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July 14, 2005 10:55 PM   Subscribe

How should science be taught in school?
posted by daksya (16 comments total)
A physics textbook needn't address in any explicit way the pleasures of studying physics.

I, too, have always hated the gently patronizing tone of textbook prose, especially when their writers labor to adopt that ubiquitous wondrous tone. These writers often sound as though they're trying to sell something; children are very good at detecting that, and respond with suspicion.

And how should science be taught in school? I don't think it should be taught at all.
posted by ori at 12:03 AM on July 15, 2005

in joint years?
posted by sharpener at 12:52 AM on July 15, 2005

Kids who want to be scientists should be indentured to working scientists when they are about 10. They could start as beaker washers and cage cleaners and cyclotron polishers.
posted by pracowity at 1:02 AM on July 15, 2005

And how should science be taught in school? I don't think it should be taught at all.

Yes, we should have a race of artists cared for by an all-knowing computer called The Custodian.
posted by Citizen Premier at 1:19 AM on July 15, 2005

"On nearly every page one finds boxes, insets, three-dimensional marginalia in four colors, and all manner of gratuitous graphics. It is difficult to discern any rank order to the different kinds of information presented."

Kinda like Thanks daksya, this is a pet peeve.
posted by klarck at 4:43 AM on July 15, 2005

I never really experienced the level of appreciation for science and math the author speaks about until I was an adult, because I viewed all schoolwork as WORK. Luckily, I learned to read, and am interested in, well, everything. As Mark Twain said, "I never let my schooling get in the way of my education."

ori, as much as I agree with your link about "not teaching at all", somewhere along the line kids need to learn to deal with the necessary but unpleasant. Too many kids view everything about school as unpleasant and unnecessary.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 5:53 AM on July 15, 2005

My favorite part about the web is how you don't have to read anymore, and are discouraged from writing.

I recall a bold prediction that in ~50-100 years only the most antiquated scholars will read. Everyone else will rely on voice-recognition, auditory feedback and visual cues. I just can't recall where I recall it from.
posted by geekyguy at 5:57 AM on July 15, 2005

>Appealing to self-interest, a teacher might be tempted to say, “Look at how much money techno-geeks have made for themselves in the last decade,” but this is sleight of hand, since the new billionaires have been primarily in software, and manipulating the conventions of computer code has little to do with natural science.

B.S. As a software engineer, my natural science education in college and high school has come in handy a number of times.
posted by woil at 7:28 AM on July 15, 2005

Yes, we should have a race of artists cared for by an all-knowing computer called The Custodian.

RTF link, dumbass.
posted by ori at 8:07 AM on July 15, 2005

The reality is that nobody involved in the selection process is actually reading the books, so from a publisher’s perspective, the important thing is that every conceivable topic be mentioned and, just as important, listed in the index for quick reference. The Third International Mathematics and Science Study found that the average U.S. science middle school textbook covers 50 to 65 topics, while texts in Japan include only five to 15 topics and German textbooks cover an average of seven topics. The superficial treatment of dozens of topics comes at the expense of students’ conceptual understanding.

Strangely, I noticed that textbooks seemed to be getting dumber by the end of grade school. Specifically, I noticed that although we'd spent what seemed like a great deal of time learning how to use dictionary style pronunciation guides, our newer textbooks insisted on giving us pro-NOWN-sirs that in-SULL-ted our in-TELL-uh-gents. By the time I hit college, I was finding errors in brand new textbooks. That's aside from honest differences of academic opinion and obvious bias. Now, maybe textbooks have always sucked, and I was merely better able to figure that out as I grew older. On the other hand, I still look to my Grandmother's American History book if I need to know about something that happened before "The Great War."

In short, the problems described are not unique to science, and some schools are solving this problem by using in-house teaching materials and cobbling together a variety of Things That Work.
posted by ilsa at 11:25 AM on July 15, 2005

Similarly, in a physics course there are answers in the back of the book, standing as a silent rebuke to error and confusion. This sits ill with the current educational imperative of self-esteem. It has been clear for some time that the elephant of anti-elitism has run amok in education;

Oh god, not this again. How can anyone claming to be a "scientist" use urban legends like this in an argument? Yes, there is a focus on self-estime, but the vast majority of education still uses grades, etc. People act like no grades are given out at all, or something.
posted by delmoi at 1:18 PM on July 15, 2005

I believe the problem with science is the attempt to teach plain facts, like the boiling points of things or the names of parts of cells, rather than systems, like evolution or mechanics or genetics. I did a science degree, I read science fiction and popular science books, I rant with an excited gleam in my eye to friends about the heat death of the universe and how every cell in your body is from a successful four-billion-year lineage of splitting cells, and I was bored silly in lots of science classes at school.

Of course, there is a lot of scientific "vocabulary" that is necessary before the interesting "grammar" can be obtained, but is there any point in teaching the difference between stigma and stamen? Scrap teaching a scientific curriculum in schools. Teach maths, arts, and science by means of one-off Just So lectures: "Today, kids: what's going to happen to the universe? Big crunch or heat death? Let's start with what each would look like ..."
posted by alasdair at 2:59 PM on July 15, 2005

Thanks, daksya. Intersting article.

Apposite to nothing, this same issue of the New Atlantis also has an article on blogging, with a pullquote from a former MeFi'er:
And some finally succumb to “blog fatigue” and give up. Describing the wearying interaction that led him to quit blogging, Steven Den Beste said, “nearly every article I write draws anywhere from five to fifty letters containing corrections, disagreements, comments about things I ‘left out’ because ‘I didn’t know,’ or other forms of kibitzing.”
posted by piskycritter at 3:19 PM on July 15, 2005

I have long advocated a new paradigm for education. The current model dates from the middle ages and can no longer provide an acceptable education. First of all, because of technology, we now have some new axioms:

1) Children no longer need to be part of a class taught by a teacher. With the multimedia computer, children can progress, be motivated, following their own, individual ebb and flow of learning, and be reviewed and evaluated *individually*, by computer. The teacher is there not to train rote memorization, or to maintain class mediocrity, but to support higher levels of education. Student records, to the very minute of what they were studying, are transferrable to any other school, so there is no loss in learning.

2) Administrators and parents can pre-select the multimedia curriculum for the student. A well-taught class that is recorded can be used over and over, and could even be distributed far and wide. Then, additional information can be added so that the student can pursue, through links, multimedia information about any part of the class through advanced college level, if they have an interest in doing so.

3) Student time is at a premium. It is unacceptable to waste large amounts of a student's day, as is done now. By tailoring the education to the student, so much time is saved that the curriculum can be greatly expanded. Multimedia lessons can be made multilingual, so that the student is learning two subjects at once.

4) Students will require intellectual techniques to master the increased demands on them. Multi-dimensional memorization techniques, and extensive practice in techniques such as information discrimination, analysis, interpolation, extrapolation, and synthesis; so that what they learn will have both far greater retention and be far more useful. For this reason, a very strong hierarchy of instruction will have to be maintained, as opposed to random bits of information without structure.

5) Strict attention will have to be paid to students' health throughout the year. Elaborate evaluation and correction will have to be made about such disabilities as dyslexia, other vision problems, hearing problems, learning disabilities, physical handicaps, and emotional and social problems. Their computer can help spot and refer problems.

6) The student will be in competition with himself, his peers, other students in his State, and nationally. His computer will motivate him to *intelligently* work to his best, not just always pushing him to do better. As students show bursts of interest in subjects, the resources will be there for them to digress deeply, until they are intellectually satisfied with whatever has caught their attention.

7) Conversely, failure in any subject will become increasingly difficult, as the worse a student does, the more and more emphasis is put on their learning that subject, with more practice, more review, and incremental evaluation. If they cannot learn in paces, then they can learn in "baby steps".

8) Student mastery instantly becomes known to specialized schools. Say a student proves himself particularly gifted in both music performance and chemistry. He may be automatically approached by both music schools and technical schools in his area, or if he is truly brilliant, have the offer of attendance at a government polytechnic school. Right now, many, many students have brilliance that is never developed, a tragic loss.

9) Even when students are ill for extended periods, incarcerated, or otherwise unavailable for education, or if for no reason their grades drop precipitously for a year, it is no great problem. They are never in a situation where they would be intellectually lost.
posted by kablam at 6:41 PM on July 15, 2005

kablam, you need only look around a bit to see why your ideas, although logical, efficient, and attainable with today's technology, will have little chance of widespread implementation. Too many people have too much interest in the status quo educational system, and will fight to the death (yours, probably) to keep things exactly the way they are.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 8:38 AM on July 16, 2005

kablam: OK, not to mean but at first I thought your comment was one of those funny, sarcastic jokes that tend to pop up on metafilter. Since your comment is so long I am assuming it's not a joke and I feel inclined to speak up since no one else has: that is one of the dumbest ideas I have ever heard on the subject of education. I'm not going to really offer any support for my opinion, I'll just reiterate that no good whatsoever would come of your plan.

But please don't feel that I am passsing judgement on you as a person; you are probably a very intelligent individual.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 10:46 PM on July 16, 2005

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