Monday, May 18, 2009

Newtonian poetry

Between Walls

the back wings
of the

hospital where

will grow lie

In which shine
the broken

pieces of a green

William Carlos Williams

I hated poetry in elementary school, junior high, and just started enjoying it the second half of high school (and loved it once I met Leslie, a poet).

Imagine a lesson plan on William Carlos Williams.
SWBAT dissect and analyze a poem

Student will work in pairs to dissect the poem and find glorious hidden meanings in this mysterious, haunting piece; students will create Powerpoint storyboard unlocking the code revealing what the author meant.

Read the poem again. (And again, and again if it resonates with you, otherwise don't waste your time.)

High school can kill poetry, but that's obvious, and an easy target.

What would I do if I were Superintendent of the World?

Read the poem. Rest. Don't think too much. Read it again. Rest. Don't think too much, at least not with your cortex. Rest some more. Now, if you want to read it again, go read it again.

Don't worry about how it might affect you. Be aware when it does, but don't force it.

If you don't want to read it again, don't. It will lie on a shelf somewhere waiting for the few of you who will want to read it a few decades later.

High school kills science the same way.

Gravity is like a William Carlos Williams poem. It just is.

Let the kids drop things for a minute, rest, for 5 minutes, rest, for a half hour. Rest.

Remind them about the planets spinning around the sun, about tides, about the shape of galaxies. With lots of rest, of course.

Then, maybe, just maybe, throw this at them, not because it explains gravity (it does not), but because it has faithfully predicted for us what this mysterious force will do anytime, anywhere, as far as we know.

You don't have to know the equation to grasp the concept; indeed, a lot of kids know the equation but don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about gravity. If they did, you'd hear "Awesome!" a lot more than you hear "Will this be on the test?"

Yes, this is Newtonian physics, and call Williams' words Newtonian poetry. Save quantum physics and Thomas Pynchon for college--neither has much to do with day to day living.

The gravity gif was lifted from Hyperphysics at Georgia State University here.
You cannot "steal" a Williams poem.


lucychili said...

Julia said...

Have you seen Introduction to Poetry, by Billy Collins (in Sailing Alone Around the Room)?

Barry Bachenheimer said...

With much rest between any item would be a great way to teach and learn. If I could be financially supported by the state to be a student until the 77th grade with a schedule I could pick and subjects I could choose, I think I would be excited by a lot and know many things when I died.

There is the utopian approach to learnng and there is the reality as you explain which kills learning. Our workable reality must be somewhere in the middle.

Using the gravity do you move the immovable object?

How do you motivate students to learn something you know (or think) is important for them to know but they don't? (Perhaps THAT is the true purpose of school!)

Jess said...

Hi, I just started following your blog since I'm going to be a teacher for the summer, and I really like your philosophies. I'm not too long out of high school and I know my classmates and I only worried about what was going to be on the test, and I don't want that to happen this summer while I teach the greatness that is chemistry. Thanks for posting your ideas.

doyle said...

Dear lucychili,

Wonderful photo, everyone should go take a peek.

Dear Julia,

I have not--not yet, anyway. I will ask Leslie about it. I like the title already.

Dear Barry,

I was never a "somewhere in the middle" kind of guy, as you might imagine, but I think in this case maybe I'm more in the middle that we (not a royal "we" but a pedagogues' "we") realize.

Information is no longer the issue--processing is. Without reflection, without critically assessing everything we do in the classroom, both as students and teachers, we will remain with industrial education--pump it in, pump it out.

It would foolhardy for me to presume what my students need to know as far as content goes, and utterly unpredictable.

I do know this much, though--almost all of us can think, and almost all of us can think better than we do, and almost all of us enjoy good thinking.

You have an avid curiosity--how did it survive?

Memorizing equations just to memorize them is not a good idea, unless you have a reason to use them--why learn about socket wrenches if no nuts exist in your universe?

Learning how to manipulate equations, however, is a powerful tool, and one well worth acquiring--a subtle (but real) difference often missed in our world of education.

If the true purpose of school is to motivate students to learn things I might think are important for them to learn, well, time for me to retire.

Dear Jess,

Thanks for the warm words. Chemistry is a wonderful nest of ideas--get the kids hooked early. Bring on the alchemy, the history, before tackling the stoichiometry, and don't asssume anything.

Chemistry turned me around in high school--I loved it, and had an absolutely nutty and inspiring chemistry teacher who I still adore decades later.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Michael!

It is strange how people are so different from each other. Some are fascinated by poetry and others couldn't care less about it. It's the same with Science. You are right to draw a parallel between these two disciplines - an ancient relationship which is revisited every now and then throughout history. Funny how so many scientist were also interested in poetry and writing: Goethe, Asimov. And Keats had a passing interest in medicine. Nothing's changed.

Catchya later

Wayne Stratz said...

I have some William Carlos Williams poems in my classroom.

I agree that rest is good. its enemy is a desire to cover more ground.

nashworld said...

This one sits in a "sticky" on my laptop (where it has for about four years) so that I can flick my mouse and read it (and others) when the need arises:

This Is Just to Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold


I hated poetry until Sophomore year in college. A crusty old professor that looked like Santa Claus changed this in a matter of weeks. Well, probably that and the myriad of especially powerful life changes (growing up) that can occur between the ages of 19-21.

Build a pilot, Dr. Doyle. Build a microcosm within your larger system that allows those near you to see what happens when your philosophies do on the the students you work with on ground level.

We just really can't say we don't like what the typical track through the system is doing for kids... if we don't offer an alternative for comparison.

Start a pilot. It doesn't matter what it is. Conceive of a mission that will make kids scramble to sign up... and then let them experience a reality where your philosophies can see the light of day.

Then let (make) people peek in on it. Better yet, build a way for your students to share their experiences. Allow people to see the value added to the lives of people because of what you've done... and then help foster the bleeding over of anything good you find... into the regular "curriculum."

I think you're spot-on in the need for rest and reflection as a part of one's educational approach.

Start a pilot. Make them not able to say no to it. Heck, here's betting I'd wish to be a part of that myself, whatever that might be...........


doyle said...

Kia ora Ken!

We are all different, true, but I suspect that more of us would love both poetry and science if we did not sever the ties between them. It's hard not to like well-crafted poetry if it's not shoved down your throat.

University science requires some early head-against-the-wall discipline. Learning calculus in high school without recognizing why it was invented by Newton (and Leibniz), or rather, without caring why it was necessary, requires hard work and a lot of faith in your teacher, your curriculum, and your future.

Still, the observation part of science, the putting together of pieces, making connections, making hypotheses, drawing conclusions --that is open to all. Curiosity and logic work well in science and in literature.

Dear Wayne,

Take a peek at Sean's challenge below. I plan to take him up on it. Let's compare notes.

Dear Sean,

I have been thinking about this, and a few ideas come to mind.

One would be to construct a new course. Next year I am tackling AP Bio for the first time, so not a good time to do this, but I could start planning for 2010-11. I'll let you know more as it develops.

Second, the district is turning to Understanding by Design next year. If we adhere to its program, we will be doing more probing work with the students, and if we are serious about the kids grasping the essential questions, we need to build reflection into the program. (I am still mulling on how we do that, thank Gazoo for the inet.)

Third, I assumed the astronomy club this past year. It was good, but it will become much better. I am also getting my own classroom next year. I envision the club serving as a nidus for an after-school science club. We have a physics team, a chem team , a bio team, but these clubs focus on taking competitive exams.

What better place to spark curiosity than cosmology?

I'm already gearing up for next year, though we do not finish this year until June 18. What a fascinating profession this has turned out to be!