Teaching science: I

High school lab set up for fermentation demo showing flasks, bottles and air locks.
Making ethanol in the classroom looks “sciency” but….

I am leading a new course this fall, the Nature of Science (NOS).

Much, perhaps most, of what passes for science in high school is dogma. The NGSS tried to fix this, but so long as we diminish “matter” and “energy” to a few paragraphs in September, so long as we let children believe the world is round without letting them challenge us with “obvious” evidence to the contrary, and so long as science teachers continue to “believe in” [gravity/evolution/heliocentrism/plate tectonics/etc.] high school science remains a fairy tale.

Science is, to be fair, nothing but fairy tales, but fairy tales anchored in the natural world. This is a tad problematic at times, as the border between natural and supernatural, what’s real and what’s not, gets fuzzy, especially at the quantum level.

So in September I am getting a class of bright young humans and we’re going to explore our natural world.

I may be asking you for help….

Apple vs. wheat: an economic parable

(Photo of wheat grown by a student in my classroom.)

The market rate for wheat today is $9.08 per bushel. A bushel of wheat weighs 60 pounds. That’s just over 15 cents a pound.

Where did the “stuff” of the wheat come from? Water, mostly rainfall, and carbon dioxide, which well, we have more than plenty to spare. Water molecules are split, the oxygen drifts off, and the remaining pieces are knit with carbon dioxide to form the stuff that keeps all of us alive.

Truly miraculous.

A pair of AirPod Pros weighs 0.19 ounces, and checks in at $249, a bit over $20,000 per pound, and it won’t do any good to water it. 

For the price  of a pair of earbuds, you can get 3/4 tons of wheat.

The “miracle of the five loaves and two fish” is, of course, a parable, the only miracle story found in all four Gospels, and most folks in these parts know more about the story of Apple than the story of wheat. Farmers do the work of Jesus every fookin’ day.

I get about 50 loaves of bread for every bushel of wheat I buy. One AirPod Pro gets you enough wheat for 80,000 loaves of bread.

There’s a parable there somewhere.

Gearing down

I took a walk along an abandoned Norfolk Southern rail that runs through our town. A few decades ago I would pull my little ones in a red wagon to greet our neighbors as they came off the train.

These gears moved the gates that blocked the road, a job once done by humans when the railroad first ripped its way through our neighborhoods.

If you run a small current through the rails, a train’s axles will short the current, and the system will “know” something is up.

The newer signals no doubt rely on computers. Our kids pay a price for this. Knowing how to manipulate an Arduino UNO is fun, but not a whole lot of thought goes into figuring out how the “machinery” works because there is none.

Coding is literally symbolic. It’s clean, it’s cool, it’s profitable.

No gears, no grease. (Yes, I know plastic gear kits are available for Arduino kits. Why not just use a servo?)

Still not all kids are living virtually. Just a few yards from the dead gears and torn wires is an art show seen by few humans, and maybe only one from the 1950s.

The mechanics of an aerosol can are be more easily understood. The kids are alright.