Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Science matters

I've been planning next year's biology class, got distracted by a caterpillar, and got myself stuck (again) on this matter thing.

Swallowtail larva in North Cape May

A few weeks ago, a couple of volunteer dill seedlings emerged from the garden. A couple of weeks ago, I watched as a swallowtail butterfly laid tiny orange eggs, one at a time, on the dill. Yesterday, I saw four of these caterpillars gnawing on the dill.

The critters look like overdressed miniature panda bears eating bamboo. I watched as one would pull on one of the feathery leaves, bring it to its mouth, then nibble it all the way to its base. The dill rose from nothing, and back to nothing it seemingly went.

Swallowtails know a lot more about dill than I ever will.
I could record all this, I suppose, and show my class, but then they're seeing just another video inside just another cinder-block classroom to get ready (or so they believe) for just another quiz.

So I won't do that.

I will give them a few moments with the roly polies or the Madagascar hissing cockroaches or the turtles or the fish or even a daphnia under a scope. Sometimes those moments capture their interest in which case I just wait for the questions, all of which can be answered in one word--watch.

It's not enough to just point at things and say look, of course, but trying to do any type of science requires first that we have faith that the world is interesting, and that it is consistent. Neither can be gleaned from textbooks or worksheets.

Swallowtail egg in North Cape May

I can show the photo above, ask children to find the egg (it's in the upper-left corner) and pretend it's worthwhile, or I can share the story of how the egg got laid, and pretend that my enthusiasm will spread into the marrow of my lambs and make them all naturalists.

I see what I see because I've had a lifetime practicing learning how to see growing up in a time when long afternoons we're spent doing almost nothing as the sun arced its way across the sky.

The sun has done this a long, long time, and I have faith that it will continue to do the same tomorrow, giving the dill enough energy to keep knitting carbon dioxide and water back into fine feather leaves, to feed the next generation of swallowtails in late August, until the dill finally flowers and seeds before the final fatal frost.

The miracle is not that a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, no that's a mere parlor trick.
The miracle is that we are here at all.

I am revamping my AP Biology course, thanks to David Knuffke.
We're going to spend a lot of time on matter and energy.

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