Sunday, December 12, 2010

Science pr0n

No 8 year old in her right mind is curious about Neptune.
She does like to make Mommy happy, though.

If a young adult told you in class that she does not believe that the Earth revolves around the sun, what would you say?

Who's the better scientist, the child who accepts heliocentrism by the time she's out of elementary school, or the high school student who trusts her eyes over her teachers?

It's all relative, this motion thing, and, of course, heliocentrism works well for those who have the background to understand it.

But geocentrism works, too. It's just slightly more complicated.

The ancient Greeks could predict eclipses. As far as I know, none of my lambs can (yet):

A piece of science shatters each time child builds a model of our solar system while still in grade school. We are asking children to accept something beyond their comprehension on faith alone, surrounded with rites developed in school, rites that preclude thought.

Children have more evidence that Santa exists (cookies eaten, NORAD, and, of course, presents) than that the sun is the center of our world (pictures in books, balls on wires, and the teacher's word).

None of my students believes in Santa Claus anymore, but just about all of them believe the Earth revolves around the sun. Many of them also believe we never landed on the moon, that the world will end in 2012, and that evolution is bunk.

Because people of authority told them so.

Google "solar system science fair projects." You will find pictures of children, smiling with that I-made-an-adult-proud grin, standing next to their work. The projects are flash and glitter, science pr0n, rites of passage that reward children who bleat baaa.

My young student lives in the universe of Aristotle and Tycho Brahe. She's still thinking.
Despite being trained not to....

Again, Tom Hoffman's "In My Head" got me going this morning, this time a link to here.
Image of solar system model from here.


John T. Spencer said...

Micah is obsessed with the question of what makes up the moon. He first said it was just a big white ball and later decided that it was a big ball with a hundred flashlights and then shifted it to "frozen cotton candy ball with a light in the middle." He think there are people who live on the cotton candy, but we can't see them since they are camoflauged white, just like the geckos in the garden.

He laughed at the suggestion that it's made of cheese, telling me that the sun would have melted it.

In his mind, the moon is as far as the house down the street and I'm okay with that. I can Google the answer to what makes up the moon. Or I can keep him looking and when he's a little older let him use his first telescope.

I want him to observe. I want him to ask questions.

He's got all the wrong answers, but all the right questions. I want to keep it that way as long as possible.

Luann Lee said...

....Or a model of an atom, or a cell, or a chromosome...... When did we stop letting children investigate the things they are ready to begin to understand? More accurately, did we ever allow this? Why not?

Shannon said...

Love this post. I think you are getting to some of the fundamental problems of education in the U.S. (and probably elsewhere). We train kids to "know" answers but we don't train them to think, even if it means they come to the wrong conclusions at first. We should be encouraging young children to think and possibly be wrong because down the line it will make them better thinkers.

Teacherfish said...

I want to answer Luann.When we started believing our lives depended on test scores. Our school has a little money and would like to run some programs on Saturday morning. The Living Environment (that's what NY state calls the HS biology course)Teacher would like to run a program that involves students student studying, comparing and making suggestions about the ecology of local bodies of water. However the NY state exit exam will not ask for that information. It will ask for specific information on cell structures, and genetic information
so guess what kind of program we will run. If you said test prep- you are correct. And we wonder why student engagement is a problem.

doyle said...

Dear John,

I love the way you and Micah approach science. I am curious why he abandons his hypotheses as he does.

As far as the moon's distance goes, you might play with parallax. You're a wonderful teacher--let me know how it goes.

And what evidence do any of us have that he has the wrong answers?

Dear Luann Lee,


At least my kids can see cells with microscopes--a start.

Dear Shannon,

It's frustrating, no? I'm going to keep working on the thinking, come what may.

Thanks for the warm words.

Dear Teacherfish,

I'm wrestling with this whole thing--if I manage to get the kids to start using their noodles, I am convinced (and have evidence to back it) that they will do OK on the tests here in Jersey.

If the state only uses level 1 knowledge questions, though, I may be screwed.

Ask me again in July when I get the results....

I talk big now. Come March, I'll be in full panic mode, shoving facts down the gullets of my children.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

I love the Sir Robinson video. Alas, I deleted it because I had no idea what the video showed--YouTube is blocked at school.

So here it is!

John T. Spencer said...

I asked Micah why he changed his original hypothesis. It happened after he turned a flashlight on outside.

He realized that if you can't see a flashlight in the day but you can see the moon in the day, there must be something on the inside that lets it light up. (Maybe he compared it to his night light?)

He gave me a different reason tonight, though. He said that cotton candy can get bigger and smaller just like the moon (poor kid doesn't understand optical illusions). Just the other night the moon looked huge to him. Giant, really. He was worried that it was going to crash into the mountain.

His questions and answers are both more simplistic and deeper than I ever could have imagined.

J Bowie said...

Best post and thread of comments I've read in quite some time on any blog, any where. Thanks to all!

I've been challenging my students to give me some direct, observable evidence that the Earth is moving around the Sun instead of the other way around. I've told them that I can clearly see the Sun "move" through the sky, but there are no gale force winds and the Earth doesn't "feel" like its moving to me!

Additionally, since I live down near the Bible Belt, I play Devil's Advocate (pun intended) and tell them that my Bible tells me that the "Earth is laid on it's foundation and cannot be moved" (see Psalms 104). I do that because so many of my students have been taught to respect the Bible as the inerrant Word of God and many of them take everything from the pulpit as the Gospel! (pun intended again).

All of that to say I've only had a few students who were willing to match wits with me on the issue. I'm afraid I didn't set up a situation in which the students would be comfortable to take the risk and have therefore not gotten any deeper in their thinking.

I'm not sure that anyone (even though I was explicit) realized what my intent was. So, there's always next year. Maybe I can convince someone to actually get some evidence for helio-centrism, because I surely have tons of evidence for geo-centrism!

doyle said...

Dear John,

Keep us posted on the Micah Hypothesis, either here or on your blog. It's fascinating, and it's important.

Dear J Bowie,

Thanks for the warm words.

I love playing devil's advocate, but I've learned to make it clear I am doing so now. Last thing a parent wants to hear at supper is that the Earth is flat, Dr. Doyle says so....