Monday, August 25, 2008

Dirty fingernails

Last year I focused on presenting science as story-telling within very specific rules. Some kids got a little unnerved when they realized much of what they learned was based on constructs, not direct observation.

We can't see electrons--why am I learning this @#*&% then?

I want to be a little more careful this year focusing on how we construct knowledge--Jacques Derrida would be proud--without losing most of my kids the first 23 minutes of the year.

A week ago Leslie and I kayaked out of the Delaware Bay into the Atlantic; while out there, two pods of dolphins passed us, close enough that we could hear them breathe. A translucent cabbage head jellyfish passed between us. Several skimmers flew by just inches above the water.

Yesterday a young dolphin surprised us, unexpectedly snorting next to us. (A dolphin snort sounds like a horse suppressing a sneeze.)

Language cannot adequately describe immersion in the outdoors. Photographs cannot capture the enormity.

Science will never completely unveil the universe. (Even attempting to “unveil the universe” belies an internal contradiction; it's like trying to imagine the Big Bang by looking at if from the “outside”--can't be done).

Scientific models can, however, create an even deeper sense of mystery of our universe than just observing without putting pieces together.

I need a way to get my students to get a sense of the limits of science without making them cynics, not easy to do in a culture that thrives on magical thinking.


Classes start a week from Wednesday. I need a hook. I'm open to suggestions.

I might give each student a small pot and ask them to find a "baby" tree--this time of year they are all over the place. Mimosas, maples, and oaks, grabbing as much sunlight as they can to survive the first New Jersey winter.

Go out, find a tree.

Where am I gonna find a tree?

Outside. Really. Look.
The only requirement is that it has to fit in a small pot.

What does this have to do with models? With electrons? With anything scientific?

It all starts with seeing what's out there.

And once a child "captures" a tree, it's theirs, for the winter. But that's not the purpose of the exercise.

Can't teach biology to someone who's never gotten dirt under their nails.

White oak tree photograph from the National Archives.
Dolphin photograph from the NOAA.


Anonymous said...

I love this. It gets the class involved and in tune with learning. I would use it but we don't have any trees on our school grounds yet. I still think this was amazing.

doyle said...

I snooped around the local green across the street from the high school and only found a few saplings.

Still not sure if I'm going to do it--don't want to send 100 kids rooting around like wild boars, but I need to get something to get them out.

I am now thinking about having them root around for various "weeds"--maybe assign 2 to each. Put them in a pot, see how long they can keep them alive.

Beats watching Judge Judy.