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Saving Summer: Flat-lining.

The Ongoing Battle Between Science Teachers And Fake News

NPR-Ed posted an article this morning about how science teachers encounter young minds already signed onto misconceptions and falsehoods. This touched a hard nerve with me, as for years I’ve done my best to straddle the dangerous tightrope between critical thinking skills and teachings of celebrities/prophets. Every time I teach a mythology or origin mythology unit I state a disclaimer that this is just what other cultures believe, and if they practice a religion/faith, their leaders at their place of worship have studied these same stories, too, to gain better understanding into their own ideas, beliefs, and faiths. This seemed to work most of the time. I strove for diplomacy and inclusion.

But these are not ordinary times, and I need to think differently.

via GIPHY

And I appreciate the final piece of advice, perhaps the only piece of advice there is available to us:

“For cases like this, Yoon suggests teachers give students the tools to think like a scientist. Teach them to gather evidence, check sources, deduce, hypothesTize and synthesize results. Hopefully, then, they will come to the truth on their own.”

Though I am not a science teacher, last time I checked I am a human on this planet and am bound by the same rules of physics and biology. The ELA teachers’ tasks include those critical thinking skills in any discourse about literature or informational media. The same advice for the science teachers serve all content area teachers, but it may not go far enough. The questioning techniques such as flipping a question around, as well as helping students understand their neurological processes of being stuck in “right-fight” mode. When we think we’re right without evidence or based on wobbly beliefs/bad arguments, we are already on the defensive. How can one come to ‘truth on their own’ if they already think they live there?

Examples:

What if the earth is flat? How did thinkers prove it wasn’t? Why do people want to believe this?

What would result if they’re right? What does it mean if they’re wrong? Is it okay to believe something that isn’t factual? When?

Why is this cartoon funny?

 

How to Prove to Yourself (or Shaq) the Earth Is Round

Top 10 Ways to Know the Earth is Not Flat

How To Tell Someone They’re Wrong (And Make Them Feel Good About It)

A philosopher’s 350-year-old trick to get people to change their minds is now backed up by psychologists

And if you need a list of handy-dandy critical thinking skills, here you go.

In the daily bombardment of hateful rhetoric, dog whistles, and profanity, perhaps cooling down and allowing for mindful space to think is going to keep us all sane. We are all a mix of beliefs, truths, opinions, and facts. Maybe just remind our students that some things they believed when they were little they don’t believe now, and that it’s okay to change minds. What things do they want to see in the world to change, and what is their plan on trying to get others to think about things differently?

 

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Metaphorically speaking…

At one point my life, I self-applied the moniker “Queen of the Metaphors.” Perhaps my crown tarnished a tad due to adjusting verbiage to suit more concrete/sequential folks, including differentiating for students who may not understand the nuances of abstract thought. In other words, I was tired of people saying they needed a translator.

Metaphorical thinking and creating are pinnacles of new thought and ideas. Our ability to communicate precisely and clearly hinges on figurative language: it is a paradox. The more abstract one wordsmiths, the more concrete and accessible an idea may be. However, many don’t feel this way. They don’t see the necessity for poetry or art. Perhaps some feel as if they “should” like it, like a kale or IPAs. Has hating on metaphors become a trend, it’s cool to hate the “A” in STEAM?

In a 2013 Scientific American article titled, “In Defense of Metaphors in Scientific Writing” by Caleb A. Scharf, 

“The problem is that while a specific metaphor might work for some people, it won’t for others. This is especially true for scientists themselves, who sometimes lack a sense of humor, or even just common sense. I once wrote about a dying star as being ‘bloated and gouty’, as its outer atmosphere inflates and blows off to interstellar space. I rather liked this. ‘Gouty’ has always made me think of Willam Hogarth, or James Gillray, and their satirical drawings in the 18th century, filled with wonderfully appalling characters. It seemed like a good way to evoke the sense of an aged and, ah-hem, rather flatulent stellar object. But no, for at least one scientist this was all wrong. Stars, they pointed out, can’t possibly be gouty because they don’t produce uric acid…”

Sigh.

Come on, nerds. Get it together. Be cool.

If you want to be heard, speak in the language of poetry. Tell the story. Share the parable. Observe. Look. Speak.

“If you want to communicate facts or information, then stories are a powerful vessel to do so.”

The Power of Storytelling, with Sir Ian McKellen from Catsnake on Vimeo.

What to do with this thought? What lesson plan to package, what standard to dissect?  Not sure. Since this idea of telling stories to share information is as old as the human voice, as old as instinctual, creatureliness* for survival, perhaps my gift is to allow the evocation of ideas.

I estimate there are about 1,000 ideas in this brief director’s showreel.

Edward L Dark Director Showreel from Catsnake on Vimeo.

Allow our young writers to follow an illuminated pathway to their own stories–add points of brilliant light, and also, don’t be afraid of the shadowy parts, giving them a chance to find ways to illuminate their journeys. Whether it’s math, science, history, physical education, band, language arts…whatever the course and content…stories connect us all.

Ideas:

Teach poetry in another content area

Have students share three things: a song, a poem, and a piece of artwork that’s connected. When framed this way, boys and girls alike had no issue in sharing. It took off the gender factor.

Challenge their thinking. Thank goodness one of my students spoke up and questioned the title of this piece, and then we had a great teachable moment in analyzing his real message:

Her initial reaction was that she would not listen to him because of the title of the video. The rest of the class shouted out, too, once they saw it, so I asked them to wait. Based on the other video we just watched, we shouldn’t assume anything but listen.

They were glad they did.

I think I’ll share this one, next:

 

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The Power of Storytelling

Science is an art.
Science is an art.

Someday, maybe, I’ll work on my Doctorate, and I am fairly certain what my focus will be the power of storytelling. It’s been a subject I’ve researched for years. We are all narrative learners. I struggle with putting things in tidy boxes of informational versus narrative. I could make a case that all learning is information, or all learning is narrative. But it’s both.

And what makes us human, to me, is our need for a story. Perhaps elephants, dolphins, and whales tell their babies stories, and I know experience is certainly passed down. Unless of course, you’re an octopus–incredibly intelligent, but have no means of passing it along to the next generation. “Their knowledge dies with them.”

In Newkirk’s book, Minds Made for Stories, he explores the question of how knowledge is developed. It’s a fantastic read and supports my own instincts about the power of storytelling when it comes to any content area.

But why is this–in the vernacular of our times–even a thing? I detect a bias here, and  ‘us versus them’ in the content area arenas.

Recently Wells Fargo caused outrage because of this ad campaign:

wells fargo

Because of public outcry, artists and actors protested and the ad campaign has been pulled.  (Why can’t we do that to a certain presidential nominee?) Clearly, Wells Fargo jumped on the STEM bandwagon and forgot to add the rogue branch of the acronym, “A” — for Arts. This push toward only mathematics and science is dangerous, but I don’t think it’s a cause for outrage necessarily. But it is a place for a conversation: what do we value? What do we support — financially, socially, and emotionally? And what do we want to be when we grow up? Is there a bias of brains? Why do we constantly misdirect the topic, continually focused on the myth of left versus right brains? These fallacious and hollow debates about skills versus content, lecture versus ‘guide on the side.’ Enough. This is not the conversation to focus on, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

From Knowing Stuff is Inseparable from Literacy: 

This simple fact — that knowing stuff is inseparable from being able to read stuff — is why great teaching will always be concerned with both skills and content. Sadly, since the majority of educators who implemented the Common Core State Standards did not read and reflect upon their introductory matter, it became popular (and fallacious) to declare that content isn’t what counts — skills are. In the CCSS era, there are no distinctions between science and social studies and English teachers anymore; we’re all reading teachers, right? And thus was won a great victory by champions of literacy everywhere!

Skills are important. But they are only one side of the story.

Here is the other side:

All we do as humans is based on a story we must tell. An adventure we seek, a problem to solve, our heart is breaking and we want to fix it. Someone is lost and we want to find them. Something or someone attacks our humanity and we want to slay the monster.

As you’re planning units, I urge you to look at your content through the lens of storytelling: what motivated the person to learn? What motivates you? What are your burning questions? 

Remember this is not a zero-sum game. We can be ballerina scientists and athletic botanists. If you want to talk more about ideas you have or thinking about doing something amazing with stories and science/math, I’m here.

14 Books That Connect Students With Valuable Scientists’ Struggles

 

https://oldbrainteacher.com/

 

A Model for Teacher Development: A Precursor for Change — Jackie Gernstein

 

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Postcards from Bikini Bottom.

Squid beak

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/series/dangerous-encounters/4177/Overview

4177_dangerous-encounters-cannibal-squid-01_04700300

How cool is this?!

A wonderful teacher/colleague/mentor’s husband is a scientist for the Seattle Aquarium. He worked with Brady Barr and is on the upcoming episode which will air Friday, July 30: Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr: CANNIBAL SQUID! If that doesn’t get your attention, perhaps this will:

squidward_the_dancer

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Apple pie universal truths.

I *heart* Bill Nye the Science Guy.

It’s true. I have a little secret science crush on Bill Nye the Science Guy. (Yes, my husband knows. He has a small crush on Sandra Bullock, and we’re okay with that, too. His chances of actually meeting Sandra Bullock are an astronomical, exponential number.)

Bill Nye the Science Guy
Bill Nye the Science Guy

From The Writer’s Almanac, November 27, 2009: It’s the birthday of Bill Nye the Science Guy, (books by this author) born William Sanford Nye in Washington, D.C. (1955). He majored in mechanical engineering at Cornell, where one of his professors was Carl Sagan, and was working as an actor at a Seattle sketch comedy show when the host mispronounced the word “gigawatt”; he’d incorrectly said “jigowatt.” William Sanford Nye politely corrected the host of the television comedy show, and the host said, “Who are you?” and Nye said, off the top of his head, “Bill Nye the Science Guy?”

Between 1993 and 1997, he wrote, produced, and hosted 100 episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy, his educational program on PBS geared toward grade-schoolers. The 26-minute program, each featuring a distinct topic, was shown in classrooms across the country, and it still is broadcast on some public television stations. He’s written a number of children’s books, including Bill Nye the Science Guy’s Big Blast of Science (1993).

 

If one of his professors was Carl Sagan, well, maybe that explains some things, because I also think Carl Sagan, a physicist, said some incredible things, too:

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.

In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.

So, as I ask some big questions, like my place in the universe, why am I here, am I only limited to my tiny mortal coil, restrictive and finite, I will also know I am in good company with others more intelligent than I–Professor Sagan, Bill Nye, and of course, my husband, whom I *heart* the most.

Check out Bill Nye the Science Guy’s website: http://www.billnye.com/flash.html