Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Favorite comments of '15: Anonymouses, Auntie Ann, momof4 and Emily

On Right-brained science, again: the myth of the finches:

Anonymous said...
I am a scientist turned homeschooler (who has also had kids in school). I can't stand the K-12 focus on having students become "little scientists" at the expense of teaching real science content.

IMO, the best way to prepare kids for STEM careers is to give them four things.

(1) A solid math education that stresses problem solving *and* automaticity

(2) An ability to read difficult, complex text

(3) An ability to detect rhetorical arguments and restate them clearly as well as an ability to form clear arguments in response

(4) A content rich education across all disciplines
Anonymous said...
It seems like many homeschooling science curriculums assume the parents want lots of projects in elementary school. They don't seem like an efficient use of time to me. Maybe I'm missing something, but my 3rd grader and I have learned a lot from library books and middle school level science textbooks.
Anonymous said...
Exactly, Anonymous @ 7:03.

This idea that K-12 science must be predominantly hands on, where students play with materials, and make wild guesses about outcomes, is at best a waste of time and more likely counterproductive.

It takes *a lot* of background knowledge--background knowledge that is *not* acquired by playing with materials--to become a real scientist. Most lab work, frankly, should only come to dominate a scientist in training's time in graduate school.
Anonymous said...
And it's not just homeschool science programs that do that. The school district here uses Foss kits, which assume that hands on, anything goes science is good science.
Auntie Ann said...
Here's an earlier thread on schools and labwork:

momof4 said...
"It's not an efficient use of time" - three cheers and amen! I've posted this before, but I've not seen any sign that the edworld is even aware of the concept of efficiency, let alone any appreciation for it. Even if the "little scientist" stuff (or any kind of group/discovery) works - and I don't think it does - it wastes huge amounts of time. Kids need to learn lots of academic content, in all subjects, and wasting time means they learn less of it.
Anonymous said...
I think one of the problems is that the people who make the decisions about how science is taught in K-8 especially don't actually know anything about what it takes to be a scientist and in fact, have probably been avoiding science (and math) because they found it difficult or boring (or likely both) in school.

In fact, my sense is that most education majors have never had to learn anything that is not, at its core, intuitive for them. They have never had to wrestle with anything that derives its order from something outside of the human mind. Sure, scientific models are really just human constructs to allow us to understand the universe, but what scientific models are attempting to describe is something that is fundamentally non-human, and for most people, that makes much of science non-intuitive. Since these people have never had to fully understand science before, they don't realize that applying a discovery approach in K-8 (and probably K-12, or even K-16 if a nonscience major) is not only a total waste of time but that it also makes a mockery of the scientific method.

Far better than creating "little scientists" would be to have the goal of developing *science literacy* in all students.
Anonymous said...
The hands-on elementary science activities I remember weren't true experiments, but demonstrations of concepts that aren't intuitively obvious, like taking a flashlight to a globe to show how day and night happen, etc. (which, I should add, my parents did with me, not something we did in school.)

As for actual experimenting, baking seems like a better real-world, hands-on activity than trying to be a "real" scientist. My mom (who had studied food science in college, so I think baking can be real science) allowed me to try making cookies without flour, baking soda, etc... The results were predictably inedible. Of course, between using ovens, tasting something with raw eggs, and the actual mess and clean-up, I doubt most teachers would want to deal with real experimenting... And, of course, the lesson I learned was that the people who write cookie recipes know what they're talking about, and I shouldn't waste my time trying to make major changes, at least not until I had at least an undergraduate-level knowledge of food science...

Auntie Ann said...
There is one math experiment I'm sort of shocked doesn't get done. All it takes is a gym with the right paint on the floor, some string, and something to measure length (if a gym floor isn't available, teachers can probably do it with chalk on the playground). I suggested it at our school, but they didn't do it.

Have the kids go to the gym with some string. Have them lay the string around the big circles on the floor (usually, there is one near the center line and two more around the free-throw lines.) Mark or cut the string to the length of the perimeter of the circle, then measure the length of the string to find the circumference. Use a measuring tape or another length of string to measure the diameter of the circle. Divide the circumference by the diameter to calculate pi.

The big circles make it easy to get quite accurate results. I did this once with our kid using a car tire, and we calculated it to within a couple hundreths, something in the 3.12-3.15 range, I think. The tire was really a messy way to do it, and the bigger the circle, the more accurate the measurement will be.

You could also use it as a statistics exercise, averaging the results across the classroom and among classes to improve accuracy and teach how redoing an experiment repeatedly improves the results.


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

While I'm not fond of group work for projects best done by individuals, and I don't find the "discovery" methods used for teachings science particularly effective, my experience teaching university students is that they have far too little hands-on experience in science classes. Most have only ever seen book (or video) explanations of things and have never proposed an experiment nor built any experimental apparatus. Many have never even held a hammer, drill, or screwdriver.

They've learned to treat science like religion, as arguments from authority, rather than based on best interpretations of empirical evidence. Undoing that mindset is very difficult.

The problem is particularly acute for training engineers, who have to learn how to design things that work in the real world, not in the artificial world of the simplified models taught in K–12 science classes.

The two bright spots I see are science fair projects (which when well done provide substantial experience in science, engineering, and non-fluff writing) and some high-school physics courses (particularly ones using the "modeling" approach).

Anonymous said...

You have to remember, you have one teacher for 32 kids or more (at least in middle school where my daughter works) with a large range of abilities. Quite a few from Somalia who cannot even speak English. Some with learning or other disabilities, and the school has cut back funding for support personnel. Some from disfunctional families. Some that are homeless. The teacher simply cannot give the individualized teaching so many of her students need. She sometimes simply has to let students explain things to each other when she tries to work with some of them. Sometimes they don't even get their curriculum for the new school year until January. They have maybe over 100 different students in the different classes that they have to keep track of and grade (not so much an issue with elementary school, but it is with middle school. Sometimes they are teaching in temporary pods that are now permanent, and have wires running everywhere. They are underpaid. In my daughter's school district, they have not gotten a cost of living increase or any raise for 12 years. Yet they are expected to perform miracles. Her first two years teaching she was working 80 hours a week. She has been "displaced" three times because of changing student population so in the course of 5 years had to switch schools 3 times and work with different teams of teachers. She is required to do a lot of busy work herself, creating some kind of study material with other teachers, "group work," where she ends up doing the other teacher's part. She has never been allowed to teach the same grade level twice. She has been required to change grade levels one month into the school year. There is a lot in education that is totally messed up that has nothing to do with curriculum used.

Anonymous said...

I think part of the problem is that basic tool use is a "shop" thing, not a "science" thing, so it's not something you get taught if you're on an academic track in school (even if the school doesn't officially have tracking).

I personally had enough experience with basic tools like hammers and screwdrivers growing up (better with the latter than the former) and I rather enjoyed woodshop in middle school, but I think I would have been better off if I'd been introduced to soldering before my first semester at MIT. Nothing quite like asking what a "sole-dering" iron is in front of a bunch of electrical engineering majors to take away any confidence... (Thankfully, at least, I was one of those weird people who went there interested in a humanities major, so it wasn't an ego blow)