Science Immersion

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.”

Cooooool!

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.

:-O

Comments

  1. #1 llewelly
    August 29, 2009

    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.

    No wonder liberals are such immoral perverts!!

  2. #2 Jason Dick
    August 29, 2009

    Eh, I wouldn’t worry too horribly much about learning jargon for a particular field in this situation. If they’re interested, they’ll put in the work and learn it. If not, then it won’t help them too much to learn the jargon anyway.

    For learning the process of science, knowing jargon is completely unnecessary. Of course, for working in a field of science, or for understanding research papers of said field, knowing the jargon is absolutely necessary. But it’s just not required to understand the process.

  3. #3 Optimus Primate
    August 29, 2009

    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.

    Just wanted to say, this is merely further evidence of Jackson’s douchebaggery. People like you are the reason people who pay attention think science is so freaking exciting.

    I’ll be honest: a lot of what you discuss here is over my head for the time being, and I’m the biggest science geek most of my friends know. I’m the one they call to ask why the Mentos and Diet Coke things works the way it does. I’m the one they call when their kids ask why the sky is blue. But truth be told, most of this virology stuff makes me feel like a fucking troglodyte and forces me to reveal my ignorance on a nigh-daily basis.

    But I’m drawn to it because of you, Abbie. And not because of your pretty eyes and flirty cheerfulness (LOL!) or visions of you with strap-on bananas. I keep hanging in here trying to grok all of this stuff because I find your unbridled enthusiasm for your work infectious.

    So Charles Jackson can suck it.

  4. #4 Azkyroth
    August 29, 2009

    But this approach certainly has potential for science educators. Or dick ‘sports journalists’ students who tag along for ‘giggles and credits’

    I’m not familiar with this phenomenon; can you give me some examples of dick sports and the kind of coverage they receive?

  5. #5 tcmJOE
    August 29, 2009

    Two things:
    1. Wyoming kicks ass.
    2. I’m fine with them not knowing the words for things at this point–terminology can be learned later, and many of the early geologists (biologists/chemists/etc) certainly had to come up with their own terms for things. Plus, knowing that something is defined gives it a certain mental importance. I’d think it would be even better mental practice to have to see a certain pattern, realize it’s importance, and then come up with a name for it (as opposed to the opposite way around).
    3. No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

  6. #6 tcmJOE
    August 29, 2009

    (Sorry for the double post, but comment #4 came up after I posted)

    “I’m not familiar with this phenomenon; can you give me some examples of dick sports and the kind of coverage they receive?”

    Penis fencing would be the obvious candidate.

  7. #7 William Wallace
    August 29, 2009

    In the context of what was said in the debate, Jackson pwned you on that.

  8. #8 Brachychiton
    August 30, 2009

    can you give me some examples of dick sports

    Cock fighting.

  9. #9 Joshua Zelinsky
    August 30, 2009

    Somewhat similar approaches have been tried with math before with some success for high school students and high school teachers. The Ross Program at Ohio State and the similar PROMYS program at Boston University use a similar sort of immersion (there’s some degree of analogy here) and have had great success teaching number theory and other areas of math.

  10. #10 Sili
    August 30, 2009

    Re dick sports: I gather ERV is a selfconfessed /b/tard. Perhaps she’s strayed into /y/ on occasion.

  11. #11 Juuro
    August 31, 2009

    My problem with the “immersion” or “discovery” approach is stated in the article quote you give:

    … tasked with recapitulating centuries’ worth of geological discovery in a matter of days…

    Language can be absorbed by osmosis, because the human mind has an innate drive for expressing itself via language. The human mind does not have an innate drive for constructing science. Generating hypotheses, yes — and from the hypotheses, legends, myths, religions. The scientific method, the whole edifice that we call science, has been developed to circumvent innate features of the mind, and to make it a bit easier to construct non-theological explanations of the world.

    Hands-on learning can be a great motivator and a wonderful tool. But if the learner is required to construct for themself the same kind of intellectual construct that it took great minds millennia (not only centuries) to construct, I feel we are expecting a little too much.

  12. #12 stogoe
    August 31, 2009

    Penis fencing would be the obvious candidate.

    How do you collect enough to build a whole fence without attracting police attention?

  13. #13 Prometheus
    August 31, 2009

    You got to read Plautus and Terence in Latin intro?

    Lucky girl. I don’t know how anybody gets through Balme and Moorwood.

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