science education.
“Doing Goethean Science” by Craig Holdrege. Janus Head, Vol. 8.1 (2005).
“The Art of Thinking” by Craig Holdrege. Renewal Part I (Fall 2001); Part II (Spring 2002).
“Metamorphosis and Metamorphic Thinking” by Craig Holdrege. In Colloquium on Life Science and Environmental Studies, AWSNA Research Projects # 5 (2002).
“Addressing Contemporary Issues in the High School: The Example of Human Cloning” by Craig Holdrege. Renewal (Fall/Winter 2000).
“Science as Process or Dogma? The Case of the Peppered Moth” by Craig Holdrege. Elemente der Naturwissenschaft, Vol. 70 (1999). A shorter version of this article appeared in Whole Earth Magazine.
“The Farm in the Landscape: A Place-Based Ecology Course” by Craig Holdrege.
“Impressing the Science out of Children” by Steve Talbott. Chapter 13 of The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst.
The Work of Martin Wagenschein
The German physicist and educator Martin Wagenschein made an original and incisive contribution to science education. We have translated some of his writings. Click here to learn about Wagenschein and to find links to our translations.
Being on Earth
You will find on our website the full text of Being on Earth, published in 2006 by two physicists (Georg Maier and Stephen Edelglass) and a philosopher (Ronald Brady). This extremely valuable work explores the epistemological, aesthetic, social, moral, and educational aspects of a qualitative science -- that is, a science properly grounded in the irreducibly participative relation between human being and world.
Computers and Education
For a critical look at the role of computers in education, see our Information, Computers, and Education page. For a more extensive set of commentaries, you can check out the "Education and Computers" entry in the topical index of our online NetFuture newsletter. There you will find a list of commentaries and articles by senior researcher, Stephen L. Talbott.