Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hey, science teachers! We're not the show

My goal is for the kids to know less by the end of the year than they thought they knew in September,
an admirable goal if we hope to create scientists thoughtful adults.

If science paralleled our intuitions, we'd all still be alchemists. Common sense arose from our billions of years of evolution, in order to help us survive and make more of us; science comes from a neo-cortex we've just figured out how to use the past couple hundred thousand years.

If you do not wake up every day stunned by idea that  trees are made out of the same stuff we breathe out, don't teach biology. If you're not stunned, you're not getting it.

Kids deserve a teacher who gets it.

Science teachers get to do fun things, but sometimes forget that we're not the show.You don't need a funny hat, you don't need a mad scientist lab coat, you just need the universe.

The universe can be had cheap.

The kids have to believe (because it's true) that the universe and common sense parted ways long before they were born, and that the universe is real. Most kids (and adults) keep science in a tidy little box, separate from the "real" world.

It's easy enough for a child to memorize the equation for simple combustion. Here's what happens when you light propane (C3H8) and oxygen:

C3H8 + 5O2 → 3CO2 + 4H2O

Every child knows what H2O means--water is water is water. Yet very few children accept that fire "creates" water.

So why not show them?

Showing them is not enough, not even close. If the kids do not wrestle with accepting what they just saw, it's charlatanry.

No, it's not. 

I've been doing this for years, and I still wrestle with it--it defies common sense. Science doesn't truck with common sense.

The value in the demo is not the Wow! factor--my students have more Wow! in their phones than I have in my supply closet--the value is in letting the kids know that I am every bit as flabbergasted as they are. Every time.

It's confusing, confounding, unexpected, and real.

Don't let those young'uns tuck it back into that box.

 I do the propane demo about 117 times a month....and it amazes me every time..

"Science is Magic' photo via

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