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Science Education


We believe that science education is all about helping students to develop their capacities of observation and thinking as tools for understanding and participating in the world. It is not primarily about conveying a body of past knowledge.

Since much science today is theory-driven, students often end up taking theories for the phenomena themselves. In the worst case, science becomes a theoretical edifice that one adheres to and everything is subsumed within its categories. It becomes a kind of world unto itself.


Embryologist Lewis Wolpert embraces the idea that science is a practice that drives toward abstraction: “the ideas that science generates and the way in which science is carried out are entirely counter-intuitive and against common sense... If something fits in with common sense it is almost certainly not science.” On this view, the more rigorous and true to its mission science becomes, the further away it takes us from immediate lived experience. Paradoxically, science then arrives at explanations of the world that are utterly disconnected from the world we inhabit.

students studying plants outdoors

At The Nature Institute we work to develop a science that is infused with a spirit that Francis Bacon, as a founding father of modern science, expresses when he writes, “man is but the servant and interpreter of nature: what he knows and what he does is only what he has observed of nature's order in fact or in thought; beyond this he knows nothing and can do nothing.”

Science education needs to begin with immersion in the phenomenal world and out of this immersion questions arise that guide further inquiry. Science education should be discovery-based and open ended. It's not about memorizing facts or theories. In this approach, nature is the expert, the teacher is the guide and students are the apprentices helped by the guide to learn from the expert. The knowledge that arises is not knowledge disconnected from human experience; rather, it enhances our ability to understand the world we live in.

To learn about our education programs, click here.

Staff publications

Exploring the Exploratorium in San Francisco”, by Henrike Holdrege. In Context #32 (Fall 2014).
Reflections on what a developmentally appropriate curriculum to effectively nourish children’s lifelong love of science learning would really look like, based on the author’s experiential observations at the Exploratorium, a highly-acclaimed “Museum for Science, Art, and Perception.”

Light in the Dark: A Classroom Demonstration”, by Henrike Holdrege. In Context #29 (Spring 2013).
Description of a simple demonstration for the classroom that can spark students’ reflections upon light, two types of darkness, and the dual role of matter as both that which appears and that which can block appearance.

Education and the Presence of the Unknown”, by Craig Holdrege. In Context #28 (Fall 2012).
Every student has an unknown future, full of potential. How can a teacher prepare individual students for such an unknown future? It requires that what they do not yet know should play a positive role in the life of both teacher and student as they work together to encourage a mutual unfolding of potential. Craig provides teachers with guidance here in crafting learning encounters for students – that is, opportunities to experience education as attentive exploration of the world and to participate in how living science unfolds.

Phenomenon Illuminates Phenomenon”, by Craig Holdrege. In Context #26 (Fall 2011).
A guide for mediating discovery and surprise in science education through the powerful tool of comparison. This article shifts attention from the molecular level to that of common observation of the similarities and differences between phenomena – in this case, comparative observations of trees, and in particular the sugar maple and white oak.

Reality-Based Education in a Hyperreal Culture” by Craig Holdrege, 2015. Based on a talk given at the 2014 Techno-Utopia Teach-In in New York City. This article links to a video.

An Environmental Science Curriculum for Middle School” by Craig Holdrege, 2011. Prepared for the Detroit Waldorf School.

The Forming Tree” by Craig Holdrege. In Context #14, Fall, 2005

Learning to See Life: Developing the Goethean Approach to Science” by Craig Holdrege. Renewal, Fall 2005. This article gives a brief introduction to the Goethean approach in relation to science education.

Doing Goethean Science” by Craig Holdrege. Janus Head, Vol. 8.1, 2005

The Dynamic Heart and Circulation. Edited by Craig Holdrege (Fair Oaks, CA: AWSNA Publications, 151 pp.).
For more information about this book, click here.

The Art of Thinking” by Craig Holdrege. Renewal Part I, Fall 2001; Part II, Spring 2002.

Metamorphosis and Metamorphic Thinking” by Craig Holdrege. In Colloquium on Life Science and Environmental Studies, AWSNA Research Projects # 5, 2002.

Addressing Contemporary Issues in the High School: The Example of Human Cloning” by Craig Holdrege. Renewal Fall/Winter, 2000.

Science as Process or Dogma? The Case of the Peppered Moth by Craig Holdrege. Elemente der Naturwissenschaft, Vol. 70, 1999. A shorter version of this article appeared in Whole Earth Magazine.

The Farm in the Landscape: A Place-Based Ecology Course” by Craig Holdrege.

Impressing the Science out of Children by Steve Talbott. Chapter 13 of The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst.

The Work of Martin Wagenschein

The German physicist and educator Martin Wagenschein made an original and incisive contribution to science education. We have translated some of his writings. Click here to learn about Wagenschein and to find links to our translations.

Being on Earth

You will find on our website the full text of Being on Earth, published in 2006 by two physicists (Georg Maier and Stephen Edelglass) and a philosopher (Ronald Brady). This extremely valuable work explores the epistemological, aesthetic, social, moral, and educational aspects of a qualitative science -- that is, a science properly grounded in the irreducibly participative relation between human being and world.

Computers and Education

For a critical look at the role of computers in education, see our Information, Computers and Education page. For a more extensive set of commentaries, you can check out the "Education and Computers" entry in the topical index of our online NetFuture newsletter. There you will find a list of commentaries and articles by senior researcher, Stephen L. Talbott.

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