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….

Snowdrops in a human wasteland

We live in north Jersey, not far from landfills made famous locally by made families, and nationally by The Sopranos.

Part of the landfill has been reclaimed as DeKorte Park, and while folks around here pretend that the wetlands have been reclaimed, the chemical undertones at low tide expose its damage.

(I clam. I know the fecund smell of a healthy mudflat. It’s getting there, but the hint of halocarbons under the fecundity betray the spin of those paid to fool us.)

And here amidst the human damage bloom some snowdrops, a reminder that spring is coming and that renewal is possible.

But it’s late January and the snowdrops come too early now.

The blueberry patch

Three tiny twigs were stuck into the ground a few years ago, promising blueberries for a child before we knew they would not make it past their early womb.

The tiny twigs sprouted leaves and small branches, but were devastated by the bunnies. We built a small fence, hope over experience.

The twigs turned into bushes, and the child’s sibling was born three years ago. Birds got the few blueberries that dotted the branches the past couple of years while we waited for her to grow big enough to enjoy her blueberry patch.

Teeth and legs grew, and now our grand baby was ready to harvest “her” blueberry bushes, one she believes she planted, and who am I to doubt her?

When the berries were still green, we covered the plants with bird netting. She waited and waited and waited, and this weekend the blueberries were ready.

Together we removed the netting, and I picked her up over the now battered rabbit fencing, and she lit up as she picked blueberry after blueberry after blueberry, most destined for her belly, a few given to me.

And yesterday she invented the blueberry game.