Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A December crankfest

Prokaryotes have no membrane bound organelles, but they do have ribosomes, organelles needed to make proteins. Do ribosomes have membranes?

While the answer to this may seem stunningly obvious, a few students of mine had perfect scores on a quiz today except for this question.

And that scares me.

So here's the question.

I am a science teacher. My students are not likely to learn logic in History or Art or English or Music, nor should they. I have a state competency test breathing down my neck.

Do I stop everything to address a more basic need? Or do I keep pursuing my version of the race to the top.

I have a nice set of netbooks in my classroom, the coveted 1:1 that's supposed to save education.

Several organizations paid good money, about $8000, to make this happen. My kids grab their computers at the start of class, and a lot of good things have come from it.

I have a nice set of whiteboards in my classroom as well.
They seem to work best when used as a 2:1 tool, and I paid good money, about $26 not including the $2 tip to the Lowe's guy who cut them for me. My kids grab them two or three times a week, and a lot of good things have come from them.

I know I'm a bit of a crank, not to mention cheap, so I am clearly biased towards my low tech boards. Still, I am in a bit of a bind now.

The computers are everything advertised--they advance learning, they're powerful when used correctly, and I am better off having them than not.

I have a confession.

The whiteboards do not just give me more bang for the buck. They give me more bang period.

I use both, and will continue to do so, but nobody's getting rich selling shower board to classrooms here in Jersey. Each computer sold carries more profit to Acer than the total cost of my whiteboards.

I'm not saying computers suck. They don't. (Well, OK, at the global level, where economics is reduced to how fast your computer can compete with mine in a derivatives market, they do.)

I am saying that when working with larval humans who have trouble deciphering basic logic, asking them to sift through myriad online sources for wisdom may be like asking a frog to categorize the flies it eats.

I am competing with false images, false idols, false ideals.

If we were immortal, we'd have time for this nonsense. I don't expect adolescents to recognize their finiteness--one of their charms is their absolute inability to do so.

I do expect the adults charged with teaching to do so.

Shakespeare matters. Picasso matters. Billie Holiday matters.
Nike and F&A and Glaceau Vitamin Water do not.

Maybe biology matters, maybe it doesn't, but the ability to figure out what matters and what does not matters.

Science is not facts, it's a way of looking at the world, a way that matters.


Teaching may or may not matter. Depends on what you teach, which is not the same as saying that it depends on the curriculum.

Computers in the classroom are nice, but if you can't teach using just the back of a napkin and a two bit Bic pen, you can't teach.

If you cannot imagine your own death, you shouldn't teach.

I used to be a pediatrician, and it was serious business.
Now I am a teacher, and it makes pediatrics look like peanuts.

If a child cannot solve the problem above, she loses a piece of her humanness, even if she can fake her way through a state competency test.

Where do your loyalties lie?

Yeah, I'm purty cranky come December.
The bees have nothing (and everything) to do with this post.
I love bees!


Anonymous said...

Yes, the glaceau water etc. is important - not of itself, but because our students are having foist upon them a world of passive consumerism and entertainment beyond their understanding.
I am a fan of computers. I like that students can look thinks up and see if I am telling truth or lies. I do not make them hunt their own resources - I have a web page with links for them. Interactive and direct instruction on some subjects is fabulous.
Our district just dropped the Logic section from Geometry. We no longer do proofs. We just had administrators come in and tell us that math teachers "think differently" (yeah, we used data and logical deduction to conclude that their purchased computerized instruction is not helping the students) so they don't understand what we say when we rail against these losses.

Anonymous said...

Oooh! Look which one of our favorite science teachers won an environmental grant! http://goo.gl/KkhCa Congrats! Forgive me, I haven't started teaching yet (still looking for jobs that will land me the training. Yes, it is backwards), what is 2:1?

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous 1,


If you do not do proofs in geometry, what do you do?

Dear Anonymous 2,

2:1 is two kids to each whiteboard. I may have the numbers switched. I'm better at teaching than naming the things I do in class.

Good luck with your search! It's a wonderful field.

Anonymous said...

Dr Doyle,
I have the same issue in nyc. Except I have to teach these concepts to "advanced" 8th graders who have never heard of chemistry or taken any science from a teacher who knows more than they studied 2 weeks before they teach it. Teaching logical thinking and reasoning are far more important to my practice than simply memorizing the "facts.". This is my 5th year in the field and I see myself questioning my practice more than ever. As I seek balance btwn pressure to have my students pass a 9th grade exam and my beliefs I find solace in your post.
Thank you

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous 3,

I find solace in your words as well. Not sure what we can do, but I will say this much. The parents who get involved appreciate a classroom that pushes thinking. I realize that's anecdotal, but it;s been my experience.