Saturday, April 12, 2008

The science we thneed

I've just received the Oral Presentation Rubric for my autistic son's 5th grade science assignment. For a top grade of 4, he must score high on Preparedness, Comprehension and Vocabulary, and:

--"Listen attentively" to other presentations and "not make distracting noises or movements."
--"Use several props (could include costume) that show considerable work/creativity and which make the presentation better."

The stakes are high: in the other Earth Day Unit assignments, he hasn't done so well. The one book they read, for example, completely flummoxed him. Here are his answers to the reading response questions:

1. Why did the Once-ler cut down the Truffula Trees?
To make thneeds which he... [illegible]
2. Why do the Brown Bar-ba-loots have to leave?
The Brown Bar-ba-loots are to leave because they didn't have food.
3. What kind of problems does the Thneed factory cause for the environment?  Name at least three.
The gunk he produced gets... [illegible]
4. What happens to the Onceler when there are no more Truffula trees?
He died.
5. What happened to the Lorax?
He [illegible]
6. What do YOU think the Lorax' message "UNLESS" means?
7. What could the Once-ler have done to minimize his factory's effect on the environment?
8. Is bigger always better?  Give an example to back up your opinion.
9.  A "Thneed" is defined as a fine thing that everyone THINKS they need (but probably really don't).  What are some other examples of thneeds - things we THINK we need but could do quite well without?
[5th grade science class, anyone?]

Fiction, character motivation, and open-ended questions aren't my autistic son's forte. Neither are vocabulary, communicating with classmates, listening attentively, and costume design.

But what about ecosystems, sustainability, photosynthesis/carbon absorption, greenhouse gases, and weather patterns?

Just possibly, science classes that favor such topics over fiction and creative performance would benefit not only autistic students and other left-brainers, but also--by raising the environmental awareness of all children--the very Earth we are soon to celebrate, and eventually to leave them in charge of.


Lsquared said...

Contemplate the fact that this is 5th grade. I'm not trying to say that this is appropriate teaching for 5th grade; what wish to point out is that this teacher is almost certainly not certified/trained to teach secondary science. Science is not this person's speciality. S/he is certified elementary: s/he is a generalist. Sadly, this may mean that the teacher is incapable of teaching in the way that would be most effective for your son. Looking on the bright side, it does mean that in a few years, your son will have secondary science trained teachers, and they are likely to actually teach science (instead of language arts masquerading as science). What you do until then, I don't know, but at least he should be getting real instruction at about the points when grades start counting for something.

lefty said...

I'm not sure what training background my son's science teacher has, but as far as her function at his school goes, she has specialized as the school science teacher, and all 1st through 5th graders rotate into her classroom for science.

Catherine Johnson said...

Well.... what can I say?

This is where we are, and I'm hearing these reports from high school classes, too.

Plus there are "reform physics" curricula and the like .... there's a whole huge mess in high school level science teaching as far as I can tell.

KathyIggy said...

My 6th grade daughter has ASD. Thank goodness her science tests have been on content--she can memorize. The answers on your son's test were probably exactly what dd would put down. Reading "kid lit" with all its "deep themes" and discussion of motivations is absent from far. That's why science is her favorite subject and Language Arts her least favorite. Now if we could only get rid of those group projects!

lefty said...

Kathy-- glad your science is thus far unscathed by Reform (except for group projects?)

catherine--if you have any references for Reform Physics, I'd love to check them out!

Then I'll probably have to get some real physics to learn as well, so I can start playing physics teacher in a few years when my kids are in high school.

Cranberry said...

Our eldest also had to do a unit on the Lorax. What can I say, other than that this isn't science. It's a waste of time, which has led my eldest to believe that science is not interesting. Too many enforced items one must believe, without proof.