“The world is awash with high school and college students who know the content of their science text books but can’t think their way out of a paper bag. That’s not what grad schools want, that’s not what labs want and that’s not what makes for an informed citizenry. In science teaching, we should spend considerable time allowing students to discover ideas themselves. This process trains students to ask the right questions and to figure out how to answer them. While time constraints won’t allow us to do that in the purest sense, discovery has to be much of what we teach, because discovery is what science is about.
“In a Putney science classroom you’ll find some students on track for Ph.Ds from Ivy League institutions, some students struggling to keep their nostrils above water, and most students somewhere in the middle. Often a teacher is preoccupied meeting the needs of the brilliant and the struggling. These are wonderful and rewarding students to teach, but we can’t ignore the middle. Here, with focused attention, that large group, who often specialize in not drawing attention to themselves, can’t help but reveal their thoughts. They may not realize that they are ready to take flight scientifically, but eventually they emerge. They learn to ask scientific questions independently and to structure the pursuit of satisfying answers. At Putney, we teach our students how to do science. They won’t get stuck in paper bags.”