Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Phronesis: Children's Local Rural Knowledge of Science and Engineering

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Phronesis: Children's Local Rural Knowledge of Science and Engineering

Article excerpt

This study analyzes videotaped interviews and 407 photographs taken by 20 grade 5 and 6 students in rural New York State to document their science and engineering learning. Aristotle's concept of phronesis or practical wisdom frames the findings and their implications. Key findings indicate that: 1) All 20 children found examples of science and engineering; 2) The children learned by observing or doing or both; 3) The children learned from family members, particularly parents and grandparents; 4) These 20 children learned numerous science and engineering concepts by participating in activities associated with their daily lives; and 5) Only when directly probed did students make explicit connections between what they learned outside school in their local environments and what they learned in the science classroom. These findings point to the need to anchor the teaching and learning of science and engineering in the students' experiential habitat; thus, bridging the gap between children's local knowledge and global science.

Instances of science and engineering are normal and frequent in rural life. Whether on the farm, working with the hydraulic system of a tractor, or in the backyard tinkering with old car parts, children in rural settings acquire science and engineering skills and knowledge in the context of their daily lives. Arguably, rural settings may offer greater opportunities for experiential learning of science and engineering because of the outdoor and rural nature of the children's habitat and the expectation from their families for their contribution in terms of day-to-day chores. Therefore, this source of learning enables a significant opening for linking the teaching of science and engineering with children's everyday experience. This study explores how the life experiences of these children, primarily outside of school, ultimately contribute to their learning of science and engineering at school. Using interviews with fifth- and sixth-grade students in a high-need rural school in upstate New York and photo documentation by these children, we illustrate their experiences of learning science and Engineeringengineering. Our findings suggest that within this low-income rural context, children learn science and engineering through engaged observation and doing. Aristotle's concept of phronesis frames our findings and points to the need to anchor learning of science and engineering in experiential knowledge.

This study is timely. As pressures mount to increase the number of scientists and engineers cultivated in the United States, the nation is increasing its focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in K-12 school settings. Organizations like the National Research Council (NRC, 2000) and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE, 2008) are calling on colleges and universities and on professional and technical societies to rethink how science and engineering have been portrayed in society and to create new and better methods to teach and learn science-and particularly engineering-in elementary and secondary school classrooms. We see this new focus as a unique opportunity to build on the science and engineering foundations children have developed in their local environments by bridging the gap between what children already know and the required science curricula. However, rather than merely infusing tidbits of children's local knowledge into existing curricula when time permits during the school year, we suggest a more robust and nuanced approach that positions rural children's funds of knowledge at the epicenter of their science education.

According to Dr. Christine Cunningham, founder and director of the internationally recognized Engineering is Elementary Curriculum at the Boston Museum of Science (Hu, 2010, p. 1), "[Children] are born engineers - they naturally want to solve problems - and we tend to educate it out of them." The national and New York State science standards for elementary (K-4) and intermediate grades (5-8) are rich with content that lends itself particularly well to the teaching of engineering (Analysis, Inquiry and Engineering Design Standards) and the use of local context for teaching and learning science (Living Environment, Physical Setting Standards) (NRC, 2000). …

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