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View Full Version : Why Johnny can't do science . . .



Dan McFeeley
11-10-2009, 09:51 AM
School officials and parents have become a little concerned that the emphasis on reading in public schools (seems like every library has a recreational reading program of some kind) is leaving the sciences out in the back rooms. Here's my observation on the problem.

I've read some of the most amazingly complicated discussions on brewing, winemaking, and meadmaking forums involving biochemistry, agriculture, engineering, and so on. Some of the posters are science people funneling their talents into their hobby, others are people who never had a strong interest in science before, but wanted to make better and better set ups and learn more about the finer details of making their favorite beverage.

So, the general principle seems to be, teach an adult how to make a fine brew, wine, or mead, and you'll turn that person into an Einstein. ;D

Of course, I'm not advocating encouraging the use of alcohol in the school system in this facetious post, on the other hand, I've seen a fair amount of research showing that there are lower levels of alcohol abuse in cultures that link family, food, and the table together.

ZachR
11-10-2009, 12:56 PM
McFeeley, I think you are dead on. Many of the people who get into homebrewing (I'm using this as an all-encompassing term for beer/wine/mead/etc.) were people who never developed a love of science as a child, which I think results from a lack of enthusiastic teaching as children.

Science is important in a child's education not only to learn how the world works, but how to think and apply principles of reasoning, logic, forming hypotheses, and systematic testing to every other subject. The scientific method does not only apply to chemistry, biology, and physics, but to other subjects as well.

I think part of the problem, especially with public schools, is the age of litigiousness in which we find ourselves. When I went to school, we did all sorts of fun things to pique our interest in science, like shooting off model rockets, putting small amounts of sodium and potassium in water, watching magnesium burn, etc. Science teachers and schools have to be extra careful these days not to put in children at risk or teach them how to put themselves at risk (nevermind the fact that kids can and will look this stuff up on the internet anyway, i.e. "The Anarchist's Cookbook"). I think the key is keeping science interesting and applicable, and in doing fun demonstrations, explaining the principles behind it.

Though brewing may be off limits in schools, students could still be introduced to culturing yeats and bacteria through: yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles, naturally carbonated sodas, vinegar, bread, cheese, etc.

wildoates
11-10-2009, 01:06 PM
I think part of the problem, especially with public schools, is the age of litigiousness in which we find ourselves. When I went to school, we did all sorts of fun things to pique our interest in science, like shooting off model rockets, putting small amounts of sodium and potassium in water, watching magnesium burn, etc. Science teachers and schools have to be extra careful these days not to put in children at risk or teach them how to put themselves at risk (nevermind the fact that kids can and will look this stuff up on the internet anyway, i.e. "The Anarchist's Cookbook"). I think the key is keeping science interesting and applicable, and in doing fun demonstrations, explaining the principles behind it.Oh, I could give you chapter and verse on that.

I've been dropping little references to brewing from time to time in my lectures, just to spice things up a bit. As long as it's science, right?
:rolleyes:

Meadieval
11-10-2009, 01:11 PM
I was one of those kids. I absolutely hated science, it was one of my least favorite subjects ... and exactly for the reasons listed. It was presented to me in a way that did not interest me at all. We didn't have any fun projects or experiments that got me involved in the process.

Since I started learning the meadmaking process, I have learned more about science than I ever have before. The only difference is that it's knowledge I am interested in, and learning it has become fun. Some of the stuff is boring, and at times over my head, but I know that if I put in the time and effort to learn it, it will make me a better meadmaker.

That is the approach that needs to be taken with kids in order to get them involved. Make the info relatable and about something they are interested in. You won't be able to reach them all but at least make it fun. Who said school has to be boring?

wildoates
11-10-2009, 01:17 PM
One of the HUGE problems is that a lot of the fun stuff we used to do in the science classroom we don't do any more because it doesn't directly address a standard, and when your kids are being tested--and your teaching evaluated--on those standards, well...you tend to make sure you cover the standards. We have very little time to squeeze in the fun stunts because the question we'll be asked by our administrator is: what standards-based objective does this address? No lie, that's how it is.

It was a lot more fun when we could teach what we thought was important, not what a bunch of professional politicians and PhD suits up in Sacramento think is important.

wayneb
11-10-2009, 01:23 PM
California seems to be leading the way in taking the fun factor out of classroom lectures, too. When we moved from Colorado to California, all our kids were very interested in science and technology. After three years' exposure to the best that San Bernardino County has to offer, they'd lost all interest in technical things, with the exception of my one son who is still interested in computer technology, but only to the extent that it improves his gaming experience. Now that we're back in the Colorado schools, they are all so far behind their peers in depth of understanding of how things work, that I'm afraid they won't ever re-kindle that technical interest.

And California has the nerve to run "recruitment" commercials here in the Denver TV market, using everyone from the Governator on down, to tell us how "wonderful" life is in the Golden State. Who knew how much gold could tarnish??

:p

capoeirista13
11-10-2009, 01:35 PM
One of the HUGE problems is that a lot of the fun stuff we used to do in the science classroom we don't do any more because it doesn't directly address a standard, and when your kids are being tested--and your teaching evaluated--on those standards, well...you tend to make sure you cover the standards. We have very little time to squeeze in the fun stunts because the question we'll be asked by our administrator is: what standards-based objective does this address? No lie, that's how it is.

It was a lot more fun when we could teach what we thought was important, not what a bunch of professional politicians and PhD suits up in Sacramento think is important.

Geez that sounds terrible, I had no idea it was like that at all. That stinks. We actually did nothing interactive back in the day in my school, but I ended up in computer engineering. Wayne if your kid wants to better understand and enhance his gaming experience (which was/is my motivation too, lol) you should tell him about a profession in IS/IT with a focus on networking, computer engineering with a focus on networking, or electrical engineering with a focus on signal processing.

wayneb
11-10-2009, 01:42 PM
Wayne if your kid wants to better understand and enhance his gaming experience (which was/is my motivation too, lol) you should tell him about a profession in IS/IT with a focus on networking, computer engineering with a focus on networking, or electrical engineering with a focus on signal processing.

That's where we're going -- at least for now! ;D

capoeirista13
11-10-2009, 01:45 PM
nice! Good luck with that, to both you and your son.

wildoates
11-10-2009, 01:59 PM
Wayne: Sigh...:( Seven generations my family have lived in this area, and I can't afford to retire here.

Several years ago I taught a class for the lower-end juniors or seniors who needed a science class to graduate (in our district you must have either 4 years of math and two years of science or three of each) but didn't have the skills for Chem or physics. I called it integrated science, and since I didn't have any state-mandated standards I had to hit, I just chose the fun ones from chem, bio, and physics and spent the whole 18 weeks playing. Man, I loved that class. We didn't do alcohol, but we did do root beer and cheese--we grew plants, we played with insulation, we made solar cookers, we planned gardens. It was a lot of out-of-pocket expense for me, but it sure was fun.

Vino
11-10-2009, 02:07 PM
I've seen a fair amount of research showing that there are lower levels of alcohol abuse in cultures that link family, food, and the table together.

I agree entirely with you on this subject as I grew up in Germany and beer was part of our daily life (used, but rarely abused). Even as children we were exposed to it with a drink that was a mix of 7-UP and beer. In the winter most of us (children) had a shot of cherry brandy before bedtime (yummy). Every meal was a family affair with dinner being a time of enculturation.

Math, Science, and Chemistry were my favorite subjects, and they continue to intrigue me today.

wayneb
11-10-2009, 02:15 PM
Wayne: Sigh...:( Seven generations my family have lived in this area, and I can't afford to retire here.

Several years ago I taught a class for the lower-end juniors or seniors who needed a science class to graduate (in our district you must have either 4 years of math and two years of science or three of each) but didn't have the skills for Chem or physics. I called it integrated science, and since I didn't have any state-mandated standards I had to hit, I just chose the fun ones from chem, bio, and physics and spent the whole 18 weeks playing. Man, I loved that class. We didn't do alcohol, but we did do root beer and cheese--we grew plants, we played with insulation, we made solar cookers, we planned gardens. It was a lot of out-of-pocket expense for me, but it sure was fun.

Interestingly enough, it was just such an "immersion" experience at my elementary school, with lots of fun demos and projects interspersed with the rigor of textbook lessons (I fermented my first must there - a mixture of water, cane sugar and molasses!), that turned me on to science in the first place. Although I went to a Catholic parochial school, the public schools in my part of Ohio were doing similar things back then, and in fact in Western PA the integrated hands-on approach was even more developed. We're talking about grade school in the early 60's here (where science and math budgets in schools were about as constrained as the NASA budget of the time), so comparisons to modern attempts at primary schooling are difficult at best, but I can say personally that my exposure to the "fun" aspects of science early on spawned a lifelong interest within this inner-city kid, which allowed me to move well past the constraints of my local environment and got me into some pretty cool places, and doing some equally cool projects.

I can't tell you how disappointed I am in the current US approach to science and math education, especially in California - a state that once led the nation in technical innovation and education. From my perspective, I did my children a significant disservice by enrolling them in California public schools, and I will always regret our decision to move there - JPL was/is a fun place to work, but SoCal isn't by any stretch of the imagination a good place to raise kids. Of course there was no way under the sun that we could afford to enroll even one, let alone three, in adequate private schools while we were there. We'll never move back.

In case you couldn't tell - I feel strongly about this issue!

wildoates
11-10-2009, 04:00 PM
Private schools (and even public charters) have a huge benefit that our public schools don't have, namely, they can kick kids out for misbehavior. It takes an act of Congress to get a kid out of a school, and even when s/he is, all they do is go to another school in the area. The legislature has tied the schools' hands when it comes to mandatory rigor (if you don't meet certain skill levels you don't go on to the next grade, period) and discipline (if your kid is a problem over and over and makes no attempt to change, his education is your responsibility, not the taxpayers').

If all our students bought into the value of their education--and more importantly if their parents bought into it--we could do the things that private schools do, but we don't have that luxury. What we need more than anything to solve that problem is to admit that not all kids are destined for a university career and provide adequate secondary alternatives for them. We need to have college-prep schools and tech schools, and even a school for the hard-core baddies of last resort. Many of my colleagues think I'm an awful person for thinking this, but more agree.

We have a green energy academy at our school, but it's very expensive. The kids do amazing things with algae and windmills but it all comes very dear (science is very expensive in general). We have sent kids to the NASA rocket competition several times and done well. We have academies for business, sports, and tech at our school, as well as starting IB this year. We try, VERY hard with our class sizes of 38-40 in HS. It's a bitch of a job sometimes.

But I'll bet if we could start up a brewing academy in conjunction with UCD we'd fill up all the spaces in no time flat. :D

Dan McFeeley
11-10-2009, 04:46 PM
A few things I do to pique my daughter's interest in science -- knowing basic science info is what you need for problem solving and fixing things. If I'm working on something, I tell her what I'm doing and how I solved the problem, and many times it's going to go back to knowing something basic in the sciences.

Getting her hooked on Doctor Who, especially classic Doctor Who up through the 1970's and 1980's, was another means. The program gives a strong image of someone who is extraordinarily intelligent and thinks his way through things.

Science in everyday life, and showing science as being fun. There's a parallel with Sesame Street (since they're celebrating 40 years, it's a good analogy to lean towards). The Sesame Street revolution sparked changes in public education, since so many kids were coming into the school system already knowing the basics of ABC's and counting, and they had fun learning them. Science is a lot of fun, and the imaginative rides you can take can be a real roller coaster. What would science fiction be like if not for the revolutions in physics and astronomy during the early and mid 1900's? Probably a bit dull.

Getting back to the theme of the thread -- science as a problem solving skill in everyday life is what leads to enthusiastic brewers, vinters, and meadmakers swapping info to make better beverages, and in the process becoming pretty good amateur scientists. ;D

akueck
11-10-2009, 04:47 PM
Jenn I totally agree. Since my wife started teaching in Oakland, it's been quite an eye opener to see how education here really works. This year one of the crazier things that came down from administration (who of course just parrot whatever the city says, who in turn hand down the state mandates. lots of thinking going on in the upper levels... :rolleyes:): integrated math classes. Last year (and previously) the kids were split by skill level into two math tracks. The kids could all be engaged because the material was presented at their level. Now, along with a 50% increase in class size, all the kids are in the same class. My wife has basically said she is going to have to leave the lower level kids behind and neglect the high achieving kids in order to "meet the standard"--which in this case is moving up the middle of the pack by one grade level. Forget moving up kids who are behind or encouraging kids who are ahead, let's make everyone equal! The worst part is that the kids who fall behind are the ones who are going to start goofing off, derailing the whole class. Joy. Add in the 20% pay cut (retroactive through last year!) that the district is ramming down (strike planned for end of month?) and it's been a banner year for teachers. (BTW the attrition year-over-year for teachers in Oakland is 20%. They don't temporarily fire folks at the end of the year to make the budgets look good--common practice--they just wait for people to quit and let Teach for America fill in the gaps.)

The radio ads for the eBay chick running for governor next year harp on and on about merit-based teacher pay. Talk about being out of the loop, the legislature has no idea what is even wrong with the system and by "fixing" it, it only gets worse. Then they'll say "gee, we'll have to make the merit pay on a steeper scale" and there will be 5 teachers left in the state. Way to go!

We, obviously, are not planning on staying here much longer.

wildoates
11-10-2009, 05:24 PM
Aaron, I don't blame you about leaving California--especially in Oakland. I teach in a well-managed suburban school district with a lot of dedicated veteran teachers--I can't imagine what it must be like in Oakland. I have 2 years before I can "retire" and hopefully get the retirement health benefits I've been paying in advance for so many years. After that, I'm a free agent. You and your wife are at the beginning of your career path, and have similar freedom to choose to be where it won't suck to teach/whatever you end up doing. Not to be overly political, but look for a red state, baby. :)


Getting back to the theme of the thread -- science as a problem solving skill in everyday life is what leads to enthusiastic brewers, vinters, and meadmakers swapping info to make better beverages, and in the process becoming pretty good amateur scientists. I more than 100% agree with you, Dan. And what's more, that same seeking spirit and creativity can make most of what we do in life more enjoyable. That's what got me to finally take up making mead even though I'm not a drinker. :rolleyes: It's just interesting stuff, and the more you know the more interesting it is. People here tend to be rather brainy, and to my way of thinking, that's very stimulating to a brain which used to think/study/write at a high level, but now teaches high school.;D