The Love of Science

What if kids love Science when they are young because they get to play around with it. You know the hands-on stuff is fun and occasionally gross.

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Then as we get older we lose some of the hands-on stuff so we start to hate Science. The fix is easy right? Just add more hands-on stuff!

Photo by looking4poetry

What if the fix isn’t that easy. High school Science is more that just hands-on. It requires a bit of precision; quality measurements, repeatable experiments without impurities. This isn’t, throw some corn starch and water together and look it’s a magic substance.

Rigorous experiments in Science require creating experiments that remove all but one variable. They require students follow complicated directions and make precise measurements. Then they have to collect the data correctly and feed it into tables and graphs, perhaps even perform some magical mathematical functions. Then after all that hard work they get a conclusion that might, just might, resemble the correct conclusion in the book.

Image from Wessex Archaeology

Not quite real experimental Science of discovering the cure for cancer, but closer than those semi-magical demonstrations in Kindergarten.

So what would be the better way of teaching Science?

  1. Nose to the grindstone. Here is your worksheet and a virtual experiment don’t make any mistakes and pay attention to those details, especially in the math.
  2. Do the experiment, fail, do it again because you were sloppy. Then do it again because you were sloppy, then do it again because you were sloppy, oh forget about it here are the numbers you should have gotten to use now pay attention to those details.

Yeah, I don’t like the choices either, though honestly if I were forced to pick I would choose the second. The real trick in teaching, if you want a silver bullet, Science, is to Be Less Helpful (I think Dan Meyer can be credited with coining that phrase).

So really, the question is, “How do we keep the interest of our students, in this really cool experiment, while simultaneously requiring them to take excellent measurements, and controlling for variables in experimentation?

Maybe this is the way –

Image from Matthew and Tracie

This is, at least as I see it, a kind of middle ground. Students are still excited by Science, they are just getting bogged down in the details. Quite honestly I think those details will bore just about everyone except a Scientist. On the other hand understanding that there are details and this rigour is important are also takeaways we really need to have. However, if you want to collect excellent data and import it correctly into graphs and tables so you can examine the actual physics this seems like an excellent way to do just that.

Screen Time

For a long time now it has been conventional wisdom to limit child screen time to just two hours a day. By no less an authority than the American Academy of pediatrics.

“Children and teens should engage in entertainment media for no more than one or two hours a day, and that should be high-quality content.”

Until recently I agreed and felt that meant turn off screens after two hours, but over the last few years I have really begun to question the wisdom of these limitation. Certainly the lack of activity will have a harmful effect on the physical health of our children. There is no argument with that our children need exercise, I need more exercise.  So I am not saying children should be allowed to sit in a chair 8 or 10 hours a day.

The qualifier of “entertainment” might mean I totally agree with the recommendation. It all depends on your definition of limiting to entertainment media means.

I’ve explained it this way to my children and am working on making the implementation more rigorous.

If you are just sitting watching something to have fun, you are being entertained and that should be limited to less than two hours a day. If you searched for a video to learn how to do something that doesn’t count. If you are building something specific in Minecraft, that is not entertainment. If you are doing homework, that is not entertainment. However, that doesn’t give you free rein to spend all day on the computer.

A requirement is that you spend at least two hours a day in intentional exercise, playing a physical game like kickball, running, walking around the block, or anything that includes strong physical activity.

My children probably still spend too much time in sedentary activities (I certainly do), but they don’t spend too much time being entertained.(well maybe)

The next step is to integrate more hands-on learning activities. We can’t just say to our children, “stop watching TV”, we have to replace that time and entertainment with something just as engaging.  Education research shows that including that tactile element really helps children gain an intuitive understanding of math and science. When children learn they can have as much fun with hands on activities they are more likely to choose them as an activity.  so we can kill two birds with one stone by using hands-on learning at home, learning is fun and just plain learning.


Oh to be in School

A few days ago, before I wrote yesterday’s post on the horrors of preparing for the ISAT, I wrote this

Oh to be in a school that allows a teacher the freedom to really teach. Instead we Buckle Down and do our best to meet some adequate standard on the ISAT test.

It’s not that the kids can’t do it. The real problem is that the students are just bored silly and tired of proving what they know and what they can do for a school system that seems completely irrelevant to the life they will lead when they grow up. Don’t get me wrong some just haven’t learned the skills, but a significant number just don’t want to do it.

I sit and watch students taking an ISAT practice test and they don’t care. They work harder on trying to communicate without tipping off the teacher than they do on the actual test.

We are not testing their knowledge or even their ability to do math. What we are doing is proving to our students that school has nothing to do with the real world.

Oh to have the time and freedom to participate in the Flat World Project. To explore or just converse about what we are learning. Instead we fight to keep quite and on task against students who want only to be engaged in something anything.

Today I went to a professional development class focusing on hand-on math for middle school and high school Algebra and Geometry.

Why do authorities like state and federal governments insist on measuring effectiveness through the use of paper and pencil tests while regional offices of education promote teaching hands-on math?

The problem with the paper and pencil tests is that they try to simulate the real world. In so doing they make the world seem stilted and contrived. They are also looking for the right answer, even if there is more than one acceptable way of finding that answer.

With hands-on type of math students solve a puzzle. We all love to solve puzzles, even if some people are better than others at doing so. But like the ISAT tests these hands-on math programs are still a simulation of the real world. In the end it can feel stilted and contrived or at the very minimum students just can’t transfer the skills to another medium.

At the end of the day we want our students to know how and where to apply math concepts to problems in the real world. This means students have to know the concepts and where to apply them, which hands-on math does a great job of teaching. Then students have to know how to solve the process which is the purview of the “traditional” math curriculum.

In the end I think math should start with a hands-on curriculum allowing students a lot of time to explore and discover concepts on their own. But we also need to spend more time debriefing our students, a fatal flaw in many a classroom. We need to take our discoveries and make sure our students understand what they mean and where they are applicable.