Thursday, November 30, 2006

Loving Science

Among the things I love, and the list is long so it may be a while before you know all of them, is science. Told you I thought about becoming an astronomer. Majored in anthropology, intending to be an archeologist, my first swipe at college. After I dropped out and then returned as the single mother of two very young children, switched to psychology. Now, I know that the social sciences are not as developed as the hard sciences, but they are science. And, when I took psychology you had to have a semester of human anatomy. Among my anthro classes was one on comparative anatomy where we studied the teeth of various primates.

I got to thinking about this when I was over at A Natural Scientist and found this wonderful article Curiosity, Wires, Destruction

My other theory is that everyone would love science if they were only shown it the right way. I've sat through a lot of lectures where the teacher clearly didn't know the answer to "Why should my students care?" And you know what? Those lectures were boring. But there should always be a convincing answer. Sometimes the answer is, so you can understand something else. Sometimes it's, because it's cool. Occasionally, it's directly relevant to everyday life:
We had a microscope growing up. Pond scum, dog hairs, onion skins, dirt, leaves: you name it, we looked at it.
We took apart a washers, computers, blenders, and cars. "Why?" was always answered by "What do you think?"

All three of us are scientists.
I have taught people science all of my life, just about. I was a camp counselor the summer after my freshman year of college, and we studied the outdoors. The kids were out in it and they loved it. When I taught Montessori, we had a wonderful science section, where very sophisticated concepts were presented at the level a three or four year old could understand. It was a very popular section of the classroom.

I gave my own children a telescope, a microscope, a stethoscope, prisms, magnets, and gyroscopes and they played with them and learned.

Because I love science, I am always reading about it and adding new knowledge to my life. When I was teaching parenting classes, I added research about various things to help my students see the what and why of their children. I used research about wild ravens learning faster than tame ones to throw light on how their children needed to play outdoors and run and climb to learn easily. I brought in history to help them see that mistakes are to learn from rather than to be punished.

And the thing is, the thing that agrees with A Natural Scientist -- many of the parents in my class had dropped out of school. Some were illiterate. And yet, like all of the children that I taught, they loved the science that I taught them. Because I love it. Because I knew how it related to what they needed. And, because I taught it with respect for both my subject and my class. There is something that is amazing when you first see someone who the schools have always treated as stupid grasping science. Understanding that what she is learning is science. Knowing that she can understand it and that you know she can understand it.

Children are naturally curious about the world. They have to be slapped down, told that they are wrong for wanting to know the answers, to give up that curiosity. Children want to learn the way colts want to run and kittens want to pounce. What would you have to do to a colt to make it hate running? What would you have to do to a kitten to make it fear pouncing? We have to stop doing that to our children, whether it is happening at home or in school. Because it is their birthright to love learning, to love science, to be excited about new things. And too many of them are being robbed. Every adult you encounter who doesn't like science and learning has been robbed. It is unconscionable.


Godwhacker said...

I LOVE science. I just got a subscription to Sky and Telescope Magazine, and I have been captivated for hours. My only problem with science is that I have always found it all so enticing that I have never focused on any one area. As such I know a little about almost every field.

If I could live for 500 years, I would earn a degree in everything from particle physics to medicine.

Nice post!

JF, scientist said...

Thank you, and amen to that! The parents you taught must have been very lucky to have such a gifted person to inspire them to really think.

I hope that my own curiosity will help my future children love learning, but I grieve for all the children I meet who have been taught to memorize and not to question. Surely our schools can do better.

Maya's Granny said...

I, like you, love it all and have never developed the depth that would be required to earn my living at it -- but it makes me an ideal person to teach/explain concepts up to a given level. Knowing a little about most every field is a strength, you just have to figure out which barbells you want to use it to lift.

jf, scientist,
Thank you very much. I think that what our schools do with many areas of learning is a crime. Children should love school, and adults should look back at it with delight and joy. And they don't.

Never That Easy said...

I am so sure that you were a wonderful teacher (since you're still doing such a good job here). If only this way of thinking were more prevalent in today's schools: there's no reason AT ALL that school should be boring, or that learning can't be enjoyable. (Although, if I'm being totally honest, b/c math is sooo not my thing, I have a hard time imagining just how calculus could've been interesting.)


Maya's Granny said...

Calculus is out of my league. However, there is a lot of math that is a very fun game. But, the teacher has to make sure that the child is engaged with the material and really understands it. When we rush ahead to meet some schedule, it doesn't work.

Also, when I was doing my Montessori training I took a New Math class that had teachers in it that had been teaching New Math for up to five years, and the questions that they asked made it abundantly clear that they hadn't a clue about it. Of course their students were confused; of course their students hated it.

Anna said...

You are indeed an enabler, with fully-operational intuition towards the child. Wish I'd known you way back then, I've always had to struggle with non-arts subjects since a bad start and mediocre teachers.

Purple Avenger said...

All the kids in my neighborhood gather like flies to honey whenever my garage door is open. They know I'll spend some time with them and it won't be presented in the same mind numbing manner as the drivel they get at school.

It'll be aerodynamics experienced with a real wing they can fly around with their hands, or magnetism with some super powerful rare earth magnets (get these for free out of dead hard disk drives).