Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dr. Seuss, science teacher extraordinaire

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.


Unknown said...

My sons love Dr. Seuss more than the basal readers their school sends home. It has the same sight words, the same necessity for phonics, but a better story, a better sense of conflict, resolution and character that are vital for true literacy.

I've never thought about the science of "Green Eggs and Ham." I have, however, thought that it might be the best way to teach metaphor, figurative language and ethical thinking without ever getting into indoctrination.

Kathryn J said...

I'm very glad they asked you to sit on that board! I too am appalled by the errors and mundane, boring material proferred as science curriculum materials!

Anonymous said...

Yertle the Turtle. Science and social studies.

doyle said...

Dear John,

I may be stretching it with Green Eggs and Ham, but it is fun to see all the variables presented (and think about whether they would change the hypothesis).

I just love Dr. Seuss!

Dear Kathryn,

You're the most prolific commenter of the week!

It will be interesting to see what happens. I think that the teachers and our supervisor will find ourselves agreeing far more than not--it's trying to squeeze teaching science into the curricula boxes set up by the state, and ultimately the Feds, if Mr. Duncan gets his way.

Dear Anonymous,

That's an interesting take on power. Been a long time since I've read it. I may need to get a Seuss collection for my classroom.

Anonymous said...

I love that you have pond water that your class can look into at any time. Can I ask what kind of container you keep it in? Is there any maintenance involved or do you just let nature take its course?

doyle said...

Dear mrcmyoung,

I'll take a picture of it today and post it. It's a round, glass container that holds, I don't know, maybe 4 gallons. (I'll do the math today and figure it out.)

I occasionally toss in dechlorinated water, and if I have leftover pond water from bringing in fish each fall, I might toss that in (unless other teachers want it for microscope labs).

Every month or two I might toss in a fish pellet or two, to get some nitrogen in there, to replace the stuff I lose when teachers need elodea, or when I give away snails and such.

I might scoop off the duckweed stuff now and again, though I haven't done that for months, and it seems to be doing fine anyway.

Yesterday I showed another science teacher a stream of (presumably) oxygen flying out of the elodea.

One year it was left completely alone in a jug, with parafilm on top to keep the water from evaporating. It did just fine.

Heck, if things go off kilter, it's one more thing to discuss with the kids. The bust and boom daphnia populations has become a popular discussion.

Miss B said...

I am a fellow science teacher (for this year at least) in NJ. I teach elementary science, and I have used "Bartholomew and the Oobleck" to teach about the states of matter. Check out my blog and let me know if you have any ideas!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to see other educators using Dr. Seuss as well!
I'm a 7th grade science teacher. We use The Lorax to introduce human impact on the environment and I Can Name 50 Trees Today to introduce the use of dichotomous keys to identify plants through their leaves and seeds. Every time we pull out a Dr. Seuss book the kids get SO excited! We ask them to sit "criss-cross apple sauce" and they all eagerly comply! It's amazing how effective a simple rhyming book can be at calming and keeping the attention of 30 pubescent pre-teens!

Ms. Tate said...

My favorite for PhySci is Oobleck...for phases of matter!

Oliver Hansen said...

Don't know how many people will read my comment to a year old post, but oh well. I use Dr. Seuss to teach genetics. Last year my genetics unit coincided with National Dr. Seuss Day. I went to the library and checked out an entire shelf of Dr. Seuss books. I read them 1 Fish 2 Fish Red Fish blue fish and told them to think about phenotypes while they were listening. Then they had to pick a Dr. Seuss book and write monohybrid, dyhibrid, sex-linked, and codominant crosses using characters and characteristics from the books. I picked a few of their questions and used them on the Unit exam.

doyle said...

Dear Oliver,

Oh, I peek at all my comments! I love to steal, I mean borrow, others' ideas!