During my ‘debate‘ with Creationist Charles Jackson, he let loose lots of funny accusations like “People like you are why kids think science is boring!” heh. See, Chuck wanted kids to ‘debate’ Creationism in science class, and I wanted kids to, you know, learn in science in science class. If you the kids dont have a basal level of science literacy, they werent really ‘debating’ Evilution vs Creationism– they were parroting talking points they had learned from their elders (both sides).
Science is a foreign language, and you have to learn the words first. We do need to make this as interesting and enriching as possible– Like, in my Latin course, we didnt blindly learn lists of vocab, we learned vocab via old Roman stories about prostitutes. You learned the words and had fun doing it.
But there is another way kids learn foreign languages: immersion. Can we do that with science too?
David Harwood at the University of Nebraska Lincoln is trying to find out. Hes taking groups of future science teachers on 3-week geology field trips:
The idea is simple: In the rocky wilderness of Wyoming, a dozen students are pressed into teams and tasked with recapitulating centuries’ worth of geological discovery in a matter of days.
… Replace passive learning with engagement in the process of scientific inquiry, and profound changes come over students. Just as geological discoveries in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries gave rise to the Darwinian revolution in science, so the first-hand discovery of earth history inscribed in rock opens up young minds–even if they’ve been indoctrinated by religion.
… Ben doesn’t know it, but he has just stumbled onto geologist T. C. Chamberlin’s precept of multiple working hypotheses, one of the key nineteenth-century contributions to the modern scientific method. The name means nothing to him, but the idea of investigating and testing various possible explanations sticks. Within a few days, virtually the entire class has caught on. Pooling their observations, making up a lexicon, generating hypotheses, and applying systematic if sometimes faltering analysis, the group begins to succeed at deciphering the geological history before them.
… “We’re learning by discovery,” Harwood tells the students, adding encouragingly, “You’re reading the landscape and making inferences. That’s good.”
BUT! There is one thing that bothers me about this:
Back on dry land, the students try again to get the hang of this discovery thing. Investigating a hill near the Cottonwood Creek Dinosaur Trail, they attempt to decode the uptilted layers that poke their edges out of the incline. They are hobbled by an ignorance of terminology. “Oh my God!” exclaims Tatiana. “I feel like I’m freakin’ five years old!” Ben, however, is beginning to see virtue in direct inquiry. Caked in dirt as red as his hair, he shows me a handful of soil he has excavated. “I call it ‘green shaley stuff.’ We don’t know the names of anything! But that’s okay.”
*frowny face* The words these kids dont know is how we communicate with one another in science. You cant say “We put the gene in these cells…”, because transfection and transformation are very different things. You need to use the right word so people know what you are doing. You cant just make up words in Spanish and expect everyone in Madrid to know ‘YO NEEDO LA DONUTA’ means you want a donut. Im assuming the kids are learning the right words later…
But this approach certainly has potential for science educators. Or dick ‘sports journalists’ students who tag along for ‘giggles and credits’:
He brushes Harwood’s idea of science aside as “a lot of this’s and that’s. It all comes down to one word–theory.” It turns out that his main objection in this class is to the geological column, which sets the Earth’s age at billions of years. “It’s a hypothesis that can’t be proven or hasn’t been proven,” he says. “It’s not a fact.” To avoid the possibility of heresy, David avoids writing any dates at all in his field journal.