Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

What makes a good science teacher? Honestly, I have no idea. Teaching is certainly not my cup of tea, and I thank my stars that UM only asked me to teach one semester. I probably know a lot more about what not to do, given the kind of teachers I had.

Myself, I received a horrible science education in middle and high school. In 7th grade, when I first moved to South Carolina, my new science teacher made me rewrite an essay on genetics because I didn’t “explore the likelihood that God can change genetics whenever, so the idea of hereditary traits is largely moot.” (More under the fold…)


In 10th grade, we were forced to watch, in horror, videos of horrible decerebration experiments in cats, as well as some guy poking at the medulla oblongata of a crocodile to illustrate that this was the “aggression center.” I thought, ‘Well I’d be pretty pissed to if my skull was removed and some smirking douchebag was poking my exposed brain.” I raised my hand and asked my teacher, perhaps naively, what happened to those cats, pigeons, and crocodiles after the experiment?

Silence. Then, in order to not seem “wrong” the science teacher made me look incredibly stupid for asking. They died, Shelley. No duh. I sank down in my chair and thought science was monstrous and cruel. I thought this because of the teacher’s poor understanding of WHY these experiments were done, beyond the “hey look what science can do and has done.” We never discussed current experiments, and sadly I entered undergrad thinking that science was still in that barbaric state, animals’ suffering at the whims of hand-rubbing sadists who only lived to push the boundaries of bio-manipulation.

That is the way NOT to be a science teacher. Luckily for me, I learned how to both be humane, and to perform relevant experiments while minimizing any discomfort felt my the animals. But, I still get chills thinking of all the animals that were considered a “waste of anesthesia,” and as such, died horrible deaths. Teachers, be gentle with your students. Instill in them a fascination and love for knowledge WITH PURPOSE, and save the 1950s-era decerebration movies for a few years down the road.

Comments

  1. #1 Joseph j7uy5
    June 24, 2006

    I agree that the failure to discuss up-to-date experimental findings is a common failing. Unfortunately, if a teacher wants to do that, she or he cannot simply recycle the same lesson plans year after year. The fact that you were still being shown 50’s-era movies indicates that your teachers were not up to the task of staying current.

    South Carolina? Zow. I bet you are glad to be in Michigan. (Easy to say that, on a sunny day in June.)

    FYI, if you’re not already familiar with the secessionist movement:

    http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=45102
    http://christianexodus.org/

  2. #2 Robert P
    June 24, 2006

    I taught a small liberal arts school in SC for a year before escaping, I can tell you that things haven’t changed all that much.

  3. #3 Abel Pharmboy
    June 25, 2006

    Thankfully, a good number of friends are infiltrating SC to resolve the situation. Rick at Science, Shrimp & Grits is also doing a great job from the blogging side, describing his experiences as a chemistry teacher. A neat recent post is on how to make a brass alloy on a penny.

    Shelley, I’d bet that you’d be an awesome teacher given these horrible experiences. Sometimes, seeing how it’s not done is just as valuable

  4. #4 Doug
    June 25, 2006

    What makes a good science teacher? I think four things (keep changing my mind as I write this).

    A) They MUST have a command of the subject. They must have an understanding that goes beyond the top thin layer being taught to the student. Students respect a teacher who knows her/his topic.

    B) They must be able to explain what they know to a range of students. If they only know how to talk to folks at the upper ranges of the class, they don’t know their material. They must be able to speak using math, metaphor, and story; whatever it takes to get everyone to understand the material.

    C) They must be able to say ‘I don’t know the answer, that would be a good research project for a post-doc’. The first time I heard a PhD say ‘no clue’, I was floored. Holy crap, there’s actually more to learn!

    D) It helps if they’re not single subject experts. I love it when an English teacher suddenly brings in art or math or geography. You mean, knowledge doesn’t live inside a tiny one-dimensional box? Holy smokes…math and science relate to society? Cool!

    Good science teachers are just good teachers – same characteristics as good teachers for any subject.

    Good luck on your quest – the journey is the reason so keep travelling.

    Doug

  5. #5 Shelley Batts
    June 25, 2006

    Doug, great insights! I knew that I wasn’t the right person to answer this question. Glad you did, though. :)

  6. #6 Shelley Batts
    June 26, 2006

    Abel: thanks for pointing me over to Shrimp and Grits. What a great blog! I’m so glad that someone is blogging on science education in SC. I can see that the state has a great teacher in him/her. I think I’ll leave the teaching to them. :)

    Joseph: Yes, Michigan is certianly much more “with-it” in the realm of research and science, I feel very at home here until about mid-November. Then I miss Florida like crazy. :) That ChristianExodus movement truly scares me. But, as I never plan to return to SC if I can help it, I say to those kooks ‘don’t let the door hit ya on the way out.’

  7. #7 Rick @ shrimp and grits
    June 26, 2006

    In 7th grade, when I first moved to South Carolina, my new science teacher made me rewrite an essay on genetics because I didn’t “explore the likelihood that God can change genetics whenever, so the idea of hereditary traits is largely moot.”

    Ugh. But that does illustrate why religious fundamentalism is bad for science. If God continually changes the rules the universe runs by, what’s the point in trying to do science and discover the rules?

    We in South Carolina have been arguing about the science standards a lot (I’m as guilty of this as anyone…), but I wonder how much mangled science actually gets taught at the classroom level. Given the limited and continually eroding power of grade school and high school teachers, how many simply avoid teaching the controversial parts of science?

  8. #8 Robert P
    June 26, 2006

    Colbert did a report on the exodus to South Carolina and the best part was that the guy who started it all…hasn’t moved. He still lives in Chicago or somewhere like that. Yet, he has convinced all of these other people to move.

    I knew I was in trouble in SC when I went to a sports bar to watch a football game and most of the crowd was drinking coffee or water. Yikes!

  9. #9 RobertP
    June 26, 2006

    p.s. Rick, where you at in SC?

    I can assure you that incoming freshman know little biology and some openly questioned evolution.

  10. Colbert did a report on the exodus to South Carolina and the best part was that the guy who started it all…hasn’t moved.

    According to an article in the Greenville News, the head honcho of Christian Exodus lives (of all places) in California:

    http://www.greenvilleonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050712/NEWS01/507120311


    I can assure you that incoming freshman know little biology and some openly questioned evolution.

    I’m in the Pee Dee area, which (aside from the immediate Grand Strand area) is quite rural and religious. Many of my incoming students are chemistry-illiterate, but chemistry is optional – depending on which “track” you choose in high school.

    Almost all are ignorant of the scientific method (how science is done and even definitions of the basic terms), which makes me wonder if the science standards in the state are actually being followed.

    I knew I was in trouble in SC when I went to a sports bar to watch a football game and most of the crowd was drinking coffee or water. Yikes!

    What town was that in? :) (And do not get me started on the state’s antiquated “blue laws”…)

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