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.
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.)
I know what folks will pay for this. I also know what it’s worth. Two very different things….
I have a chunk of ambergris, found it years ago, and while briefly tempted to sell it, am grateful now I kept it.
It was sitting right on the edge of the bay just north of Lincoln Avenue. It wasn’t much to look at, and I am not sure what possessed me to pick it up. Even then I almost tossed it back into the bay.
I mostly forget about it, but now and again I walk through a cloud of its molecules and get briefly taken to, well, not sure where, some vague place of immeasurable joy.
Not immense. Immeasurable.
In the literal sense.
You cannot measure the pleasure, the joy, the presence of the herenow that lump of aged whale shit brings me. It apparently has the same effect on others, why else would anyone offer thousands of dollars for a slab of shite?
The big data junkies among us might argue that all things are measurable, and I supposed you could take pre- and post-ambergris exposure levels of my serum oxytocin and plot them over time, but that becomes impractical, and it’s not important anyway..
Turns out measuring some pretty important things in education are impractical, too. Brilliant writing. Unorthodox but rational thinking. Sense of public duty. Joy. Ability to observe subtle details. Flexibility when confronted with new ideas. Empathy.
When our ability to measure outcomes trumps our choices of which outcomes matter, we’ve stripped “public” from education.