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?
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.
Dolphin photograph from the NOAA.