Saturday, April 20, 2013

Teaching a skink Latin

This week in my classroom, really my home...
  • My lambs groaned as I ate a carrot a child grew from seed under the light of the weak winter sun--and a few wondered, out loud, if it tasted like a carrot.
  • We fetched our salamander guy from our terrarium to let him loose in the suburban wilds again because a student wanted to bring him a mate, then thought maybe the little guy would be happier out looking for his own when we couldn't decide how to sex a salamander.
  • Our eggplant and basil seedlings grew their first set of true leaves, which we hope to transplant into our new school garden in May (itself an interesting lesson in politics and territoriality).
  • A student brought her two foot long pet blue-tongued skink to class and shared it with everyone.
  • Some of us held earthworms, millipedes, snails, slugs, and mealworms--the hissing cockroaches had a quiet week (despite a suggestion that we offer one up to the skink).
  • "We" (mostly me) droned on about restriction enzymes to several dozen mid-adolescents who have yet to be exposed to chemistry.

Last year's carrot--I forgot to take a photo of this year's "crop."

Guess which one will be forgotten by Monday, never mind May when our kids face the state biology end of course exam?

To attempt to teach biochemistry to children with little connection to the natural world they can directly observe is like trying to teach a skink Latin. Even if it could be done, it makes little sense for the skink to waste energy mastering a skill that does nothing to improve its chances of living and loving.

Maybe that's the real lesson here--laziness is a valuable evolutionary trait. No sense wasting ATP on an activity that doesn't make lives worth living. Even skinks know that.

Question from Biology (Campbell, Pearson)

Really, what are we doing when a child is too scared to eat a carrot she grew from seed, and then wonders what that orange carrot-shaped thing tastes like?

What are we doing?
Why are we doing it?

Content is dead.
Long live content.


Lee said...

"...too scared to eat a carrot she grew from seed"

That statement is going to haunt me for the rest of the day (at least).

Susan Eckert said...

Restriction enzymes are fascinating but I didn't truly understand them with any real meaning until I had to use them to make a subclone...which the vast majority of students will never have to do.

But, it is fun to say BamH1.

What I find interesting is that most students will not sit down at the dinner table to eat something they grew themselves but they will likely bite into something that was "made" using restriction enzymes. Crazy world.

cope said...

Naught better than a small, young carrot fresh pulled from dark moist earth. Just brush the dirt away (no chemicals used) and taste the crisp sweetness. Or even a bright green pea pod, plucked, split and harvested of its ascerbic sweetness, no dirt at all.

We are introducing our 5 year old grandson to the pleasures of growing things that he can eat. At his age, it is an easy sell. The teenagers in my/your classes...maybe not so much. However, we must carry on regardless, eh?

Kathryn J said...

I also amaze and horrify my students by eating things grown from seed. Congrats on the school garden project! I someday hope to be at a school long enough to do one.

Restrictive enzymes - blech! Poor kids. I think they are very cool but can't imagine trying to interest 9th & 10th grade students in them.

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

Dunno. The wonderful thing that made biochemistry finally make some sense to me is that at bottom its about shape and charges. Legos. Magnets. Really complex, whipping and twisting like little fluid machines, but still. All the rest is details...

doyle said...

Dear Lee,

I get the same thing every year, in one form or another. A couple of students convinced me we need to start a veggie garden this year. I'm hoping it can be part of the class tour in September.

Dear Susan,

True, true, and true--we're both working hard to get the kids to know more about this "crazy world," but the curriculum is working against this.

Dear cope,

Indeed--it's amazing anything ever survives from the garden to the kitchen, but thankfully nature blesses us with more bounty than I can eat in a single afternoon.

Every child needs a patch of dirt.

Dear Kathryn,

If you can figure out a way to capture their interest, let me know. Doesn't help that I am not a huge fan of biotech in the soph curriculum.

Dear Jeffrey,

Yep--I've been working on the shape thing since way back in October. They can see Legos--they don't accept analogies at face value, and I guess I've encouraged this along the way. Tough to push skepticism and biochem in the same year to 15 year old children.

John Spencer said...

I think I shared this before, but my son's class went to a farm and none of the kids wanted to taste the carrots or the radishes they picked. Micah, on the other hand, insisted you could eat it without washing it.