Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Teach science

The Next Generation Science Standards are not going to save the day. But we can.
Let's try this--let's teach science.
Not vocabulary.
Not outdated models presented as "fact." 
Not "experiments" with pre-determined outcomes.
Not trips to museums.
Not multimedia textbooks with fancy photos of things a child will never see, either because they're exotic or made up.
Not pre-packaged glitzy propaganda made for teachers who fear theor own ignorance.
Not common assessments to assure all our children share the same confused mythologies.

You give a child a real dose of science, the kind that recognizes but will not bow to experts, the kind that shows the universe is far greater than our collective imagination, the kind that rips our sense of reality inside out, well, then, you got a child with a real chance to be a trouble-maker.

If you want a functioning republic, the thinking rabble-rouser beats the corporate-ready clone in any century.

Well, you wanted me to teach science, no?


timstahmer said...

Great post! I would only add that we also shouldn't try to turn every student into a scientist. Or engineer or mathematician.

Instead we should be working to make sure every HS grad leaves with a good understanding how science (and others under the STEM umbrella) impacts society as well as how to critically evaluate the pronouncements that pass for science in popular media.

As a math teacher I'd be happy if they learned enough about probability to realize just what a ripoff lotteries and casino games are. :-)

John T. Spencer said...

We took our kids to a science center. It was a small, low-budget deal in Grand Junction. Costs five bucks for a whole family. I expected pre-determined outcomes and instead I was blown away by it.

There were gyroscopes to play with. There were optical illusions. There were explorations in sound and magnetism that the kids could develop on their own. There was a place to make gliders. There was a huge area with soil and plants and animals that the kids could simply observe.

I admit that some of this falls into technology (designing your own wands for bubbles). Some of this falls into the predetermined outcomes as well. There were a few models (hand crank showing how to make electricity, an old-fashioned sewing machine, etc.)

But altogether, it was science. It was a lot of observation and wonder and play. Not sure where play comes in to science, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

The volunteers walking around didn't hammer terminology. They asked questions like, "What do you notice?" or "What are you wondering right now?" They drew out questions from the kids.

My mind is still reeling. I'm hoping I can recreate a little bit of that as I teach science again this year.

Kathryn J said...

I too am planning for next year and hope to incorporate as much of this as possible. There is lots to think about in this post - agreed that critical thinking about the popular media is the biggest need. Of course this is not tested or part of NCLB but...

William Chamberlain said...

My objectives for science this year lean toward unobservable (molecules and atoms for example). I am having a very hard time constructing lesson ideas around them. The interesting thing is that I plan to incorporate exploration in my other subjects. Weird that science will be more fact based and reading will be more experimental....

doyle said...

Dear timstahmer,

I need to add that--ironically, it's our silly attempts to create mini-scientists that turn so many children away from it.

If most adults ever grasped even rudimentary probability, we'd live in a much saner society.

Dear John,

I changed the part about science centers. You are right. I do have to ask this, though--how come every elementary classroom in the States does not have gyroscopes, or laminated optical illusions, or stacks of magnets, or small tanks with local bugs, or time to make gliders?

(I know your class will, and I know many, many do--but what about the child stuck in a classroom with no wonder for a year?)

Dear Kathryn,

I'm going to stop worrying about NCLB and trust that if I do my job well, my kids will do as well as they would had I tried to ply them with "facts." We'll see....

Dear William,

The models for unobservables come from observable phenomena--and that will be my theme this year. I'm going to hammer this, starting with a few days discussing "stuff" and energy.

ND Picks Commish said...

Amen, brother! Love the thought about bringing out the trouble maker inside. How do you do this? In my classroom I throw down science/engineering challenges and then get out of the way of the solutions.