Dr Seuss, science teacher extraordinaire03/07/2014
The wonder of biology can be found in the most beloved of children’s books, writes MICHAEL DOYLE.
We have tiny newborn fish in our classroom. Life happens.
The critters are tiny, and regular fish food won't do. They survived the first couple of days on their tinier yolk sacs, but sooner or later, living requires taking life.
I projected a drop of our class pond water through our microscope camera. Tiny creatures darted across the screen, startled by the sudden bright light beneath them.
The kids got it right away – put some of the pond water in with the tiny fish. And I did. I'll see Monday if any survive.
The pond water has sat by the same window for three years now, generations upon generations of daphnia and snails and paramecium live out their lives, fuelled by light caught by the plants and algae. While some of the students are amazed by the occasional birth of snails or the frantic journeys of daphnia, none are startled by the microscopic life anymore.
That's not to say that they are blasé – it's just that they expect to see something under the scope now. The living world is larger now than it was in September. I doubt that the state exam will test that in May, but that's not why I teach.
Through a combination of good luck and a wonderful supervisor, I am sitting on a committee that will help develop early elementary science curriculum in our district.
The idea is use the combined expertise of high school and elementary teachers to create a program that better prepares students for what awaits them in high school.
I am not an expert in early childhood education. I am, however, a retired board-certified paediatrician. I know something about child development and even raised a couple of tadpoles of my own.
Today I reviewed a science learning site designed for K-6. It has garnered awards, and by golly, you can invest in it on NASDAQ. Maybe I don't know enough about readers, but there were a lot of repetitive sentences with only one word change in each. For example, "Some live where it is...." was repeated four times with hot/cold/wet/dry. It may be pedagogically correct, but if that's what kids are required to read, little wonder some kids run away from books.
As I read through this stuff, some of it factually wrong (no, not all animals move), I wonder how any child can even pretend to love what schools label "science."
If our goal is to get kids to see the natural world and to teach them how to read, why not Dr Seuss' Horton Hears A Who? That would tie in well with the invisible worlds swirling in a drop of pond water.
Why not Green Eggs and Ham, a story about a hypothesis (you would like green eggs and ham) with multiple variables tossed in (in a house? with a mouse?)?
Why not One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, a classic introduction to taxonomy?
From there to here,
from here to there,
As good a lesson as I can hope to teach a curious kindergartner about our natural world.
Postscript: The company, nameless for now, does not make awful stuff, but why not aim for greatness? Why not get it right? I doubt getting it right would cut into the stock value …
- Michael Doyle teaches biology at Bloomfield High School, an urban district in northern New Jersey, US, with the aim of turning young cynical hearts into skeptical ones. When not in school, he can be found on a back bay mudflat. This post originally appeared here on his blog, Science Teacher: Breaking out of the classroom and into the world.
Image above: Wikimedia.