Are Your Kids Learning Science Through Explicit or Tacit Knowledge?

Knowledge as iceberg
Knowledge as iceberg (Photo credit: mars_discovery_district)
by Dr Rebecca Keller

An important consideration in selecting a homeschool science curriculum is the framework upon which it is based.

Most often, traditional curriculum uses a tacit knowledge approach. Educational research has shown that teaching kids using a combination of tacit and explicit knowledge provides the deepest comprehension.

Let's explore this concept a bit further by defining the difference between explicit and tacit knowledge and considering how it affects a child's learning experience.

The Difference Between Explicit and Tacit Knowledge

Explicit knowledge is systematic; it can be expressed in and communicated via words, numbers, data, a scientific formula or based on universal principles which are easily understood. Explicit knowledge is easy to characterize and share but it is shallow, representing only a small portion of that which can be learned. Explicit knowledge is the type of learning most often provided by textbooks, such as picture of a periodic table or a written explanation of a chemical reaction.

Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, isn't so easy to share or record. It is based on personal experience and considered highly subjective. Tacit knowledge is usually invisible and requires framing within a personal context. It relies on thoughts, wisdom, aptitude, beliefs, perspectives and other intangibles. Tacit knowledge helps students understand complex relationships.

Here's a simple way to think about explicit and tacit knowledge. When learning to drive a car, there's only so much you can learn by reading a manual (explicit knowledge). In order to drive, you must have some time behind the wheel getting used to the "feel" of the vehicle, learning how to respond to obstacles and understanding that objects in the side mirrors are closer than they appear (tacit knowledge).

Why Kids Need to Learn Tacit Knowledge About Science

Kids in the homeschool classroom come with all sorts of preconceived notions about science. They are not blank slates, wiped clean and ready to memorize information found in a textbook. They've already formed opinions based on information they've experienced directly or that which others have told them to be true. Often these preconceptions are, in fact, false.

It is the job of science class, then, to provide learning that takes those preconceptions and tests them against how the real world really works. Students make decisions and predict the accuracy of events based on relevant knowledge so it's important that the knowledge they do have is as accurate as possible.

Facilitating change in existing beliefs works best when students are provided opportunities to learn both explicit and tacit knowledge. There's nothing wrong with teaching kids science from a textbook but in order to really "get it" - in order to correlate that new information with other situations and future circumstances - students need to be given the opportunity to learn tacitly, as well.

One of the best and most efficient ways to provide tacit learning is by incorporating lots of hands-on experimentation in science class. Help your kids learn how to think about science and how to process the information they observe so they make a mental connection with the material which actually becomes a physical change in the brain.

When you are looking for homeschool science curriculum for your kids, pay attention to the ratio of explicit and tacit knowledge contained with the material. Science courses should place a strong emphasis on experimentation.

For best results, it should also help your kids make cognitive connection between science and other topics they are studying, such as language, math and even "fun" subjects like music. This learning methodology helps your kids gain a competitive advantage both now and in future endeavors.

Real Science-4-Kids frames science in a way that encourages kids to examine opposing models. To find out more about our books, check out our website. You can see the full text of all our books online for free, so you can decide for yourself if our books are the back-to-school science books you want for your child.

Find out more about the worldview neutral Real Science 4 Kids curriculum created by Dr. Rebecca Keller, herself a homeschool mom, and other home school teaching resources on our Real Science blog.

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