Saturday, November 28, 2009

An informal lesson

Autumn gets serious now.

More dark.

Here's something you can do with your children to help them see the world. You need nothing but normal vision and a clear sky.

*Find Polaris, the North Star, at 7 P.M. It's not as bright as you might think, but it's there, and it's special, as your child can discover in just an evening.

*Find Aldebaran, the Eye of the Bull, the Eye of Revelation. 5,000 years ago it rose in March, now it rises in November. This, of course, our child cannot see, so do not trouble her with it.

What she can see, though, is that the eye of the bull moves across the evening sky. In an hour or so, it will have creeped a bit across the sky, following the path of our closest star--she might have noticed even if the adults around her do not.

Now ask her to look at the North Star--it sits stubbornly in its spot, the universe seemingly rotating around it.

She might ask why, she might not.

If she doesn't, don't push it.

She's already gotten more science education in an hour than she may get in my classroom in a week. Or two.

Science starts with observation, and it starts outside. Trying to do astronomy inside is like trying to make gold from tin.

Alchemists were seriously bright people earnestly trying to make a precious metal for all the wrong reasons. Alchemy has since been discredited.

Science teachers may be headed for the same fate.

The illustration was originally from John Flamsteed's star atlas,
revised by J Fortin in 1776, available online via the
Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering, and Technology, Kansas City, Mo.


John Spencer said...

I'll try that.

My son once asked me why children's books always have the moon out at night, but in real life the moon is out in the night and during the day. And sometimes it's not out at night at all.

They observe more science than I had thought they would at such an early age.

doyle said...

Dear John,

I suspect that we chase science out of kids. Kids are rewarded for correct answers, not for idleness.

Observing the world requires idleness.

We need more down time.

Kathryn J said...

Idleness sounds quite delicious right now. When my younger son was about seven, he asked me - in a serious tone, "Mom, why are you always saying 'look at this' or 'look at that'?" The question caught me off guard but I answered that I was trying to help him see; he could probably do just as well on his own. Kids do "idle" much better than adults!

lucychili said...

alchemy became economics?

perhaps it is the room/space/structure of the context of teaching science and not the potential of the teachers or students that needs rethinking?

our society has industrialised to the extent that people who do not question are easier to use?

perhaps in post industrial distributed contexts the 'ideal' participant may need to be more enquiring and inventive?

the structure of work would need to have room/time/permission for that kind of exploratory, flexible, participation.

it requires a shift from the kind of context which uses fences like copyright and patents as means for excluding people from participation in making and questioning, to a context where the creation or idea is valuable BECAUSE it has become social infrastructure on which others have built and explored in turn.

John Spencer said...

We made everything into a commodity. Time, space, air, light - all quantified for consumption.

Two nights ago it rained in Phoenix. It's rare to get a rainfall here. Micah opened the door right as we were about to leave.

I told him, "We need to go."

He told me, "No, we need to listen to the rain."

I'm not one of those let-your-child-dictate-your-life parents, but I listened to him and I listened to the rain.

My first thought was, "we need to save time" and it struck me that time will go on whether I "save" it or "spend" it.

doyle said...

Dear Kathryn,

I suspect that idleness after a few hours of real work (productive work) is almost always delicious.

We are so busy we do not have the time to create a sanctity of idleness for ourselves, never mind our children.

I suspect it's just a temporary (200-300 years) cultural glitch.

Dear lucychili,

We're on the same plane. I'm also stuck on the plane that feeds me, and the dissonance rattles my teeth.

And people who do not question are indeed easier to use, and maybe (in some sad ways) happier.

I've been blessed with an innate giddiness that helps soothe the part of me that keeps questioning what I see. helps sitting by the edge of the ocean.

Dear John,

I may become Micah's biggest fan. You should think about starting a blog for him. Seriously.