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.
We favor blues musicians without testosterone, without teeth, without sight, without color.
Black women, androgynous white men, and old Black men are safer. Old, scratchy vinyl recordings are safer. But we shy away from the Black man in his prime.
The blues are easy to play poorly yet sound good to white ears. The Stones made a living on this.
I was playing Robert Johnson as the seniors strolled into class on Friday. I’ve gotten in the habit of playing music as the day starts, and Robert Johnson was the morning headliner.
The third marking period started a few days ago. The class just had their first quiz. Most failed, not unexpected given it was the first quiz for seniors that did not count. Senioritis has kicked in.
So I sang an off-the-cuff blues piece about senioritis backed by a harmonica riff lifted off YouTube.
And now I realize this was a mistake.
So tomorrow I will start class with an apology. Not for playing Robert Johnson, a fierce blues man who died far too young. Not for singing, though that may warrant a separate kind of apology.
I will apologize for my lack of respect. Using that art form at that moment to entertain students was wrong. It felt off at the moment, but I wasn’t sure why. I thank Justin of objective opinions for his kind reminder.
(Yes, I will still sing and play the blues by myself for myself–but I cannot share what I do not own.)
Science is about recognizing when something doesn’t fit a current model of the natural world, which is just about all the time in science. Science is all about telling someone else they’re wrong.
Schooling is all about being “correct” and getting high grades. High school science is an oxymoron. I wrestled with this for years until I met Chris Harbeck, a different kind of teacher.
While sharing pints with a few teachers upstairs at McGinty’s, Chris took a “sip” of Guinness, then tossed out a few words that changed my teaching–
Print out your Errorometer, laminate it, hang an Expo marker next to it–done.
Simple. Cheap. Effective.
Every time a student gives me a reasonably well thought “wrong” (or even an unusual but “right”) response to anything going on in class, even if only tangentially related to the natural world, a student can put a point up on the Errorometer. For every 10 points, everybody in class gets 10 out of 10 points in the Test/Quiz category.
Yep, everybody. Yep, it diminishes the “value” of points individuals receive on tests. Yep, everybody’s grade gets a boost.
But, as a wise Canadian math teacher told me over a pint (or three) of Guinness, if points mean nothing (and we agreed that was true), then giving them out freely and frequently means nothing as well.
(The fancier pedagogues among us might even call this metacognition.)