David Harriman, who created the science curriculum at the VanDamme Academy in California, has an excellent science course — head and shoulders above the rest — for sale on the site VanDamme Science, where they say:
At some point, [the teacher] gave us equations like this (Newton’s law of universal gravitation)—
F = G m1*m2/r^2
and had us plug them into some random problem sets, and then gave us a test. I never understood what these laws really meant, or how anyone came up with them, or why I should believe them. All I really knew about these equations was that they would be on the test.
The same thing happened when I “learned” about atoms. In first grade, I was shown a model and some pretty pictures of atoms, told that they had things called a nucleus, protons, neutrons, and electrons, and told that everything in the world was made up of them. How did scientists know about these complex things that I couldn’t see? I had no idea—just the teacher’s say-so. I was not learning—I was parroting. And I was parroting when I “learned” the periodic table, the nature of light, electricity, magnetism, and the other fundamentals of science. They were presented as random bolts from the blue— to be accepted blindly.
But there is another way to learn science—David Harriman’s way.
Mr. Harriman’s course is unlike any other because for every principle of science he teaches, he gives you the evidence that scientists themselves used to discover it. He teaches the essential principles of science, step-by-step, in the historical order in which they were discovered. For each new principle, he presents the observations and prior knowledge from which the principle was induced. Induction is the heart of the process of scientific discovery: it is the method of observing reality and, when one has sufficient evidence, generalizing into a scientific theory.
The result is an easily understandable, utterly fascinating account of the fundamentals of physical science.
Dr. Harriman has teamed up with a few other people to start Falling Apple Science, whose mission statement is:
We view our work as a crucial part of the foundation of a free and prosperous society. Such a society is composed of thinking individuals who have the confidence to choose and pursue their own rational values. The root of such confidence is not the individual’s ability to perform any specific task, but the basic conviction that his reasoning mind can deal successfully with the world around him—and this conviction gives rise to a spirit that does not willingly submit to a coercive authority.
A society that respects reason and science will respect the individual. Historically, it is not a coincidence that the United States, the country explicitly founded on the right of the individual to think for himself and act in accordance with his conclusions, was born in the century after the scientific revolution. Thomas Jefferson recognized the connection when he described freedom as “the first-born daughter of science.”
There is no better way to demonstrate to a young mind the power of reason—and to instill in that mind the confidence in its own power—than by teaching science and mathematics by the proper method.
Falling Apple Science also elaborates a bit on Dr. Harriman’s way of teaching science:
We believe there is no conflict between teaching content and teaching method; only the union of the two gives the child what he needs. …
We…[present] science as an integrated body of knowledge that is acquired by starting with observations and experiments and proceeding step-by-step to the proof of fundamental theories. In other words, we present the material inductively—by following the discovery processes of the scientists themselves.
There is a necessary logical order to the history of scientific discoveries. Nobody would claim that it is possible to understand calculus before grasping the principles of geometry and algebra. Similarly, one cannot develop modern genetics or immunology without chemistry, or understand modern chemistry without the atomic theory of matter, or prove the atomic theory without first grasping the basic principles of physics and scientific method. Each discovery was made possible by the previous discoveries. The history of science reveals the order in which the principles had to be learned, and therefore the order in which they should be taught.
The only way it should be done.
This has the feeling of geometric proof: rigorous, objective, sequenced, hard and real. And it has some aspects of great dance: clean, crisp, and lucid; made up of a sequence of parts that build upon one another and are unified by a common theme; clear in what it communicates; at the same time perceptual and abstract.