It seems to me that STEM educators have become way too obsessed with computers and technology. While I agree that high-tech innovation is vital and exciting, I think so much emphasis is being placed on applied science that it comes at the expense of natural science. Throughout history, the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills necessary for success in scientific fields has never required nor relied on computers or technology. That’s why I like The Private Eye because it’s such a refreshing approach to studying the world around us, hearkening back to the scientists and philosophers of old.
The Private Eye: A Guide to Developing the Interdisciplinary Mind, by Kerry Ruef, takes the reader on a journey of discovery that combines the scientific method with creative thinking. The curriculum is basically all about examining objects and recording your observations – using logic to describe and make sense of natural phenomena – and integrating that scientific understanding across multiple disciplines. The book itself is a collage of information, photos, drawings, quotations, and poetry.
An amateur naturalist and former classroom teacher, Ruef conceived of The Private Eye program when she began seeking the habits of mind that are common denominators to writers, artists, scientists, mathematicians, and social scientists. Then Ruef arrived at a theory, which she encapsulated in an original, hands-on strategy for looking closely at the world and thinking by analogy.
Analogical thinking dominates scientific thought. It’s what we do when we make comparisons and find similarities between dissimilar things, or use our knowledge of one subject to bring meaning to another. The world of science and invention from machinery to biology is filled with discoveries made through analogy. Velcro, for instance, was developed after Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral took notice of the hooks on a burr.
The Private Eye program develops scientific literacy through close observation, looking for patterns, altering our sense of scale, and making connections. Students learn how to observe, classify, analyze – all the science process skills – but they also learn how to think creatively, visually, and poetically. The hands-on activities and basic sequence are designed to develop the interdisciplinary mind with concentration, problem solving, and communication skills. The author leads the reader through the creative process, quoting writers and scientists, and presenting solid scientific research.
The only tool needed for use with this program is an inexpensive 5X jeweler’s loupe (pronounced “loop”). The 5X stands for five power, which is a magnification of five times actual size. Hold it up to your eye with the wide end against your face, close your other eye to block out the rest of the world, focus on an object and concentrate on what you see. Two loupes can be nested together for 10X magnification. (Or if you’re into mineral collecting, the ideal magnification is 10X, but you don’t want to go any higher than that.) You’ll learn more with a simple loupe than with any other scientific instrument, and it costs less than any other piece of science equipment.
Used by preschoolers and Ph.D.’s alike, the loupe is like a little microscope that fits in your pocket, so it can be taken easily outdoors and back inside. The loupe can bring the world to the classroom – just a few small representative objects can transport you to the beach, woods, garden, pond, etc. Or you can take the loupe along with you on your outdoor nature walks. The open-ended explorations of looking closely at natural structures (leaf veins, for example) have applications in science, art, math, and language arts.
The Private Eye program is an instant curriculum – no high-tech equipment needed! It’s suitable for all levels, kindergarten through college and beyond. This program has been praised by homeschoolers, public school teachers, university professors, and life long learners. It works particularly well with the Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf, and unschooling methods of learning. The author says that using this technique will help prepare you for the “Analogy” section of the SAT, train you in the heightened visual sensitivity of an artist, and help break down stereotypical habits of mind.
For more information, read The Private Eye: A Guide to Developing the Interdisciplinary Mind by Kerry Ruef, or visit the author’s website at www.the-private-eye.com. The author also recommends The Powers of Ten flipbook or video as an introduction to the idea of changing scale. Starting at a picnic by the lake, this famous film transports you out of the edges of the universe and into the micro-world of cells, molecules, and atoms.
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