Three themes ran through my work this week – two of them centered in our MPX classroom work and one that was a broader professional wondering and conversation.
A Sense of Wonder
In our MPX work we dove into our Chemistry and Conflict Unit. The students were given their groups and we talked about the power and challenge in the way humans extract and manipulate the earth’s resources. We looked at a short 10 minute clip from the excellent NOVA show “Hunting for the Elements” which focused on the extraction of gold (clip here: https://youtu.be/G04h9kK3ZJs?t=4m). It both showed the Chemistry involved in materials and their access, but also left us wondering about the ways we do this – the use of Lead, Cyanide and other dangerous materials arise in possible conflicts – health and well being, social and economic forces and environmental impacts. Their project will be focusing on one compound (cotton/cellulose, sugar/sucrose, caffeine, gunpowder, as examples) and they will be investigating the chemistry, history and the conflicts that are part of that compound’s use.
A Sense of Scale
In order to start the real understanding of the nature of chemistry, we started with a lab designed to measure the size of a molecule. To launch we first looked at the classic “Powers of Ten” from Eames https://youtu.be/0fKBhvDjuy0. I saw this 40 years ago when I was in school and I still think it is one of the best short science films ever made. If we are to truly understand the natural world around us we must have a sense of scale and wonder about the very large and the very small. We then conducted an experiment to actually measure the size of a molecule: in our case the classic Oleic Acid Chemistry lab. What is fascinating is that Benjamin Franklin conducted an experiment much like this over 200 years ago. Conducting this experiment will give us a sense of scale and help us move from the visible to the microscopic and “nanoscale” measure that molecules are found.
A disclaimer: as a science teacher for over 35 years, I have very strong feelings about science education. Although my secondary school science experience was primarily a bunch of facts I learned, I believe strongly that the real task of science education is to have students DO the science. The goal is not to “cover” science. To cover means to “obscure from view”. The real goal is to UNCOVER science through well planned and coordinated discovery and consensus that happens for real scientists, which I want my learners to be. In science if we already know the answer, why conduct the experiment? In our classroom our investigations better be designed to uncover a need to know and an agreement about what it helped us better understand.
A Sense of Humility
Lastly, a couple of great reads from this week that com to me from my Community of Practice that loves talking and sharing about Deeper Learning in schools. The first was from one of our parents, Adrienne who understands MPX and shared an article “Tackling the ‘soft’ skills gap
How you can prepare STEM students for employment” https://t.co/Dj4aDzbQX7. A wonderful read that emphasizes how important the “soft skills” like communication, collaboration and planning are so critical to develop in students, and how poorly prepared most are when they go to higher ed, enter the workforce and life in general.
The second was from good friend Melissa who shared an article in the Washington Post from Carol Black “What the modern world has forgotten about children and learning”. https://t.co/TXtpLzGx4Y This was too long an article to summarize effectively and do justice to but she explores the intersection between schools and learning and what history, native peoples, cognitive science and experience tell us about allowing children to learn the way they were meant to. One example of a marvelous statement from her: “This is when it occurred to me: people today do not even know what children are actually like. They only know what children are like in schools.”
The two articles give me a sense of continued humility about the work we do in schools in general and in our Mid-Pacific eXploratory program in general. I hope to always keep a sense of wonder, hope and humility in this marvelous learning journey.