Thursday, January 27, 2011

Basil vs. the Big Bang

Stories matter. Words matter.

The more I "teach" science, the more time I spend on language. If you cannot grasp the essence of a story, you cannot grasp science.

Our stories belie comprehension. If you introduce the Big Bang model into your classroom, describing it as an explosion, using a model that looks at it from the outside, you are not practicing science, you are practicing religion. You've missed the whole point.

It is pointless, truly pointless, to wrestle with pseudo-cosmology. Yet New Jersey wants just that:
"Critique evidence for the theory that the universe evolved as it expanded from a single point 13.7 billion years ago."

The Big Bang model works well to explain why things appear the way they are in cosmology, but--and this is a big but (a gluteus maximus?)--the universe is not expanding within a larger space. Most folks who think they get the Big Bang (including many teachers) do not grasp this. I doubt the committee that drew up Jersey's standards grasps this, either--if they do, they bolloxed the language.

Children will take down the notes, fill in the bubbles, and know nothing.

Meanwhile Jupiter shines brightly over their heads in the early evening, and over and over and over again, the students flat out refuse to believe that it's Jupiter, until they look through the scope we set up outside the school on Telescope Nights.

Every child in every class plants a seed. Today I am picking through last fall's basil, squeezing out tiny black seeds from dead flower heads. The sweet earthy aroma stirs my limbus, defying words.

Next week I will start a flat of basil in the classroom--tiny black specks will grow into ridiculously bright green leaves whose aroma will stir memories.

You won't find the word "basil" in the standards. Nor "seedling" or "fertilizer",  or "wheat" or "bread." No mud or ooze or rot or urine. The only time "death" is used is to define the end of a star.

The science standards are crisp and clean, and I'm being churlish, true. But there's more to be learned from the tiny basil seed  than from the religiosity of a badly presented cosmology.

So we will continue to sow in B362.


John T. Spencer said...

I quit loving science when it became a religion. Yet, oddly enough it was religion (or perhaps spirituality or faith or whatever it is that introduced me to grace) that helped me recover my love of science.

doyle said...

Dear John,

Ironically, I quit loving religion when it became a science, but found my way back to it through grace in nature.

I don't think either of us handles didactics well.

Kathryn J said...

There is so much to think about in this post. I am teaching environmental science this year. I was turned down when I requested to take the students outside at the beginning of the year. I still don't understand how they could study this topic from inside the classroom only.

We just finished another round of bubbling in the scantrons and are starting second semester. We are going to do seed starting and some bottle biology projects - a sorry substitute for fieldwork but a good use for the greenhouse just off my classroom.

I see that you stopped by my blog - new school, 4 different preps = no time for public reflection. Perhaps someday I'll start blogging again but at least I'm finding time to read them.

Thanks for the inspiration! I was thinking seeds and bottle biology - now I know that it's time to do it!

doyle said...

Dear Kathryn,

Great to hear you're tearing it up in the classroom.

First year is RIDICULOUSLY hard!!! 4 preps is also ridiculously hard.

It will get better.

I get my kids outside by making it a field trip, permission slips and all. Might be one way to go. (A bit of a hassle, true, but the returns are huge, especially once spring rolls around....)