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Posts Tagged ‘science

You can read the title as a cheer or a sigh.


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Yesterday I heard a promoter at mall sell disinformation. This reminded me of the claim a student teacher made years ago.

The mall charlatan proclaimed the benefits of oxygenated water and a product that would allow you to put extra oxygen in tap water.

Only aquatic organisms would benefit from an infusion of oxygen in the water. Then again only up to a point because too much oxygen is harmful whether it is in water or air. That aside, humans are terrestrial animals and we do not gain from extra-oxygenated water except perhaps for ticklish bubbles.

If we were somehow able to absorb more oxygen from water like the way we do from our red blood cells, we would oxidise chemicals in our bodies. One physically overt effect of this is premature aging, which was something contrary to the promoter’s product.

The harm of buying into this non-scientifically-based sell hurts your pocket and helps perpetuate scientific ignorance. This is bad, but not as bad as what might happen in a classroom.

A few years ago, I reflected on a student teacher who told her students that it was important to drink water because it contained oxygen. Our bodies do not electrolyse water. If we did, we would produce two highly flammable and explosive gases (hydrogen and oxygen) in our bodies.

I pointed this out to the student teacher and urged her to rectify this at the next lesson. Misteaching science initiates or perpetuates falsehoods. Disinformation takes root and becomes unfounded knowledge. If left unchecked, this condition might develop into disdain for scientific literacy and critical thinking.

We should be nurturing kids who are scientifically literate and cheering, “Yeah, Science!” But if we do not correct bad teaching or ignorant sales pitches, we leave kids who think that ignorance is bliss.


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One thought that crossed my mind as I watched this video was how much science undergirds and enables the art. The same could be said about pedagogy.

I define pedagogy as the science and art of teaching. The science refers to the theoretical principles, experimentation, and research of what might be quantified about teaching. The art is the practice getting better with critical and reflective practice. Do one without the other, or favour one over the other, and we are unlikely to teach effectively.

The headlines highlighted in this tweet are why we need:

  • science and experts.
  • to be information and media literate.
  • to follow entities outside our bubbles.

Forbes and NASA have experts that are good at what they do. Both provided commentary on a shared observation. Only one was actually informative — NASA.

If we were information and media literate — collectively digitally literate — we would be skeptical of Forbes’ report and know how to investigate the issue. We would then find NASA’s version of the event and we would be able to evaluate what we find.

Operating outside our bubbles allows us to see what others see. Operate in the Forbes or entertainment bubble and we see only mystery or ignorance. Operate in the scientific bubble and we see more factual information.

That said, I follow You Had One Job on Twitter because it is funny. It is also provocative in that it helps me make critical connections. So while being digitally literate and sourcing expertise are important, it helps to first operate outside one’s bubble.

Some might say that the YouTube video below is a good example of combining science and art.


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I agree. I would also add that such a combination creates perspective. This could mean helping us see what we could not before or seeing something unexpected as a result of the combination.

What we see projected as a shadow is another subtle message — there is one entity with severals sides, each of which is only apparent when we make the effort to change the perspective.

There is a thin line between simplifying something and dumbing it down. We do both for kids and students, but I wonder if we know where the line is.

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Original source (removed)

This was a sweet video of a father trying to help his young son deal with the recent and terrible attacks in Paris. In trying to explain that flowers had power over guns, he simplified very complex societal and world issues.


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This is an entertaining video about rocket science without using words from rocket science. I think it makes a sneaky point that you can only dumb things down so far.

If we simplify to the point of dumbing down, we might be entertained, but we might not actually learn something useful.

It is easy to dumb down. It is not easy to simplify.

Simplifying.

This week I read a good critique of the way some science teachers in Singapore design test questions and grade them. The issues were a misplaced emphasis on rote learning (instead of inquiry) and the poor use of language (English and scientific) in setting test questions.

A parent wrote in to the ST Forum with a suggestion:

There seems to be something inherently wrong with how science is taught in primary schools today. Perhaps the time is ripe for a systemic review of the curriculum to address all these concerns.

This suggestion will not work alone. Curricular reviews and revisions tend to focus on content. That is only one piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
 

 
To see the whole picture, one needs to also factor in how teachers teach an academic subject (which is a function of pedagogy), and how they unlearn old habits in favour of learning new ones (professional development, leadership, incentives, and more).

A seemingly superficial or simple problem like stupid test questions or stubborn teacher behaviour has complex roots. The layperson does not dig as far and is not expected to. The real problem is when some schools, their leaders, and/or their teachers are not aware that they need to dig deep too.

Sometimes I wonder if the conversations that my wife and I have over dinner and YouTube videos have any impact on my son.

Yes, we watch YouTube videos and not television programmes over dinner. We talk about them and we unconsciously model communication and thinking skills for our son. This was not obvious to me until a recent father-son chat.

Every weekday I ask my son about his school day and his homework. Practically every day the answers are the same: Meh, boring, and arrgh!

 
Except one day. My son asked me why he had to perform science experiments to answer questions they already knew the answers to.

How many teachers or research scientists ask themselves this question? It was a particularly good question because it critiqued the purpose of doing experiments and the strategy for teaching science.

The standard response to this question might revolve around learning or practising the scientific method. But the core issue is really about whether the focus is developing a discipline or being driven by curious discovery.

Any good teacher would want his/her students to have both. That said, I would wager that most teachers would err on the side of content delivery and disciplined thinking. But what if the teaching of science as a discipline takes out the joy of discovery?

This is one reason why we have the dichotomy of formal learning in school and informal learning elsewhere. There are rules, methods, and objectives in school, but they typically suck the life out of learning.

Outside of school the learning is looser and practically undisciplined in the sense that it does not start or end with subject silos, specific instructional objectives, or time-tested strategies.

The latter sort of learning is like how a child catches values, listening skills, and thinking skills at a daily setting like dinner conversation.

We need both formal and informal channels, of course. But I would err on the side of the informal if they are going to help my son develop the mindset he needs for his future.


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