Saturday, March 2, 2013

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

A repeat from a couple of years ago, in honor of Theodor Seuss Geisel.

We have tiny newborn fish in our classroom. Life happens.

The critters are tiny, and regular fish food won't do. They survived the first couple of days on their tinier yolk sacs, but sooner or later, living requires taking life.

I projected a drop of our class pond water  through our microscope camera. Tiny creatures darted across the screen, startled by the sudden bright light beneath them.

The kids got it right away--put some of the pond water in with the tiny fish. And I did. I'll see Monday if any survive.

The pond water has sat by the same window for three years now, generations upon generations of daphnia and snails and paramecium live out their lives, fueled by light caught by the plants and algae.While some of the students are amazed by the occasional birth of snails or the frantic journeys of daphnia, none are startled by the microscopic life anymore.

That's not to say that they are blasé--it's just that they expect to see something under the scope now.The living world is larger now than it was in September. Doubt that the state exam will test that in May, but that's not why I teach.

Through a combination of good luck and a wonderful supervisor, I am sitting on a committee that will help develop early elementary science curriculum in our district.

The idea is use the combined expertise of high school and elementary teachers to create a program that better prepares students for what awaits them in high school.

I am not an expert in early childhood education. I am, however, a retired board-certified pediatrician. I know something about child development, even raised a couple of tadpoles of my own.

Today I reviewed a science learning site designed for K-6. It has garnered awards, and, by golly, you can invest in it on NASDAQ. Maybe I don't know enough about readers but there was a lot of repetitive sentences with only 1 word change in each. For example, "Some live where it is...." was repeated four times with hot/cold/wet/dry. It may be pedagogically correct, but if that's what kids are required to read, little wonder some kids run away from books. 

As I read through this stuff, some of it factually wrong (no, not all animals move), I wonder how any child can even pretend to love what schools label "science."

If our goal is to get kids to see the natural world and to teach them how to read, why not Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears A Who? That would tie in well with the invisible worlds swirling in a drop of pond water.

Why not Green Eggs and Ham, a story about a hypothesis (you would like green eggs and ham) with multiple variables tossed in (in a house? with a mouse?)?

Why not One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, a classic introduction to taxonomy?
From there to here,
from here to there,
funny things
are everywhere.

As good a lesson as I can hope to teach a curious kindergartner about the our natural world.

The company, nameless for now, does not make awful stuff, but why not aim for greatness? 
Why not get it right? I doubt getting it right would cut into the stock value.


cope said...

At a summer institute for AP environmental science two summers ago (no, I'm not yet teaching it but my school has me standing in the wings), we spent half a day studying and learning how to integrate "The Lorax" into our curricula.

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

Gotta get me some pond water for the window sill. Do you find the system simplifying with time? Never occurred to me that such a system could be stable for very long without some fancy planning. The basil is in, but barely germinating as yet. I may put that up in the bio classroom: From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere." Thanks again for the inspiration!

Kathryn J said...

I have the same question about the pond water but no window sill - would it work under an artificial lamp?

Barbara said...

Ooooobh, how wonderful that you are on the committee for early childhood science. I actually was on the receiving end of a grant sponsored, in part, by ATT that afforded our school some early childhood science equipment (huge magnifiers, simple scales, acrylic trays, pipettes, magnets of all sizes, stethoscopes etc.) wonderful books (Mudpies to Magnets I &II, nature curriculum books, nice science storytime books ) The best part was a two day seminar presented by the University of Illinois/Chicago on how best to introduce young children to our world through hands on science exploration. To fulfill the grants requirements each school needed to offer a science "fair" utilizing some of the skills learned at the seminar. The intention was to include our families in our exploration so that it might be carried on in the home. It was so successful it became an annual event. And we heard many stories of how the children were discovering things all over, inside and outside. The fairs were labor intensive on the part of the staff to set up discovery centers, but all agreed it was well worth the effort. I will gladly share some of this when I see you again. By the way, you did a great job with your own grown "tadpoles". They are delightful ;)

doyle said...

Dear cope,

I am embarrassed to say I have not read "The Lorax" in years, and now have no desire to read it because of the movie.

Kudos to your district for prepping you for AP Bio ahead of time--it is a grueling work of love.

Dear Jeffrey and Kathryn,

The pond water set-up does settle down with time, and I've done it with artificial light--heck, the 10 gallons in my basement is simply a big plastic tube with two fluorescent (48"/40 watt) lights hanging over it.

The only problem I occasionally run into is algae on the side of the tank--I simply scrape that off with a microscope slide, and only when I need to see what's inside.

I've either been incredibly lucky, or we've been sold a bill of goods on the need for elaborate filter systems.

doyle said...

Dear Barbara,

We both have a lovely set of tadpoles!

The committee was short-lived--we had our conference, and it was good, but not much has happened since. I am trying to put together something with another elementary school teacher from Virginia who does phenomenal things in her classroom.