Sunday, January 12, 2014

Halfway to Groundhog Day

A handful of grace

Yesterday, the last day of the darkest 6 weeks of the year, my seeds came through the mail. Little paper packets holding tiny pockets of life.

The cold snap killed the dill and the daikon, and wounded the rosemary bush. Winter around here is hard on all of us, but the light is returning to put the pieces back together again.

Yesterday, I raked a few critters from the mudflat, put a few back, and ate the rest. Each quahog I wrestle from the mud feels like a miracle, each one a palm's worth of grace.

Grace, again.
I have spent an inordinate amount of time pushing stuff as stuff, energy as energy. Our children live in a world of shifting light and sounds transformed by humans, for humans.

Ask a child what food is, and listen--we have a generation of American kids who believe that food is energy, and why not? Most of what they see as real is nothing but photons on a glass screen, much of what they hear vibrations dancing to the whims of two magnets pushed and pulled by the ideas of other humans.

Just about every day I ask my lambs where did this come from? Who put together its parts. Where were its atoms before its atoms were this? What is thisness?

It's a big question.

Much of what passes as science curriculum rests on the assumption that we know what matter is, what energy is. I suppose a few people do, but I'm not one of them. That matter is conserved in our day to day Newtonian universe is a huge idea, and every day I forget this.

My clams are made of non-clam stuff, put together by the clams to make more clamstuff in the universe. I took the living part of their clamstuff, broke down some of it to use to replace some of my humanstuff, and exhaled the rest as carbon dioxide.

I am close enough to the bay that some of the atoms of the carbon dioxide I breathed out decades ago ended up in the clams I killed last night.

Without grasping this at a local (and very real) level, the rest of biology is, well, dull, unless your goal is to get a degree, get a job, and use science education as a means to something else. The Next Generation Science Standards  says as much:

If the nation is to compete and lead in the global economy and if American students are to be able to pursue expanding employment opportunities in science-related fields, all students must have a solid K–12 science education that prepares them for college and careers.

I don't know what "solid" means, but I'm guessing it's not happening in my classroom. I believe it cannot happen until my lambs have some sense that the returning light makes life possible.

I want to help them literally see the light around them, the light that has existed long before humans roamed the planet, light that will likely shine long after we're gone.

Every day I put the local sunset time on the board. Every few weeks I point out the changing shadows in the room.

Tomorrow I will again ask where did this come from? What was it last week, last year, a decade ago, a thousand years ago? On Friday the "this" was the plastic lid of a coffee cup, tomorrow it may be the shell of a clam that was nestled in a mudflat yesterday.

Halfway between the solstice and Groundhog Day, back into November light. 
And we're still here.


Susan Eckert said...

I decided to teach a little differently this year and keep returning to these themes of matter and energy even though photosynthesis and cellular respiration are well behind us now.

And I give the students assessments in class (low-risk but still graded) asking them questions about why they weigh less in the morning even before going to the loo, how part of someone's egg and cheese sandwich is now part of a bean that was grown in class, what's wrong with saying glucose turns into ATP. And many get it wrong and I reteach over and over again and drive myself crazy asking what am I doing wrong?

But maybe I'm not doing anything wrong (of course I can always do it better) and it's really the nature of the material and the way the neurons are connected in their brains that creates the obstacles.

If the recycling of matter and flow of energy gives you pause and amazes (and it does me, too) and we've been studying and teaching this stuff for years, then maybe I need to accept that the 15 yo brain struggles with these concepts no matter how beautiful one lesson plan is.

I'm hoping that at the end of the year, there will be more students than not that can answer the questions but more importantly, that they really get it. And that it stops them in their tracks every now and then and makes them see things a little differently (and closer to reality).

Kate T said...

I relax into these weeks as we head to Groundhog Day. The sun returns slowly. The cold was brutal this week - shatteringly cold. But we are still here. Tonight we are roasting root vegetables and thinking of seeds. I have yet to order mine, but the catalogs are here and I am planning the garden.
Love and light to you all.

doyle said...

Dear Susan and Kate,

I've been slow to respond--January always feels like the time of night that has no time, when numbers make little sense.

Susan, that's exactly why I teach--to give them a chance to get it. Life gets measurably better when you do.

Kate, the "but we are still here" may be my mantra. Some of us have left, as we will someday, too, but the light will always return.

Love and light to you all as well.