“Tell your second grade teacher I’m sorry.”
November 26, 2013 9:37 AM   Subscribe

At the elementary school in Brooklyn where I taught first grade, science was a “special,” along with dance, art, and physical education. That meant that students were delivered by their homeroom teachers to the science teacher between one and three times a week for less than an hour each time.

...

“I’M NOT A SCIENTIST, man,” Florida senator Marco Rubio told GQ magazine in an interview published in December 2012, following the first presidential debate season in twenty-eight years to fail to mention climate change. Rubio had been asked how old he thinks the earth is; it is unclear whether he was signaling a fashionable disdain for scientific facts or whether he truly did not know.
posted by tilde (34 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
This post is part of a sort of bizarre confluence of forces because I am right at this very moment buying science supplies for kids on donorschoose.
posted by elizardbits at 9:45 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Parents should never assume schools are teaching kids all they need to know.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:47 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Until I read this, I didn't realize that my kids are, starting this year, only getting science a few days a week. However, when they do, it's in two hour blocks. (the other block it's with is Social Studies - which consists of a specialized history weekly news paper and discussion group).

If I remember my kids' elementary schools correctly (recent, some still in) - the split / share time of Science and Social studies has been going on for a while, but the teachers incorporate some science into daily learning (reading) activities.
posted by tilde at 9:50 AM on November 26, 2013


Until I read this, I didn't realize that my kids are, starting this year, only getting science a few days a week. However, when they do, it's in two hour blocks. (the other block it's with is Social Studies - which consists of a specialized history weekly news paper and discussion group).

I actually wouldn't have a problem with that, as a parent. I think science and social studies lend themselves to larger school "blocks" than other subjects like reading that can be done in 45 minute increments.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:51 AM on November 26, 2013


Yeah, I didn't see it as a lack, the way their school splits it up, just as a different from When I Was A Young'n TM. The kidlets still come home full of sciency questions and us parental / uncle-aunty / grandpt units drown them in it from standing on the shoulders of the parents we had (or didn't have so was instilled from curiosity/rebellion in some instances).
posted by tilde at 9:55 AM on November 26, 2013


Yeah a bizarre confluence of forces. Henrietta Lacks? I was wondering how that piece was going to link the woman at the center of an ethical conflict in early stem cell research to LOL republican carbon emission deniers. But the non sequitur still caught me by surprise.
posted by three blind mice at 9:57 AM on November 26, 2013


I take a little bit of issue with the pull-quote.

I went to public school in Brooklyn, and until 6th grade (when it became a daily subject) that's exactly how we were taught science. It was taught by the Science Teacher, who was a distinct individual in the school. However, he clearly respected and given budget and space other teachers didn't have. Which was great, because it allowed the school -- which wasn't a shithole, but wasn't particularly well-funded either -- to have the kids be educated in science by someone whose sole job it was to teach them science.

It's not that our teachers couldn't be trusted to teach science, but they were early education specialists first, and subject teachers second. We didn't have specialized teachers for a full day in elementary school; no one in public school did. I can easily see why three days of hands-on instruction from a single-discipline teacher would be preferable to five days of instruction by a general teacher if you only had the funding for one or the other.

So the real issue comes right after the pullquote:
[The science teacher] had little in the room to engage my six-year-olds beyond laminated charts and posters on the wall: no microscopes, no plants, no homemade solar system models or fungus-crowded petri dishes. No fish tanks or worm bins or leaf specimens. Our principal liked a tidy classroom, and the science teacher’s was spotless.
Three days of that specifically is, well, not good at all.
posted by griphus at 9:58 AM on November 26, 2013 [11 favorites]




Parents should never assume schools are teaching kids all they need to know.

Parents of means don't and send their kids to private schools or tutors or extracurricular lessons if they feel they need to. Parents without means lack the means to do much about it.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:18 AM on November 26, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yeah a bizarre confluence of forces.

The point I was making is that it was a really weird coincidence for me personally in the context of my personal life that is happening to me right now for me to read this post at the same time as making a donation for school science supplies, not whatever other random thing you are ascribing to my statement.
posted by elizardbits at 10:19 AM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Parents should never assume schools are teaching kids all they need to know.

My step-sister-in-law seemed truly shocked that I suggested that she read more with her kids when my niece was having trouble with reading in school because "that's the school's job". she just assumed that the school wasn't doing it's job and never even though about her responsibility.
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:20 AM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


>Parents should never assume schools are teaching kids all they need to know.

Parents of means don't and send their kids to private schools or tutors or extracurricular lessons if they feel they need to. Parents without means lack the means to do much about it.


It's not about money and tutors. Parents should take a real interest in their children's learning. Of course, we pay (a lot) of taxes to make sure schools do a good job, but in reality it's a machine that teaches to the middle of the bell curve.

Showing a genuine interest as a parent in what kids are learning is often enough to help improve performance.

In terms of climate change and science, we're all on this planet together, rich and poor, so we should all be educating ourselves about what is happening and what we need to do. We cannot rely on government to somehow do the job for us.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:26 AM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Parents should take a real interest in their children's learning.

Parents should do a lot of things. They should feed their kids good food. They should discipline them constructively, rather than yelling and hitting. They should find jobs that give them good work-life balance so they actually have time to see the kids they are spending 60 hours a week working to feed.

"Parents should" has never, in the history of civilization, been a constructive way to look at the education of children. That's why we don't have an educational infrastructure based around home-schooling.
posted by griphus at 10:29 AM on November 26, 2013 [28 favorites]


That's why we don't have an educational infrastructure based around home-schooling.

I don't know where you've been. We practically do now, in some states.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:37 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know where you've been. We practically do now, in some states.

There are all sorts of religious exemptions to home and private schooling. You can teach your children that dinosaurs never existed.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:38 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Parents should never assume schools are teaching kids all they need to know.

because "that's the school's job"


I've always found this one undisturbingly worrisome. If I were to back out of my role as a parent of an individual and just look at the system as a whole, my goal would not be to make my kid the smartest kid in the world, just smarter than all of the other kids she's going to be competing against when it comes time for college admissions.

Expecting my kid to get the "same" education as everybody else and somehow come out of it better than every body else shows an extreme inability to understand what "average" really is when it comes to the rest of the world.

Of course, there's always the option of just accepting that one's kid IS average and will be just like everybody else, and doing nothing to make that better. Which is just an indication of how lazy our society has become.

Neither of these things lead to pleasant thoughts for my kid's future.
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:39 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can teach your children that dinosaurs never existed.

Later they will be elected governor.
posted by elizardbits at 10:39 AM on November 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


Parents of means don't and send their kids to private schools or tutors or extracurricular lessons if they feel they need to. Parents without means lack the means to do much about it.

There are plenty of bad private schools and parents who take little, if any, interest in engaging their children in school or out of it. (And parents who themselves were poorly educated, and those who are working too many jobs to be able to afford or handle tutors or extracurricular lessons...) Quotes like this:

“I was trying to explain photosynthesis,” she said, “and one of my kids asked me, ‘How does a plant make their food? Do they use a microwave?’ What do you say to that?”

are just a shame (and also another key reason why I dislike a lot of the rhetoric around standardized tests.) I have done science outreach through both Girl Scouts and museums and sometimes it felt like the first time some kids had ever been introduced to concepts or rockets or experiments that went boom. Or dinosaurs. (Dinosaurs were such a fundamental part of my childhood, from fossils to books to museums, that I literally cannot imagine my world today without them. HOW DO YOU DEPRIVE A CHILD OF DINOSAURS, THEY ARE THE COOLEST.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:43 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can teach your children that dinosaurs never existed.

Actually, they teach them that dinosaurs coexisted with man and then shrunk down to being lizards after the flood.

Which is self-evidently ridiculous, as dinosaurs shrunk down to being birds.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:46 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is why I always hang-dry my dinosaurs.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:47 AM on November 26, 2013 [31 favorites]


Of course, there's always the option of just accepting that one's kid IS average and will be just like everybody else, and doing nothing to make that better. Which is just an indication of how lazy our society has become.

Are you saying that a parent is being lazy when she accepts that her kid, like the vast majority of kids by definition, is average?

Or are you saying that everyone is complacent in education's transformation into an endless and cut-throat job interview where all the (by definition) "average" people are pitted against each other to prove that they aren't average?

I can pretty much agree with the second, though I wouldn't lay the blame at the feet of laziness.
posted by rue72 at 11:02 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


It is worth remembering that what is average for a human is mind-blowing for a potato.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:09 AM on November 26, 2013 [17 favorites]


I'm down for 5 billion, 212 million, 353 thousand, 718 years in the office pool. But is this like one of those Price Is Right things where somebody can overbid me by one year?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:11 AM on November 26, 2013


It is worth remembering that what is average for a human is mind-blowing for a potato.

All of Metafilter has led up to this quote for me. I feel an odd sense of fulfillment and emptiness. This must be how Inigo Montoya felt after completing his quest.

---

Not to defend science being moved into the back of the bus with art and PE (welcome to our bus, by the way, science teachers! Turns out most PE teachers are great fun), which is ludicrous and at high levels a reaction to teaching to tests which favor math and language skills, but at the elementary level, there are some basic life skills that can be taught that often better prepare them betters he for higher level science. For example, nurturing inquiry can pay off huge dividends later. Students who are rewarded for asking questions and exploring possible answers to those questions (including how to discern whether those answers are correct or not) are learning a more useful science skill as a first grader, perhaps, than the names for the parts of a plant.

Obviously, the parts of the plant are important and worth knowing, but finding a genuine joy in asking questions and then discovering the answers on their own is something that can be ingrained and lead will lead a young student, perhaps, to eventually want to learn those names on their own. Or to figure out why a prism hung in a window makes rainbows. Or where dirt comes from and why it's important.

Inquiry education isn't always recognizable as science education to old fogeys like myself, but I've seen kids come out of our elementary school eager and excited to learn science since it helps them answer the questions that they are asking - questions that they're excited to answer. Like all educational techniques, it's not a magical solution that solves every educational dilemma, but it really works for a significant chunk of kids. Get them to love learning and love exploring and love asking questions when they're young and they'll be better science students (and maybe scientists).

I don't get a sense that that is what is happening. Indeed, I get the sense that the sort of science education described in the link is prescribed curriculum that discourages inquiry and love of learning. My point is just that science education at the pre-2 level doesn't always have to look like test tubes and aquaponic tanks.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:28 AM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Until I read this, I didn't realize that my kids are, starting this year, only getting science a few days a week. However, when they do, it's in two hour blocks. (the other block it's with is Social Studies - which consists of a specialized history weekly news paper and discussion group).

They do this in Spain too - and they call it "Knowledge of the World". It is actually all one class in elementary school!
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:35 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't give them time to play outside and experience nature! They're supposed to be cramming for their standardized test, or at the mall, or glued to a screen that tells them what they should buy at the mall or online. Capitalism depends on this! It's unpatriotic to let the next generation explore all the things they can do with a stick and a mud puddle. Heaven forbid, if you let them do that they might become scientists!
posted by mareli at 12:05 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've got 5 billion, 212 million, 353 thousand, 719 years.

Eat it, sneeches.
posted by Justinian at 12:21 PM on November 26, 2013


On science education, here is a short thing about how sciences are poorly taught because they emphasize learning bodies of knowledge that are presented as 100% completely solved things and marginalize the doing of scientific investigation, creating the sense that there is nothing interesting left to be done with science and alienating students from the get-go. I'd add that a lot of STEM courses are not very accommodating (I was good at math up until we started doing timed tests and the emphasis shifted to quantity of work done; having to "show my work"--which I just did in my head--on paper was the nail in the coffin) and that a lot of STEM fields suffer from "engineer's disease," i.e. the outlook that very specific kinds of aptitude in math, programming or logic are the height of human achievement and "softer"/"feminine" areas like art, writing, music, etc. are "lesser" and uninteresting, unimportant and unworthy of investigation.
posted by byanyothername at 12:25 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


FWIW, I also hated all the "show your work" requirements in middle and high school. However, once I started actually working in research it quickly became apparent that this was an absolutely fundamental part of doing science, and not just for the sake of repeatability in published research (though that's very important too, of course).

On an even more basic level, learning to keep exacting, explicit, excruciatingly detailed notes in my own lab book was a foundational skill that I had to develop quickly. Partly that was so that others could pick up on my work if they had to, and partly it was because lab notebooks can become legal documents in the event of a scientific misconduct investigation, but mostly it was because you just can't trust yourself to remember all the deatils. If I have to repeat an experiment two weeks down the road, I need to know exactly what I did the first time or there's a good chance I'm going to end up doing weeks of extra work to get back to where I started.

That only had to happen once or twice before I got the point and learned my lesson, but if I had embraced that principle back in fifth grade I might never have had to go through it in the first place.
posted by Scientist at 1:27 PM on November 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


My son goes to a public STEM-focus elementary school, which basically means that they are making an effort to teach STEM skills for more than an hour a week, and to integrate it with other subjects, like good elementary education should. I was chatting with one of the teachers about an award-winning STEM curriculum (not going to name names since this is 2nd hand info) which they had tested one course of, and they were disappointed in it because the project resulted in students each building identical objects to solve the problem. It kind of makes me want to throw my hands up in the air in disgust. I know its harder to design a curriculum or project that is inquiry-based and open-ended, but seriously - this stuff wins awards?

End rant.
posted by Joh at 2:17 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


You can teach your children that dinosaurs never existed.

Later they will be elected governor.


The dinosaurs?
posted by jason_steakums at 5:31 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


you just can't trust yourself to remember all the deatils.

Quoted for truths!
posted by sneebler at 6:47 AM on November 27, 2013


I know its harder to design a curriculum or project that is inquiry-based and open-ended, but seriously - this stuff wins awards?

Oh, god, so much this. I don't know how new my son's teacher was last year, but he was not getting something about writing or outlining or something, and she mentioned that "I know he saw it Tuesday when we went over it in the curriculum, so it's not like he hasn't seen it before." I just didn't even know what to say to that. I forget what we ended up doing but it worked.

There have been literally dozens of different curricula used by our school district in the last 20 years or so. That's how long his kindergarten teacher had been around. She'd kept all the workbooks. If a kid didn't get what they needed from one system, they got it from another.

It's got to be crazy for the teachers. I know we've had three different systems in the last five years alone.
posted by lysdexic at 12:31 PM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Rubio had been asked how old he thinks the earth is; it is unclear whether he was signaling a fashionable disdain for scientific facts or whether he truly did not know."

Textbook example of a dog-whistle.

"I don't know if ...
... Obama is a Muslim
... Democrats are fighting a war on Christmas
... Evolution is real
... Climate Change is happening
... The climate change that is obviously happening is caused by humanity
... My opponent is a witch
... Glen Beck killed a woman in 1995
, I'm not...
... His iman.
... Inside their party.
... A scientist.
... A scientist.
... A scientist.
... An expert on witches.
... Able to get him to answer the question.

God, I hate them with a burning passion. They are killing my country. They are evil.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:56 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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