Saturday, December 15, 2012

"Scientists" never said that, experts did

Another few clambeds are opening in Jersey today.
Been a long couple of months.

"All the scientists say that the quahogs don't move, they don't go up and down [in the winter when the water is colder]. We claim they do… You have a rake with longer teeth, you catch 'em. With shorter teeth, you don't."

I'm going quahogging today. I borrowed my nephew's new rake last time out, but that was a mistake. His rake is lighter, with sharper tongs. Mine is held together with hose clamps and duct tape, and gets heavier every year.

It's a little chillier now, and the clams a little deeper.

No matter what the scientists say....
Except they never said it.

We confuse experts with scientists.
We confuse the process of science with its results.

A child with a decent grasp of science knows less of a bigger world, and that's the point.
No expert ever made a living by claiming ignorance, but pleading ignorance is what scientists do.

It's hard to test ignorance when "knowledge" is the point, and it's hard to teach science when standardized  tests focus on this-thing-we-do-in school-we-call-science.

Here's a sample question:

Straight from the NJ Student Preparation Booklet

It's a bad question--we all want to maintain cellular respiration, at least those of us planning on staying conscious for more than a few seconds. Flow of energy is a theme in my classroom, as it should be in any biology class.

Athletes do not want to maintain "constant" cellular respiration anyway--makes no sense, except for maybe a sprinter, and even they remain still a moment before the gun goes off.

It's a trick question because kids will jump on to ATP as the answer because that sounds "scientifical."

If I do my job right, my kids will dissect the question, grasp its inanity, and (I pray) choose C to help me keep my job, but many won't.

And here in New Jersey, we're headed to a teacher evaluation system based solely on "student achievement"  as determined by the same folks who wrote that question--which means I have a hard choice.

Teach my lambs to learn how to think, to see a sliver of a vast and terrible beauty of the universe in and around them. Or train them to heel.

We are all naturalists on the clam flats, under the low steely December sky and a sun that barely rises over the bay's edge. You cannot hope to make a scientist out of a child until she is, in a real sense, a naturalist.

Until she gets to choose which rake she needs, based on the natural world around her, based on her needs and her knowledge, and not the  rants of experts spewing pseudo-science, we will continue to produce generations of people who worship the Gardners and Marzanos around us.

Every field has charlatans, and right now the charlatans are winning.

Me? I'm teaching science while I can, and clamming when I can.

The flats feed me, literally and metaphorically.
Experts do neither.

Yeah, all over the map...I need to get outside.
Photos by Leslie.


Q said...

One of the big reasons I'm envious of science teachers (and why I miss teaching physics badly) - you can much more easily directly experience science. Clamming in the bay or swinging a pendulum - you can be forced to face up to misunderstandings (both yours and that of "experts") about the way the world works.

Math, not so much. The practical effect of not being able to factor a quadratic, or plot a line, or do an integral is pretty detached from reality. And any reality attached to it often comes through (yup) science.

Keep fighting the good fight.

doyle said...

Dear gfrblxt (try saying that 3 times fast).

"Forced to face up to misunderstandings"--explicitly mine--is what makes this teaching thing such a joy. The more you poke this "reality" thing, the more complex (and weirder) it gets.

Late afternoons, as the sun streams through my western windows, when it's (finally) quiet, and the various critters start poking their heads out of their shelters; when I pick up yet another piece of wet something out of the sink; when I questioned my sanity (and that of a lot of other humans) hours earlier--I break out in a big grin, smiling like an idiot, alone in my room.

It's a good life.

Unknown said...

It is a good life and it is good to know you are there teaching away. I'm laughing at the image of picking up wet somethings from your sink though.

Unknown said...

Did something wrong, whatever, that was me, Carla

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

I'm annoyed at that sample question for another reason. I discounted glucose when I thought about needing "constant" respiration: a sugary drink only gives a temporary boost, then often a crash...

Kathryn J said...

I'm done worrying about the stupid tests. My district just decided that the final exam will not be factored into the student's course grade. It won't matter to them but it is part of my appraisal. Madness!!!

If I wash out, it won't be because I wasn't hard-working, dedicated, and occasionally inspirational. If I wash out due to APPR, perhaps they will find a better teacher for my students.

Chemistry is not a direct experience science. I'm about convinced that the reason students are required to learn Chemistry is so that they can learn to think abstractly. Of what practical use is knowing about a proton or an isotope? Try convincing an adolescent that they should care esp. when the exam doesn't matter.

doyle said...

Dear Kathryn,

It is, indeed, madness.

Not sure how much longer I can stay in the game, but for now I will follow your advice and ignore the tests.

I teach science.