Teaching aids and tools for Science Concepts

 
James Clovispoint
 
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James Clovispoint
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31 December 2014 14:15
 

Too often teachers encounter difficulties engaging in certain biology or geology concepts, for example, because the textbooks they are given are written by academics who teach at levels where students rarely contest the subject matters. Academic textbooks also list facts and rarely strategies for the teaching of such difficult matters as Evolution and Stratigraphy.

The same can be said for Physics and other disciplines that touch upon the origins of life, the universe, consciousness, etc. that may encroach on certain religious dogmas and sensitivities.

Many teachers call out for help and repeatedly. Would it not be fitting and useful if a Project such as the one for Reason were to construct a resource section that would offer easy access to aids and tools for teaching science concepts in various disciplines? All of this of course while emphasizing the critical analysis approach so fundamental in Science.

 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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31 December 2014 20:41
 

They just gotta teach what’s accepted by science, what’s known.

Stratigraphy seems like a piece of cake.  Teach about how sedimentation works.  Talk about how geologists date layers.  Take the class out to see formations.  Show the fossils found.  It’s pretty straight forward.  If a creationist student disagrees, they’re going to have to come up with a better explanation for how all those layers were formed, how all the continents migrated across the globe, how all the uplift and erosion occurred in 10,000 years time.  “It’s a miracle.”  That’s about all they could say.

Same with astronomy to a point.  It’s fascinating how astronomers have calculated the age of the universe, and especially how this has changed over the centuries.  If a student really understands the physics, there’s not much wiggle room for Biblical literalism, except again to posit, “It’s a miracle.”  As for how the universe began, I feel there is absolutely no point in arguing whether God had a hand in it.  Most physicists are not theists, but they really don’t know what triggered the beginning of space-time, so leave that one as a mystery.

Evolution is a toughie.  I’ve seen Creationist students get really assertive in class.  When I taught biology, I expected kids to learn what the theory of evolution says and the supporting evidence.  But it was up to them if they believed it.  They come to class with a huge mental block.  I figure, a teacher has to accept that and move on, without being condescending or confrontational.  If a student wants an alternate assignment during the evolution chapter, give it to him.  Maybe someday he’ll be a great physician, and evolution will be a moot point.

 
James Clovispoint
 
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James Clovispoint
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31 December 2014 23:58
 

Thank you for your comments Hannah. I agree with you on everything, but I still think that there are ways (tools, aids, etc.) that can allow the students to discover the concepts themselves rather than having the textbooks simply explain them to them, and help them accept the discoveries as their own.

I remember how fascinated students were to discover how a simple librarian calculated the circumference of the Earth without computers, satellites or modern tools. It was done around 240 BC by Erathostenes as you know. Any teacher can just bark out the fact that the Earth is round and that it is 13 billon years old or so. But, all of this information without explaining how these numbers and “facts” came about can seem like “magic/miracle” wishful thinking to young students.

Starting with stratigraphy for example, tell them that rocks (hard stuff) are deposited in layers can be very vague and empirical. But have them do an imaginary or even real(hands on) experiment that consists in putting a box outside where it can collect dust, leaves, etc. or of leaving a shelf empty indoors to collect dust. Have them understand that dust particles may take up to a year to accumulate to the thickness of a sheet of paper and it becomes more evident; something they can make sense of.

Have them understand that 10 sheets of paper would then be equivalent to 10 years of accumulation. Bring them to calculate the approximate age of the mile high accumulation of harden dusts (rocks) that make up the Grand Canyon. Such a simple calculation, based on easy to understand concepts (sedimentation) easily shows that the Grand Canyon is necessarily much older than 10,000 years and even 100 times that at first approximation. Evolution comes easy to present after that.

  This is just one example of how to make more palatable the study of Science and perhaps easier to teach.

 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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01 January 2015 14:50
 

Yes, hands-on activities are the best.  So often, science is taught merely as memorization of vocabulary terms.

I am fortunate to live in an area with excellent exposed geology.  I’m not sure what percentage of grade school students get out to see it, though I know several of our parks offer school programs.  The local colleges definitely bring their students out mapping, etc.  Our regional Natural History Museum is also excellent.

Each area has a different geological story to tell.  Even out in flat Kansas, there are amazing fossils of giant marine reptiles from the era when a sea covered the central US.  I suppose Creationists could claim these were remnants of Noah’s flood, so the fossils would need context!

Usually, seeing is believing.  I was fortunate to take a trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  Everything that we saw seemed like incontrovertible evidence of the immensity of geologic time.  However, our guides told us that there is a Creationist group that takes visitors down the same route and explains everything according to Noah’s flood, paired with a shoddy re-interpretation of geologic processes. To a layman, I suppose, one technical explanation might sound as good as another.  Certainly, God could be pictured stretching out his finger to turn sediments into stone in a flash, then uplift them and carve them with a dramatic rumble and crash.  That would be why the explanation of the wider context is critical.

Part of this context would be radiometric dating.  That is, the determination of the age of a rock by the amount of a natural radioactive element it contains.  This requires some rudimentary understanding of atomic structure and math, but it can be presented at a very simple level.  The logic behind dating seems solid to most people, but I have read Creationist obfuscation around the concept.  Again, to a layman, hearing science-y terms bantered around, it is easy to be swayed in whatever direction one’s heart tells one’s mind to go.

There is absolutely no convincing some people.  And frankly, a lot of science is so complex, many people avoid it in college.  My hope is that students will be exposed to basic earth science in grade school and will be expected to learn the scientific explanations.  Whether they put full faith in them or not, the ideas will plant seeds.  BTW, the new Common Core Standards (US) include geologic time and evolution in the high school curriculum, and simpler teaching of earth processes and ecologic principles starts earlier.

 
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Smote
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01 January 2015 19:40
 

I think many of these sorts of hands on teaching lessons for teachers already exists on the web. It’s currently up to teachers and school administrations to pursue, I believe.

Are there notable exceptions? Topics without methods of hands on learning?

 
James Clovispoint
 
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James Clovispoint
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02 January 2015 01:09
 

Dear Hannah,

Thank goodness for the new Common Core Standards.

As for the Noachian Flood, this was resolved by Eberhardt August Wilhelm von Zimmermann (August 17, 1743 – July 4, 1815) was a German geographer and zoologist.  His analysis of this flood caused the Pope of the time to admit that this was just a myth. Unfortunately, the Protestants continued to stubbornly accept it as a truth and still do.

Anyone presenting the flood a s truth can be convinced that it is not with one simple demonstration.
When the mythical ark landed on a mountain (Sinai supposedly), the mountain was surrounded by water for several more months if not several more years (we are not told). But, the vegetation was devastated, there was nothing for herbivores to eat. However, the lions, tigers, bears, wolves, hyenas, eagles, leopards (Tyrannosaurs) and the like had cows, elks, sheep, etc. to eat.
After having eaten the last two cows, the last two sheep, etc. in one swift swoop, all became extinct including the predators who starved to death before the waters had completely receded. If not how did they get from Sinai to America Buffalos) or to Australia (kangaroos)?

Dear Smote,

What you say is true but it can’t hurt to give teachers another site where they can find either similar tools or even new ones. The Project for Reason site would, in my opinion, focus more specifically on items that would illustrate sound reasoning and sound critical thinking. This would include what many of us consider as scientific truth without being able to demonstrate it with critical analysis. Take the so-called natural law of gravity. Just ask a student in high school to explain how you can prove it and explain it scientifically and see what you get.
The same can be said about the existence of air (invisible, odorless, colorless, etc.).
It would seem to me that if some sort of Reason and Reasoning is to be exposed or expanded on, it should be in schools and not just on a Forum or “private” site.

 
James Clovispoint
 
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James Clovispoint
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02 January 2015 13:15
 

Too often students think of Science as a body of knowledge that cannot be disputed and that is based on experiments that always lead to a given conclusion.
I have witnessed too many teachers who introduce science through projects in which the procedures of hypothesis are completely eliminated. The stages of inquiry are stifled; you don’t do an experiment to demonstrate what you already know.

There are simple (and somewhat silly) experiments that proceed by the absurd and help students better understand the purpose of an experiment and the dangers of poor reasoning.

Take for example the following one.

Teacher, “Let’s put this frog to sleep with an anesthetic and remove surgically one of its legs.”
“then, let’s wait t’il it awakens and hit the table near the frog to see its reaction.”... It jumps.”

Second stage of the experiment: “Now, lets remove a second leg in the same manner, wait until it awakens and hit the table.”... it jumps”.
Third stage of the experiment:  “Now, lets remove a third leg in the same manner, wait until it awakens and hit the table.”... it jumps”.
Fourth stage of the experiment:  “Now, lets remove a fourth leg in the same manner, wait until it awakens and hit the table.”... it no longer jumps”.

“Conclusion: when you take four legs off a frog it becomes deaf.”

What is wrong with this experiment besides its obvious absurdity?
No observation was ever made that lead to a question as to how frogs do anything. The problem lies in the fact that no hypothesis was ever formulated in relation to any observation/inquiry; in other words no purpose was ever given for the experiment in the fist place.
This sarcastic example of an experiment gone wrong emphasizes the importance of scientific procedure and critical analysis, not to mention simple reason.

 
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Smote
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02 January 2015 14:28
 

I think thinking, for a lot of people, is a risky proposition that can lead to a potential loss of status. There are social stigmas attached to appearing too dumb, or for appearing too smart. Once adolescence hits, suddenly one’s image becomes very important in the eyes of one’s peers. I think there is a lot of fear of each other’s negative opinions, and it really holds back learning.

Nowadays, I personally love representing the slow learners, by asking questions about anything that I have failed to comprehend, even if it has already been taught once. By asking the worst questions, it makes other questions from other students easier to ask.

Another problem is the grading system. Very frequently, coming to the “correct conclusion” earns you a grade. The thinking process is irrelevant, but the conclusion is what matters. The worst instances of this happen in higher level English classes, where teachers teach a specific interpretation of a text, and then gives question on tests like “What does the author mean with this passage “...” Listed are a series of multiple choice answers, many of which seem like it could be something the author meant. The teacher taught the correct answer earlier, and you’re expected to repeat back this answer to them. What should be a critical thinking question turns into a rote memorization question. It’s infuriating.

Another problem is the pacing. Standardized pacing is miserable for slow and fast learners. For slow learners, it’s too quick, and they miss fundamentals that other lessons are built off of, and end up wasting most of their time not learning because they missed an important earlier lesson. For instance, they’re still baffled about what algebra really is, while the teacher teaches a bunch of rules of algebra that have utterly no context for the student. For fast learners, it’s too slow, and they spend most of their time being bored. So much time is wasted by trivial classes. It’s like going to class, and they teach you what “green” looks like. For the next week, you are bombarded with constant images of green things. The first 2 minutes were interesting, the next 5 hours are horribly boring. Of course, doing your own thing in class is “disrespectful.” You are required to be a good, attentive student with a passion for learning. It doesn’t matter if there is nothing to learn. This is the flaw of standardized learning. Individualized learning programs are far better, because they can teach to each student’s pace. They can take it slow, for students that are having trouble with a concept. Or quickly, for students where something is instantly absorbed.

Research has shown that complimenting effort for a student, and not results or intelligence, is what leads to the most success. Grading ought to be mostly non-existent. It rewards or punishes based on the wrong thing, and tends to discourage slow learners. It teaches “test-taking” as a skill, which is entirely useless upon graduation. Rather, teaching should be as individualized as possible, with assignments that allow advanced students to go above and beyond, and slower students to do their best without being harshly penalized for not understanding something fundamental. Students helping each other should be encouraged. Frequently students that recently learned a topic can help each other learn a concept, and provide an atmosphere of cooperation and learning - things critical to success after school. Things like Weighted Grading actually discourage this - it incentivizes having one’s classmates fail, because one’s own grade improves as a result.

There’s a lot more things too. Personally, I’m a big fan of Finland’s education system. Here’s some facts: http://www.businessinsider.com/finland-education-school-2011-12#finnish-children-dont-start-school-until-they-are-7-1

 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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02 January 2015 14:52
 
James Clovispoint - 02 January 2015 12:09 AM

Dear Hannah,

Thank goodness for the new Common Core Standards.

As for the Noachian Flood, this was resolved by Eberhardt August Wilhelm von Zimmermann (August 17, 1743 – July 4, 1815) was a German geographer and zoologist.  His analysis of this flood caused the Pope of the time to admit that this was just a myth. Unfortunately, the Protestants continued to stubbornly accept it as a truth and still do.

Anyone presenting the flood a s truth can be convinced that it is not with one simple demonstration.
When the mythical ark landed on a mountain (Sinai supposedly), the mountain was surrounded by water for several more months if not several more years (we are not told). But, the vegetation was devastated, there was nothing for herbivores to eat. However, the lions, tigers, bears, wolves, hyenas, eagles, leopards (Tyrannosaurs) and the like had cows, elks, sheep, etc. to eat.
After having eaten the last two cows, the last two sheep, etc. in one swift swoop, all became extinct including the predators who starved to death before the waters had completely receded. If not how did they get from Sinai to America Buffalos) or to Australia (kangaroos)?

Dear Smote,

What you say is true but it can’t hurt to give teachers another site where they can find either similar tools or even new ones. The Project for Reason site would, in my opinion, focus more specifically on items that would illustrate sound reasoning and sound critical thinking. This would include what many of us consider as scientific truth without being able to demonstrate it with critical analysis. Take the so-called natural law of gravity. Just ask a student in high school to explain how you can prove it and explain it scientifically and see what you get.
The same can be said about the existence of air (invisible, odorless, colorless, etc.).
It would seem to me that if some sort of Reason and Reasoning is to be exposed or expanded on, it should be in schools and not just on a Forum or “private” site.

I wish “proof” that the Flood is fiction could be so easy.  Remember in the story, the dove came back with an olive branch.  So God made sure the dry land was livable when the flood receded.  It is nearly impossible to argue away those old stories with science.  I mean, just how did ALL the animal species on earth get to the ark in the first place, from thousands of miles away and across oceans?  Surely it is a child’s tale, written by elders who had no concept of the whole world.  But if people can’t see that, they just think (again), “It was a miracle!”  Can’t really counter that with logic, I’m afraid.

BTW, Project Reason isn’t really set up to be a resource for teachers.  It’s more of a place that anyone can come to discuss issues of all sorts.  I agree that there are plenty of teacher resource sites available, set up by educators for educators.  More qualified than the random RP cadre.  But I certainly agree with your main points—science education could be improved.