Teaching Science Without a Textbook Terri Wattawa

What do most people think of when “science” pops to mind? Lab coats, microscopes, rulers, fume hoods, and other lab equipment likely enter the front of most everyone’s imaginations when “science” crosses their consciousness.

Science is currently a nationwide standard by which students’ and schools’ comprehension and performance are compared to one another. However, science is far more than test tubes, metamorphosis, and chemistry. Rather – and not to say that science is not the body of knowledge schools educate kids with – science is a process of discovering facts, processes, and other phenomena here on planet Earth.

In the mid-1800’s, the basis for public education as Americans know it was laid by Horace Mann and colleagues. Modeled after once-thriving Prussia’s system of education, hallmarked by things like compulsory attendance, national standards to compare schools by, and final exams, this rigorous education system has led some modern teachers and parents to believe that educating students outside of school is paramount well-roundedness and originality.

So, what are some solid ways of teaching science, both to kids and young adults, without using a textbook?


Start up an ant farm

Ants are small, yet fascinating many times beyond their size. Many science teachers create formicaria, or ant farms, to demonstrate how systems of living organisms work together in teams.

Even if prospective students have already learned the basics of biology and ecology, the scientific process can still be shown to students.

Prior to building the ant farm, ask students what they think will happen. Will ants get along and work together, or might they fight one another until one ant stands victorious? If they do work together, how might they build a structure to live, if any?

Track students’ individual observations along the way. The most important part of science is to make sure students reliably form hypotheses after observing how ants work with one another – don’t forget.


Create a garden

Different places around the world can yield unique classes of plants. Even equatorial areas, which typically welcome most plants, can’t reliably house all organisms.

Plant various kinds of plants, label them, and track students’ predictions regarding which will thrive and which will perish. A garden can also be used to demonstrate how most organisms go through life cycles.