Twenty-first century children are entering a world filled with complex technological wonders that allow them to communicate with people across the globe in seconds, have vast storehouses of information, literally, at their finger tips, and look forward to a future where machines will be able to perform highly sophisticated functions previously delegated to human efforts. At the same time, understanding how things actually work, both simple and complex, falls outside the grasp of most human beings inhabiting our planet today.
Children now require a new approach to teaching science that is at one and the same time both innovative and classical. As study after study has shown, children are less and less able to sit for long periods of time being passive listeners. These future citizens of the world need and demand activity from their teachers. To meet the complexity of the world and to succeed in a society whose constant will be rapid change, they need to be taught different ways of thinking and they need opportunities to exercise these capacities.
The word science comes from the Latin scientia, which means knowledge derived from observation. In Waldorf schools, students learn science through a phenomenological approach that demands that students fine-tune their observational skills while actively discovering the patterns and laws that govern different phenomena. They participate first hand in the process of discovery through experience and are only then led beyond their observational experience to discover the concepts and laws that stand behind phenomena and connect them.
This approach to innovation and discovery models the process that has been used by great scientists throughout history such a Newton, Galileo, Goethe, Einstein, and more recently Jane Goodall and Stephen Hawking. By participating in science through observational discovery students are able to make active connections that mean stepping outside of their personal likes and dislikes to begin to penetrate the truth of the phenomena itself. It provides them with the opportunity to increase their capacity, the confidence to understand the world they live in, and the ability to exercise synthetic and analytic thinking and know which is which. In short, they learn to become conscious of the world in new and increasingly penetrating ways and, at the same time, become conscious of their own thinking about that world. Such individuals have the potential to make the discoveries yet to come and to be the human beings we will need as stewards of our global future.