Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mmm...What's Cooking In The Microwave?

Perhaps I've mentioned that my boy is entering the
science fair at the local community college. It is next
Thursday, a school day, so I can't go. HH is taking
the day off to check it out.

The 10th graders have been learning about the scientific
method in biology class. I used to teach science, and run
the school-wide science fair in one of my other districts.
OK, not the whole school, but K-8, which entailed
approximately 810 students. I attended a workshop in
the city, and pretty much understand what goes on at a
science fair, and how the scientific method works. I
know that ethics is a big deal these days, and that there
are strict guidelines for experimenting with animals. For
example, you can't hypothesize that Cheetos do not give
a rabbit all the nutrients he needs to carry out his daily life
processes, because you will harm the rabbit if you feed
him a diet of only Cheetos.

Nobody is doing this, so don't get your granny panties in a
wad. It's all hypothetical. It's some of that touchy-feely
OK You're OK BS that we have come to call today's
public education.

Imagine my surprise this morning when a student asked me
for help on a worksheet. It was not a teacher-generated
worksheet. It came from some workbook or website. It
had about 15-20 questions concerning the scientific method.
The questions were good. They made the kids think. They
assessed the knowledge they were supposed to be assessing.
They were geared to grab the students' interest.
But at what price?

Here's the problem, to the best of my old-lady, so-old-my-
social-security-number-is-one, so-old-that-if-I-act-my-age-
I'll-die memory. "Bart Simpson has heard that if you put a
hamster in a microwave, he gains strength. Bart has
decided to test this theory. He put 10 hamsters in the
microwave for 10 seconds, and then measured how far
each could move a wall. Bart also tested 10 hamsters
he did not put in a microwave. 8 out of 10 of the
microwaved hamsters showed greater than average
strength. 7 out of 10 of the nonmicrowaved hamsters
showed greater than average strength. What is Bart's
conclusion? What is the independent variable? What is
the dependent variable? What is the control? How
could Bart adjust his experiment to make it better?"

Now, on that last question, I believe the answer they
were fishing for was: Use a larger sample than 10
hamsters. But the student did not grasp this fact.
She said, "Put the hamsters in the microwave for
a whole minute?" When I suggested that the idea
was to increase the number of hamsters, perhaps
to test 50, or 100, she replied: "That's stupid. You
can't fit 100 hamsters in a microwave!"

Maybe I'm being a bit judgmental. She DID know
that the dependent variable was the strength of
the hamsters. That's not always easy for them to
figure out. But I don't think they should be joking
about putting hamsters in a microwave. Because
sure as I would try something like that, a kid would
go home and do it, and say: "Well, Mrs. Hillbilly
Mom gave us a worksheet about it, so I figured
it was a real experiment."

Let's be more realistic. Life isn't all fun and games.
What's wrong with giving them actual experiments
to analyze?

Am I allowed to give my math kids a problem such
as: Mrs. Hillbilly Mom was stabbed, and found
lying on her classroom floor near the whiteboard.
If the height of the blood spatter on the whiteboard
was 3 feet, and the distance from the top drop of the
blood to Mrs. Hillbilly Mom's body was 5 feet, how
far was Mrs. Hillbilly Mom lying from the wall holding
the whiteboard? Hint: Use the Pythagorean Theorem.

I think I might receive a few phone calls about that.
But let's give these kids something they can relate to.
We can't spend all day learning not to end sentences
with prepositions, reading about Mendel and his peas,
and memorizing the amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Or can we?


DeadpanAnn said...

Sometimes you have to put your balls out there and hope nobody microwaves, shoots, kidnaps, or smokes anything and blames you for it. You may as well do what works, because teachers are just as likely to be fired, sued, or bitched at when they do nothing wrong as when they cross lines on a daily basis. The line between PC and un-PC is not only hazy and hard to spot, but they can place it under whoever they want whenever they want.

Godspeed to your balls.

I've got a thing for saying "balls" online, don't I?


Hillbilly Mom said...

Miss Ann,
Sometimes you have to put your balls out there and hope nobody microwaves, shoots, kidnaps, or smokes them.

Is what I THOUGHT you were going to say. Ball-lover. Who even drew them on her blog one time, in a Picassoish style. Not that there's anything wrong with that.