PULLMAN, Wash.–Teachers find science is the near-perfect vehicle to help children develop their thinking skills, Washington State University Teaching and Learning faculty member Lynda (Hatch) Paznokas told an audience today (Wednesday).

“In no other activity are children quite so open and questioning, quite so willing to express their feelings and their thoughts. Children are naturally curious about their environment,” Paznokas said. “They observe and openly seek to understand what they see. As teachers, we must preserve this sense of wonder.”

Paznokas, a Boeing Distinguished Professor of Science Education, presented a talk, “Preparing Teachers to Instill the Wonder of Science in Children” as the university’s 2002 Marian E. Smith Faculty Achievement Award winner. She earned the major faculty recognition for her impact on WSU students who are already science teachers or who will teach elementary science.

Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of looking at the world. Science was created by humans to predict and explain events and phenomena. These explanations are dependent upon the ideas, or more formally, the theories that scientists have developed that are consistent with observations, she reminded the group.

“Elementary science is the key to the basics because science promotes the development of the thinking skills, learning processes and positive attitudes required for lifelong learning,” Paznokas said.

But she said unless society prepares youth to understand science, the United States is in danger of becoming a nation of two cultures, one empowered with scientific knowledge and the other at its mercy.

She has helped revise the university’s elementary science teaching methods courses, transforming and elevating a major component of the WSU elementary teacher education program.

“Learning is more meaningful and lasting if inquiry-based instruction is used. Children need to be given opportunities to ask questions, explore materials, gather data, come to conclusions and discuss results,” Paznokas said.

In her Teaching Elementary Science course, students learn that their job is to “instill the wonder of science in children.”

“They must do this with all children, as stated in the Vision of the National Science Education Standards: ‘All students, regardless of age, gender, cultural or ethnic background, disabilities, aspirations, or interest and motivation in science, should have the opportunity to attain high levels of scientific literacy.’”

Paznokas has helped create WSU student-centered science education laboratories, a science education classroom, an outdoor education program and a science education course for the university’s new Masters in Teaching degree. A member of the WSU faculty since 1999, she is a WSU graduate. Her master’s degree is from Portland State University and her doctoral degree is from Oregon State University.

The Smith award is given annually to recognize significant and meritorious achievement in teaching.