An Interview with Dr. Jay Wile
Science in the Beginning
I had the terrific opportunity to spend some time speaking with Dr. Jay Wile, author of the newly released Science in the Beginning. I am excited to share with you a bit about him and his new elementary science curriculum.
HEDUA: Dr. Wile, would you share with our readers a little of your background in science? And, did you anticipate writing science curriculum early on?
Dr. Wile: I received a Ph.D. in Nuclear Chemistry from the University of Rochester. I was following the professor track with some post doctoral work and then faculty positions at Indiana University and Ball State University. As I was teaching, I began meeting students who were head and shoulders above the rest. I found out they had been educated at home. At the time, I didn’t know anything about home education, so I began researching it. Research showed that students educated at home were better prepared for university than their publicly or privately educated counterparts. That led me to begin writing homeschool curriculum in 1994.
HEDUA: Your original curriculum was for high school students. How did you come to decide to begin at that level?
Dr. Wile: Back in the 1990s, the big concern in home education was high school math and science. I wanted to write a curriculum that was homeschool friendly, meaning it needed to explain everything and use household items for experiments. I didn’t write the high school curriculum because it was necessarily needed–students were already well-prepared for university. My main goal writing it was to help make parents more comfortable keeping their students home through the high school level. My experience and the research showed that was the best way to educate the average student.
Science for Elementary Students
HEDUA: This new curriculum is for elementary students. What led you to write at that level currently?
Dr. Wile: I’ve written for high school and middle school levels, and there’s not much more I can add. I originally didn’t think I could write for elementary. But, as I spoke with some brothers and sisters in Christ, I began thinking about it. In high school classes, the focus is on content–balancing an equation or knowing the difference between a base and an acid, etc. In elementary science, it’s less content focused and more process focused. Not getting to know certain facts, but getting students to be inquisitive and to learn in a scientific way.
In older grades, one week of lessons might have 1 or 2 experiments. In my elementary curriculum every lesson includes an experiment or something hands on. This draws students’ interest. It also gets them used to the idea that we learn about science by experimenting and trying different parameters. They learn that the original philosophers just thought about how things worked. The scientific revolution began when these ideas were tested by experiments.
Science and Worldview
HEDUA: How does your personal worldview shape your writing for this curriculum?
Dr. Wile: Believing that God created everything shapes how a scientist looks at nature. If one thinks nature fell together randomly as result of standard laws, you’ll expect things to be roughshod and haphazard, giving one a simplistic view of nature. However, when we believe that Almighty God created things, we expect things to be complicated, intertwined, and interrelated. This fundamentally affects how you view science and teach it. Because I am a Christian and a young earth creationist, Genesis 1 is an important starting point for science. So, my curriculum uses that to guide an introduction of the basic process of science.
HEDUA: What is your goal with teaching with that perspective? Is it to shape students’ hearts and viewpoint?
Dr. Wile: My goal is to teach science the best way possible. Since science is studying what God created, the best way to teach science is in the context of the creationist view. Since God gives us a poetic account and gorgeous outline of what he created in six days in Genesis, it only makes sense to introduce science that way.
HEDUA: Teaching science in the context of history is very unique. How did you arrive at that plan for your books?
Dr. Wile: I didn’t start out that way. I really thought I was writing one book in the context of the six days of creation. I even considered a series using the creation account and studying a day each year but was afraid that would get boring quickly. So, over time, it came to me that since creation is the beginning of history, why not keep going? So, now I will write the series continuing through the ancient Greeks and work through history with scientific concepts as we learned them throughout history.
HEDUA: How do you decide which demonstrations or experiments to include? And, do you have any funny stories about experiments gone bad?
Dr. Wile: It is a challenge to come up with a wide variety of demonstrations for different concepts to be done at home. My curriculum teaches this in the context of a person and what he or she did to advance scientific knowledge in his or her time period, not a specific historical event. I research that person and his or her accomplishments. Then I look at what could be turned into a demonstration at home. In the end, I focus on content that lends itself to experiments.
Basically, I consider major points and how I can illustrate them. My wife, Kathleen, says she can always tell when things aren’t going well because I start talking to myself. As things begin going wrong, I start talking to myself and teaching myself out loud.
I have had a couple of real mishaps. One example was when I was trying to recreate a model of a parachute Leonardo da Vinci designed. I wasn’t using the right materials. I was trying to use pencils and really needed something lighter. I was trying to make this from Da Vinci’s design and then drop things from my second story window. Things ended up falling quickly to the deck below and my wife wondered who was beating up our deck! I’ve also ruined pots and pans by making something we can’t get off, or by heating things that shouldn’t be heated. Of course, those don’t end up in the book!
I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know Dr. Wile through this interview. We certainly enjoyed getting to know the man behind the books!