Categories: Dan Lyles
Tags: dan Lyes, Education, lyles, real world, Students
I forgot how easy it is to loose track of the audience is when you are trying to teach a lesson. It’s funny because I recall being in a similar kind of desk in at a middle school years ago and the Urge to shoot paper spit wads is unforgettable. What I also remember thinking that I actually wanted to care about science class, but just couldn’t. It would be years later that I learned to channel my energies into social science. So, when explaining air masses to middle school students, I caught myself doing the internal “why aren’t they fascinated by this” rhetorical game and managed to stop for a second. Why didn’t they care about weather fronts and storm fronts? To me, it conjured up images of powerful storms, exciting rain clouds and lightening arcing through the clouds like the backbone of some terrible beast. More practically, it was useful for figuring out how to decide where to live and what kind of weather would likely be there.
These are all thoughts that I have because of my background. I’m a grad student. I’ve done the transformation from lay person into scientist that education expects. I have had the opportunity to make these choices about where to live and how I was going to spend my money on clothing that combats weather because I’m in that part of my life. What do they care about?
“Hey. You wanna know why it was raining last week instead of snowing?”
I find more and more that this is the best way to start a conversation that goes somewhere useful. While underlying the question is some science concept that I think is important, I think just expressing knowledge to the kids as something that they can have if they want makes a big difference. Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter if they fully grasp what you were talking about. I explained to an honors student today about bell curves in statistics in relationship to flipping coins and averages. I think she sorta got what I was implying, but I could see her really get it when the class gathered all their data together and it came closer to fitting the bell curve than her individual data had. “See? As you gather more and more data, it comes closer to the average we talked about”. I don’t know if I changed her life, but I know she understood that she was given a peek into the world of something bigger than the 8th grade.
The next question comes up about how I can translate that into a teaching method for more kids. To begin talking about bell curves, I had to ask her if she was decent in algebra. What about the kids who aren’t decent in algebra yet or have a hard time connecting these two abstracts together? The route I’ve taken thus far is to relate something that we’re learning to something that they might want. Thus, the importance of learning about mineral identification becomes the search for gold through minerals found in close proximity. The understanding of the earth’s crust and layers becomes a talk on why the earth spins the way it does. A life science discussion moves from the idea of mitosis and meiosis to why these forms of reproduction enabled life to emerge victorious on our planet during periods of great change.
More and more, I’m learning that the best way to begin talking about science is not with what they need to know or what they should know, but a simple question:
“Hey. Do you guys want to learn something cool?”