How to teach science....

If you go to You Tube and type in "How to teach science" you get this video by Bruce Price that I would never promote here except that I want to criticize it. I don't know Bruce Price except from what he wrote about Science Education. He has a website on Improving Education in all areas and not just in Science. From his article and video on "Teaching Science" I assume he's not a scientist at all and he has no idea about educating children or young adults. How can he go through his whole article and not mention experiments or hands on learning. How can he claim he wants to improve teaching science and not even talk briefly about how to teach scientific method? Bruce Price, most likely a history buff, seems to me ate the whole world and loves to preach something he knows nothing about.

I was so annoyed at his article and comments, that it stuck with me and I had to find it again so that I could write a little about it here. I need to get it off my chest and hopefully I can completely forget about such ignorance posturing as expert advice.

The author starts as follows:

Isn’t it amazing that X (whatever you are discussing) works in this particular way?! Isn’t it amazing that X works at all?! How did X come to be the way it is?! Let’s try to get inside of X and really understand it!!

Start with the good stuff. The dramatic, memorable, magical, who-would-believe-this- in-a-million-years stuff. The bolts of lightning, Grand Canyon, man-walks-on-moon stuff.

Some classrooms hardly teach anything at all. Other classrooms get bogged down in details that nobody cares about or can absorb.

The ergonomic way is obviously to move from one crowd-pleasing, show-stopping tour de force to the next, making small, obvious points as you skip along. Boxers say, "Stick and move, stick and move."

The Golden Rule here is: if you want students to learn three things, always teach the most interesting one first. The easiest one. The most memorable one. Then the next day, or the next week, go through the same material again, but with a different emphasis and more details. Again and again.

It doesn't seem so bad. Yes, make the kids interested. But for me, science is more than just "crowd-pleasing, show-stopping tour de force". There are 'boring' principles that have to be learned, have to be digested, have to become second nature (such as learning the principles of the periodic table, or learning about vectors or free body diagrams) to progress into the depths of understanding scientific principles. Presenting these topics in an interesting and relevant way is the challenge of a good teacher, not teaching the "dramatic, memorable, magical, who-would-believe-this- in-a-million-years stuff" - anybody can do that; a TV show on Discovery Channel can do that.

He then progresses onto the "best stuff from General Science, Biology, Chemistry" according to the author. These are the things, I guess, that the author thinks should be taught in schools - the so called curriculum-a-la-Bruce: Body, Brain, Cells, Sense of Scale, and Universe. Hopefully he doesn't mean that this is all we need to teach the students, but only gives us examples of the units that are important. I guess he knows best.

And finally, he states the point of his essay:

This article takes how long to read? Fifteen minutes? Certainly less than the duration of ONE high school class. And now you know most of the basics that every educated person should know...But try to find a high school graduate, or even a college graduate, who actually knows them.

What seems to be happening is that a lot of schools don't try very hard. Or the schools really try but the information is so detailed but poorly organized that it's like building a very tall and elaborate sand castle. A week later nothing much remains.

The schools of education aren't helpful. They don't offer courses with titles such as "How To Make Biology Come Alive" or "How To Make Kids Love Physics" or "Teaching Science Made Easy." They should.

There's another point: this article, and indeed this entire site, is dedicated to the idea that knowledge is good, FACTS ARE FUN, and learning new stuff is enjoyable! Our educators routinely wage war against knowledge and learning, as in their mantras, "They can look it up" or "Why should children know that??" This war shows, more than any other single factor, the intellectual bankruptcy of these so-called educators.

Yes, these science topics are interesting and knowing about them is useful. But knowing the "Body" doesn't make a scientist. Knowing and learning facts is NOT science. I consider myself a science teacher, even a scientist, but I am by no means a fact machine. Just because someone can read the article or watch the video doesn't mean they learned anything. As any educator knows that one retains only a small percentage of what you read, see, or hear, and only by doing does the information stick.

I agree that some teachers don't teach relevance when teaching science, don't teach with pizzazz, and don’t show their enthusiasm towards the subject they teach. But the author's perspective is way too simplified and not based on facts, statistics, or even experience. I think what bothers me most about this article is that the author just pretends he has all the answers. It is such a simplistic essay, with no thought or research behind it. I can just feel his arrogance. He is himself no doubt much better than the lowly teachers, the "intellectually bankrupted educators".

I am the first one to criticize some teachers, harming students rather than teaching them. But I don't pretend I have the magic solution of how to teach science well. I think I'm a good science teacher and I can inspire my kids to learn scientific concepts - but I don't just show them magic trick all day long. Science is more than that. Students need the mundane along with the fascinating. Teaching the mundane in a relevant and fun way is what I think really separates the good teachers from the okay teachers.

Of course teaching just the "good stuff" creates a buzz about science. It makes the students interested and wanting more. But that's just hype. There needs to be more to science than just constant magic moments. After a while, the magic moments will all fade together and nothing will be learned. Teachers need to balance it out. They need to make sure that they are teaching the curriculum. They need to teach the students the alphabet before the students can start to write beautiful stories. School science is about inspiration for sure, but also about learning the basics, the tools to invent, the tools to do research.

Just as a final note I wanted to talk about a first hand experience I had with a teacher using the method described in the article by Bruce Price. I taught with a teacher that just wanted to be well liked, well known, well everything. He was a brand new teacher, although was a researcher in his previous profession, but he wanted everybody to know him as the expert scientist, the doctor in the school. And he was awesome at promoting himself - I'll give him that. Every day he would have a dissection, or a speaker, or a video, or another prop to make his science lessons be FUN. He talked to the students about the awesome research he used to work on, about the very interesting things in science, just like described in the article above. Initially, he made the kids love science. This would be all good if he also taught the students. At the end of the year, however, we had to make an exam based on the curriculum, based on what should have been taught all year. the students knew they learned nothing. They came to me to ask me whether I would give them notes on science, so that they wouldn't fail the exam. They realized that they LEARNED nothing in his classes, that all he did was INSPIRE and not TEACH.

He would spend all the class time on the "magic" and never actually let the students learn the "behind the scenes" of the magic trick. Teaching is not just inspiration, it's also mundane learning of the alphabet hopefully presented in a somewhat friendly manner. I think what Thomas Edison said about genius also applies to teaching: "Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration."

Keywords: 
science, education, teaching
Submitted by bogusia on Thu, 09/25/2008 - 19:50

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Comments

I just want to say how tremendously proud I am to have inspired so many earnest, heart-felt words.

A new teacher, considering both sets of injunctions, will certainly be better for it.

Sorry Bruce. I'm glad you're a good sport about it. We all have our opinions, and I just happen to disagree with yours (I would have written this on your site, but there was no way of leaving a comment). :)

I've recently compounded my sins by adding another article about teaching sciences, on Improve-Education.org

Yes i too agree just by reading an article or video one cannot gain knowledge, he/she has to practically work on it then only they will get good stuff.