Saturday, June 18, 2016

Hunting tadpoles in an NGSS world

Photo by Jessica Pierce, with permission
I am going tadpole hunting with my aunt and uncle in an hour. We'll creep along the edge of a pond, muck around our ankles and nets in hand, dodging poison ivy and biting bugs, because it brings us joy.

Between the three of us we have over two centuries of living and hours to play on weekends, and this is what we chose to do, even in the 21st century. We have evolved little in the past few thousand years, despite what the futurists would have you believe.

Plants are aware, if not conscious. They are as much alive as you and me, and in many ways far more sophisticated. They communicate to each other, and to animals. They respond subtly, precisely to the world around them, and are more aware of what's happening than most "civilized" humans.

Without a background in natural history, without a childhood immersed in the natural world, a child in our culture has little chance of realizing the lives of the living beings around us. Without this knowledge, all the talk of "interdependent relationships in ecosystems" is like the love song of a twisted psychotic stalker--not just meaningless, but passionately dangerous.

NGSS promotes the practice of science; it does little to promote natural history. This matters. It's like learning the mechanics of sex by using a mannequin--it can be done, but really, what's the point? If a child doez nort fall in love with the natural world, with its deep nuances and rhythms, with its internal beauty, then pushing her to become a scientist becomes a cruel exercise. Benchwork is a hard, lonely business.

Take a child tadpole hunting--you'll do more good for America than anything I can do within the cinder block walls of my classroom.

Ironically, even corporattions would benefit--you want scientists?
Let children roam in the real world.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

NGSS will not produce a nation of scientists

US Navy judging science fair contestants (public domain)

If you want a child to learn science (as opposed to engineering or technology or the catechism we pretend is science), it will require (for most) a quasi-religious conversion--a search for truth beyond what one knows, or thinks she knows.

Such a child should be taught not to tolerate the conventions that keep her glued to her seat, asking permission to leave the room to pee.

Such a child should be taught not to tolerate statements without evidence, even the obvious ones. How do we know the Earth turns? How do we know the season are related to the Earth's tilt? How do we know atoms exit?

Fastfission via WIkipedia, 

We praise children for drawing the Rutherford model of the atom, a model long ago replaced. We praise them for making oobleck, for making batteries out of lemons, for making elephant toothpaste.

God help the child that truly challenges her second grade teacher on how we know the sun does not "rise"--we ask children to deny their own reality in order for them to succeed in a classroom culture thrust upon them.

Not every child is destined to be a scientist (thank Zeus), but we should encourage every child to think independently, to support claims with evidence, and to have the courage to call bullshit when appropriate.

The Next Generation Science Standards, while not awful, have a misplaced urgency for producing workers as opposed to scientists. A career as a scientist (as opposed to an engineer or a technician) ain't for the weak.

NGSS folk: To say we need to understand science to use technology is a baldfaced lie.

My life koan: What is a hypothesis?

Alice and the Dutchess (Lewis Carrol)

The "scientific method" is neither, but it's convenient for folks who know little of science to press onto children who know even less.

The concept of hypothesis is the heart of science--and yet after decades of trying, I have yet to be able to define what it means to myself, never mind children.

I imagine a Rōshi posing the question to me:

Enso by Yuma , CC

 "What is a hypothesis?"

And no matter what I answer, it is incomplete or wrong or banal or tautologous or incoherent or vapid....I imagine myself locking eyes with the wise elder, hoping he can see the wisp of understanding in my eyes before it all falls apart the moment I open my  mouth.

And maybe that's the point--the concept of hypothesis is more primal than our spoken language.

I can say what it is not, though--it is not a prediction, though it is used to make predictions.

A hypothesis presumes some model of how the natural world works, which requires that one has a relationship with the natural world, and is itself about the relationships within this relationship you have with the natural world.

Or, as the Dutchess said to Alice:
"Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."

Applying the Next Generation Science Standards requires knowing "simple" words like matter, energy, and hypothesis. Look at any school textbook and see how space is used to talk about any of these words.

Tattooing a ensō on your forehead does not make you a Buddhist; following the scientific method will not make you a scientist.

OK, zen science teacher masters--What is a hypothesis? I'd love to post your responses.