Why every teacher needs some basic science literacy


Even in pre-school.

Think what fury there would be if this teacher couldn’t spell, or had poor grammar, or couldn’t read Goodnight Moon fluently. But not knowing how a fundamental property of the universe works? Pffft. Not important.

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. Brownian says

    Well, there’s always the possibility of college football in these kids’ future, at which point nothing else will ever have mattered.

  2. shouldbeworking says

    If there’s no air, there can’t be gravity right? That’s what my physics students think on the first day of class. By the second day, they’re wondering why they volunteered to take this course because all I expect them to do is to think and explain and predict and to justify. No calculating? What kind of physics class am I running anyway?

  3. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    …how their is no gravity on the moon.

    If this teacher had poor grammar?!

    I’d quibble and call that poor spelling, but the point remains.

  4. says

    Pffffft … gravity – it’s only a theory anyway – not like creation which is in the babble so it must be real.

    Then again at the pay rates for teachers why would you expect anyone with an education to apply for the job? You can earn more doing assembly work on any production line anywhere.

  5. stonyground says

    There seem to be a few details missing from this story. Who wrote the message? The teacher I’m guessing. Was the message written in the child’s book? Otherwise how did the parent get to see it? It seems odd that the teacher would write a handwritten message in every child’s book.

    Years ago I read in a newspaper that more than eighty percent of UK adults think that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Not able to believe this, I did a straw poll at my workplace, sample size about fifty, and this level of ignorance was confirmed. I would have expected a school teacher to be better educated though. As a follow up I asked the same question of a junior karate class and only one six year old got it wrong.

  6. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    It seems odd that the teacher would write a handwritten message in every child’s book.

    Actually, when my children were in preschool they carried a notebook to and from school every day, and the teachers regularly reported on the events of the day.

  7. jaybee says

    I dated a woman who was working on getting teaching credentials. She had two student teaching assignments; one was for a grade school science class, fourth grade if I remember correctly.

    One Saturday I accompanied her to get things set up for the next unit, which was on electricity and magnetism. The main teacher was there too, giving my GF instructions on what they’d be doing.

    They had plastic tubs, one per student, and they were provisioning them with batteries, bell wire, switches, light bulbs, etc. We were going through, making sure the batteries still had oomph (yes that is a SI unit), the bulbs weren’t burned out, etc.

    The teacher demonstrated how to take some of the bell wire, loop it, connect it to a battery, and how it would deflect a compass. Great. Except they were having problems making it work. I came and had a look — they hadn’t stripped the enamel off the ends of the wire, so no electricity was flowing. When I explained the wire was covered in a thin varnish to insulate it, the teacher said, “Oh, so that’s why this experiment has always been so flaky for the students.”

    I didn’t say anything, but it exposed a profoundly incomplete understanding of electricity (not just that the coating had to be stripped, but if she was unaware of the coating, then winding it wouldn’t have been useful for making electromagnets), and a profound lack of diligence in not getting to the bottom of why the experiment was hard to reproduce the intended result.

  8. says

    You get it in children’s books too. I was reading one to my kid that says something like “There’s much less gravity in space where the space shuttle orbits” as an explanation for why astronauts float about.

    Of course, the “lack of gravity” is actually due to the fact that the shuttle is in free-fall (orbit), so everything is falling at the same rate. The actual force of gravity at the level of orbit is not impressively different than it is on the surface of the Earth.

  9. says

    There is just something very “odd” about that moon sentence. It makes me think “I looked all over the moon and there was no gravity to be found. Damn and I was hoping to find it in pink!”

    Also “there” seems to be spelt wrong.

  10. toby says

    I had a similar experience with my son’s fourth grade science teacher. My son is a science nut and we discuss many things in the car on the way home in the evenings. We had previously discussed the evolution of mitochondria and chloroplasts and some of the fundamental differences between plants and animals. Some weeks had passed and he had missed some questions on a science assignment. I looked it over and couldn’t figure out why the teacher had had marked his answers wrong. We wrote her a note and her response was depressing.

    She was teaching a section on cells and organelles and didn’t seem to understand that his answers were simply more precise than what is expected of his grade level. His grade remained unchanged and we all learned a valuable lesson. If he expects good grades we will have to dumb down the answers he gives his science teacher from now on.

  11. Agent Smith says

    Surely the teacher meant to say that there is low gravity on the moon. But maybe not. This teacher’s brain appears to have no intellectual gravity, given that simple facts refuse to fall towards it and make a dent.

  12. shouldbeworking says

    It is sad that in far too many districts a teacher needs only a teaching certificate in order to teach math and science at any level, but in order to coach a team, the adult better know something about the sport.

  13. shouldbeworking says

    Where nummer wun! Where nmmuer wun!

    Of course the ranking depends on the survey question.

  14. Aquaria says

    I’m surprised she didn’t make bubbles or hearts instead of dots for the letter ‘i’.

    Her penmanship points to that being part of her oeuvre.

  15. says

    I remember being taught the same thing when I was in 3rd grade over 30 years ago. Our teacher showed us a photo of one of the astronauts standing on the moon next to the American flag. The reason, she said, the flag wasn’t drooping was because there was no gravity on the moon.

    Likewise I remember being taught in 9th grade that blood was blue inside our bodies and only turned red when it was exposed to oxygen.

  16. says

    There isn’t gravity anywhere, you idiots. There is only Intelligent God Pushing Down Action.

    In my second year in college I had a fellow student tell me, not in jest, that birds could fly into space. This was a hypothesis that was proposed to me in support of his idea that birds most birds go to Heaven when they die, and that’s why “you don’t see many dead bird bodies.” Again, I must stress this person was not in any way joking.

    Also in my second year a girl raised her hand in an art history class. We were looking at a painting of a centaur at the time. She asked, without the slightest jest, if “those things things ever existed and went extinct or something, because, like, she’s seen a bunch of paintings of them.”

    I later asked her GPA in a passing conversation. She responded 3.4 or something.

    I did not finish college.

  17. sometimeszero says

    I work in classrooms as a mental health worker (a therapeutic staff support, actually) to help kids meet behavioral goals. I’m also heavily well-read in all kinds of science, as I’m in the process of applying to PhD programs in psychology.

    And the stuff I’ve heard… One fourth grade teacher was teaching the water cycle and a student asked how sleet forms. The teacher looked in the book—the answer wasn’t there! And so instead of saying she didn’t know or that the student should look it up, she said “I think it’s because…” and spewed complete, ignorant nonsense to the class.

    But it gets better! I’ve requested absentee information from two elementary school teachers only to find that they didn’t know how to calculate the percent of the time the student was in school.

    High school is just as bad. Just today I learned that my girlfriend’s sister, a hs senior, has to rewrite her senior project paper because the three teachers on her committee accused her of plagiarizing. They stapled a website onto her paper and said she stole information from it. She claimed she never heard of the website and was innocent in the matter. I suggested to the sister that she go to one of the committee members to tell her what was plagiarized.

    So the teacher starts looking at the paper and fails to demonstrate to her any evidence of plagiarism. He said to her, “you either paraphrased really good or you’re awful at it.” Whatever the hell that means. Then he said that he typed in one sentence and her whole paper came up—much different than the original claim that she plagiarized the attached website, huh? He proceeded to try to type in some “suspicious” sentences and… well, nothing. So he is going to keep the paper overnight to try to figure out what was plagiarized. Unbelievable. It sums up to, “Rewrite it. It’s plagiarized…though I can’t substantiate it.”

    I had a teacher in an honors english class who made us design playbills that were graded as much as a test score. Can’t do art? Sorry. So some students asked their more artistic friends to design the playbill for them! When I talked to the teacher about the fairness of the assignment, she told me that getting students to do the playbill was perfectly acceptable. She told me not to worry, though! The upcoming research paper, counting for two test scores, would bring up my grade. Yet she reminded me of her policy that asking anyone to review or edit the research paper was considered cheating.

    Sooo…. getting a friend to do the playbill for you (which is considered a test grade, don’t forget) is okay. Asking for a peer revision of a research paper? Cheating.

    I have enough stories about this stuff to fill a book.

    There is a happy ending, though: I went to college and actually learned shit. Guess my teachers skipped too many of their college classes?

  18. anteprepro says

    One wonders how much easier the profession of teaching would be if it weren’t for other teachers accidentally cramming each student’s skull with occasional misinformation(though poor teachers obviously aren’t the only source of student misinformation and misconceptions). I’ve heard that the majority of the difficulty for professors in freshman level science courses is not teaching new material, but correcting the errors in materials the students already “know”. I’m beginning to guess that the problem remains true at every grade level and beyond schooling, based on the sheer amount of demonstrably false things many people believe as true. Especially in regards to scientific subjects. Extra especially in regards to politically charged scientific subjects.

  19. rnilsson says

    The salient point sailed right over my head, I had to read the comments before it occurred to me that it wasn’t the kid’s writing (I thought it pretty good for a pre-schooler) but actually the teacher’s, spelling, grammar, penmanship and all.

    So that did it in for my witty comment à la Basil Fawlty: “Let me explain [eyepoke]: The little kid maybe misunderstood something of what had been said?” Yeah. Bah, fiddlesticks.

  20. wpjoe says

    I hate all the bashing of public schools that I hear constantly from those that are trying to privatize them and send the public money to school corporations. So I want to say first that most of my teachers were great when I was in public school and most of my kid’s teachers are great.
    However, my son has had a couple of bad teachers as science teachers. Once, he had to take a make-up test on Mendelian genetics. The teacher had changed the questions in case he had heard about the original test questions. He got a couple of questions marked wrong (though he had done them right) and the teacher refused to talk to him about them. It turned out she didn’t know how to work the problems and could only teach the ones in the book.

  21. says

    Oh, horror. Over the course of reading the anecdotes in the comments, I’ve suddenly reached a level of cynicism and pessimism, I think I’m starting to develop a worldview similar to The Comedian from Watchmen. It’s all a joke. Mother forgive me.

  22. CJO says

    It took about a ten minute argument for me to convince my 6th grade teacher that insects are animals.

  23. jojo says

    As a parent I’ve been very surprised by how much inaccurate information is presented to children. The one thing that comes to mind is how frequently we encounter pictures/books/toys of T-Rex with three claws instead of two. If you were going to illustrate a children’s book, wouldn’t you do basic research on the anatomical features of the dinosaurs you are drawing? It drives my 5 year old crazy. He’s decided that Rex from Toy Story is an Allosaurus.

  24. philipboyce says

    This does not appear to be the teacher’s written comment. Did anyone notice that the last sentence stated that they ‘visted Pre-school’? Yeah, if the teacher said that there is no gravity on the moon, then that is pretty ignorant. But I would bet that this comment was written by the student (not IN preschool).

  25. robb says

    i think it’s time the educational system takes a cue from the coporate world. what we need to do is outsource our students to India, where they can hopefully get a decent education at lower price. of course, busing costs would skyrocket.

  26. chigau (同じ) says

    philipboyce
    The last sentence reads “[blank] also visted Pre-school”.
    The black square covers a person’s name to protect anonymity.

  27. robinjohnson says

    Fun facts I remember being taught at school in the UK: there are 52 States in the USA (“if you think it’s fifty, you’re forgetting Hawaii and Alaska” – a group of us looked it up in an atlas and showed the teacher, but she never stood down); there’s land at the north pole, but Antarctica is made of ice and there have been submarine journeys under it; and, because of Mendellian genetics, both your parents have to have blue eyes for you to have blue eyes (instantly refuted by several blue-eyed kids in the class, but I guess the teacher just assumed they were illegitimate.)

    Physicalist makes a good point about children’s books being guilty too. I saw one recently where some kids go in a parabolic flight for astronaut training, and the free-fall is described as suddenly kicking in when the plane goes “over the crest of the wave” – it hadn’t occurred to the author that the climbing half of the parabola counts too.

    Adults shouldn’t be afraid to admit to children that they’re not omniscient. The fact that the world is full of interesting things you don’t know should be inspiring, not embarrassing.

  28. doktorzoom says

    alankrueger @ 14: I was astonished to find that the first person I asked at my office (a social worker who is no dummy) said, “Now wait, didn’t the astronauts have to wear really heavy boots just so they wouldn’t float off the moon?”

  29. littlejohn says

    My West Virginia elementary school had only four rooms, so I had the same idiot teacher for 4th, 5th and 6th grade. She once asked which weighs more, a pound of gold or a pound of feathers? I answered, correctly, the a pound of feathers weighs more because gold is measured in Troy ounces. She rolled her eyes and kept chanting “a pound is a pound” until I gave up. One year she had to grade us all in music. Each of us had to stand next to her desk and sing a song. She mercifuly gave me a B. That’s like grading someone on how well they fuck. Jeebuz I hated that woman.

  30. says

    I’m willing to cut her some slack. I don’t know where this kid lives but here preschool is a pretty nebulous concept covering everything from glorified daycare to expensive and rigorous academic programs.

    I’d start with talking to the teacher and trying to help them learn before going to outrage.

  31. says

    Toby, #16 and WPJoe, #29: Did you try to speak with the principal of your sons’ respective schools? Because such teachers are actively harmful to education.

    As for The Solution To This Problem™… well, we live in an anti-intellectual society that doesn’t value teaching or pay teachers well because it’s viewed as “child-minding,” which is “women’s work.” This has gotten worse after three decades of budget cuts under conservatives, meaning that the teachers themselves likely grew up in short-changed schools, and the textbooks they work with are long outdated. Public schools came about in great part because businesses wanted pliable workers who had been educated “just enough.” Lots of parents don’t care or are too overwhelmed or uneducated to be adequate advocates for their kids. The parents who make the most noise are often douchebags, and school boards listen to them because school boards are highly political. And then you factor in various “trends in pedagogy” that, as Tom Lehrer put it long ago, care not whether the student reaches the right answer, just that they “know what they’re doing.”

    So, uh, I dunno. I guess we’re fucked.

  32. Moggie says

    I don’t remember much detail from my primary schooling, over forty years ago, but one thing I remember clear as day was the moment I realised that not only did my teachers not know everything they ought to, but in some cases I knew more than them.

    It was what passed for a science class, and we were demonstrating Bernoulli’s principle (though the name wasn’t mentioned) via the old cotton reel trick. When the teacher asked whether anyone could explain why the card didn’t fall, I waited to see whether anyone else would answer (I wasn’t pushy), and when they didn’t, I explained Bernoulli’s principle. “No, that’s wrong”, she said, and proceeded to explain the same principle, but with different words. I was so stunned that I didn’t even feel aggrieved. She doesn’t understand what she’s saying, I thought, she’s repeating what she’s read, but she doesn’t really understand it. So how can I trust anything she’s taught us? It was a formative moment, and maybe, in an odd way, I should be grateful to her.

  33. daniellavine says

    While I was in high school the phys ed requirements were changed from 1 semester of PE and 1 semester of health class to this abomination they called “wellness” which were essentially themed PE classes. Both of my wellness classes were taught by the same chump of a gym teacher. In the drug-themed one he said at one point that marijuana is a depressant. I had already taken health class in the old regime where I was taught by a much more competent teacher that it is not so I told him so. “What is it then?” he asked me. “I was told before that it’s in its own class,” I responded. He ignored this and continued to chant “what is it then” and got the whole class chanting it at me. Then I said “fuck you” and got sent to the principal’s office.

    My other class with him was “orienteering”, mostly about using compasses. He said at one point that compasses work “because there’s a giant chunk of magnetic metal under the north pole.” I told him this isn’t true, to which he responded, “Well how do they work then.” Knowing what was in store if I stood my ground to try to prevent this idiot from making my fellow students even more egregiously misinformed than they already were I kept my mouth shut. But obviously this guy was a consummate professional.

    My school went through accreditation review in 2010 and for whatever reason they decided to include some of the better and better-behaved students in the accreditation committees. One of the teachers on my committee on seeing me there said, “Hey, he’s smart, let’s just have him write the report.” That was when it became very clear to me that most of these idiots were just professional babysitters.

  34. unclefrogy says

    I never heard of “Goodnight Moon” so I went and looked for it and found this reading
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKqV9uuXa0Y

    I am even more amazed now. There is nothing in that story book that in any way touches on the moon and gravity at all other than mention a painting of “the cow jumped over the Moon”. It is a simple story about different common words for things. The note posted here now reads like a made up review of a story they did not even read.
    I have a question now how old was the person who wrote the note? Where they the one who did the reading?

    but to follow the conversation I do find it very irritating when I read or hear descriptions and explanations of natural phenomena that are inaccurate or grossly incomplete especially when given to children. I have never heard any rational for it that makes the slightest sense.

    uncle frogy

  35. Synfandel says

    i think it’s time the educational system takes a cue from the coporate world. what we need to do is outsource our students to India, where they can hopefully get a decent education at lower price. of course, busing costs would skyrocket.

    Is your Shift key stuck or are you just an E. E. Cummings fan?

  36. Anisopteran says

    If you think this is bad, my geography teacher at *high school* told me that the reason the planets didn’t fall into the sun was because the gravity of the planets outside them *pulled the other way*.

    Me: “But sir, what stops *them* falling into the sun?”

    He: “Be Quiet Boy!”

    Another geography teacher told us that there might be different elements in other solar systems.

    I’ve never been able to take geography seriously as a subject since.

  37. carbonbasedlifeform says

    When my son was in 7th grade, he showed me his just-published world history textbook. Idly leafing through it, I spotted two errors. Looking more closely, I found over fifty errors. I had a talk with both the teacher and the person on the school board who had approved the purchase of that book. I also sent a letter to both the author and the publisher; I got no response from the author and a “We’re sorry you didn’t like our book” from the publisher.

  38. twist says

    Anecdata: Out of six people I knew relatively well at university who became teachers, four did so because they didn’t get the grades to make it in their “plan A” career. They were open about this. For lots of students that I’ve spoken to, teaching is a back up plan.

    Obviously it doesn’t apply to all teachers, but it’s disheartening.

  39. says

    My mother-in-law teaches 1st grade and I’m pretty sure she knows there’s gravity on the moon. Hopefully this is just a really small percentage of people who just haven’t really thought about it.

  40. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    Another geography teacher told us that there might be different elements in other solar systems.

    I understand it’s possible that some galaxies may be made of antimatter. If so, wouldn’t you expect their solar systems to be constructed of anti-elements?

  41. ButchKitties says

    I remember in middle school I had teachers who were so desperate to pass certain students that one of them virtually had me take tests for another student. After I finished with my test, I was to go out in the hallway with this boy and help “narrow down” the answers and make sure he got enough right to pass. When I complained, I was dismissed by the administration because the student had learning disabilities and therefore needed special help with tests. Besides it was, in the principal’s words, “only a music class. It’s not like you have to do this for his real classes.”

    In my science class, the teacher would constantly assign partner projects and somehow either I or the other former honors student were always paired up with the 16 year old boy who was still in 6th grade. She figured that we would protect our own grades by doing all the work for him. Unfortunately she was right.

  42. toby says

    Ms. Daisy cutter, #41: We have had a number of situations at this school and we have spoken to the principal about some of them. We have learned to pick our battles. We live in a small TN town and education is not highly valued here. We have no problem compensating for their ineptitude at home. As our children get older I will expect a lot more from their teachers and be more vocal. It is hard on him socially to be smarter than most of his peers and we try and strike a good balance. We do what is necessary to help him keep his grades top notch and he learns far more at home than he could ever hope to learn at school. It is sad but we don’t expect the schools to change until the culture changes a little more. We are doing what we can to make that happen.

  43. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I spelled asexual “as-xual” until I reached college because of a 6th grade biology teacher.

    The error was pointed out to me in a freshman biology class, when my professor circled the word and wrote “?”.

    Seriously embarassing. I’m not even a prude.

  44. Brownian says

    I’ve never been able to take geography seriously as a subject since.

    That’s a shame. It’s a valuable field.

    </health geographer>

  45. shouldbeworking says

    I teach high school physics (BSc.plus a Bed., courses in Newtonian mechanics, optics, electromagnetism, relativity, geophysics, chemistry …)and occasionally I get parents at parent-teacher interviews saying they didn’t take physics, but I’m not teaching their kids the right stuff.

    Luckily the vast majority of the science teachers at all level in my district have at least a science minor as part of their B.Education degree.

  46. Synfandel says

    Anisopteran, #47:

    I’ve never been able to take geography seriously as a subject since.

    I don’t know in which country you went to school, Anisopteran, but I have long wondered whether geography is taught at all in U.S. public schools.

  47. Friendly says

    One wonders how much easier the profession of teaching would be if it weren’t for other teachers accidentally cramming each student’s skull with occasional misinformation

    “Accidentally”? I recently attended a church retreat to humor a friend of mine and heard a high-school science teacher (who was also an ultra-fundie Christian) bragging about undermining the school’s other science teacher. “She tells the kids the official line about evolution and global warming, but the kids know they can come to me and I’ll set ‘em straight.” Both sad and infuriating.

  48. canadianchick says

    Oh, this reminds me of having switched schools partway through grade 6.

    1st teacher had actually majored in science and was thorough. She pointed out an error in our texts that was on the errata sheet, and we learned whatever it was correctly (hey, errors happen)

    Move to a rural town with a lousy teacher. They’re using same book, but in a different order, so we do that same section, only teacher doesn’t point out error. I do. She disagrees. I explain how error is wrong and why it couldn’t work that way. She disagrees, says book is right. I tell her it was on the stupid errata sheet, she had no idea what I was talking about. Aaarrgh.

    (same teacher gave me a C in music because I could actually read music and therefore had trouble with their weird substitute method of numbers which was based on recorder finger positions…and because I said it made sense to teach common notation instead of made up crap)

  49. says

    Fun facts I remember being taught at school in the UK: there are 52 States in the USA

    My memory of learning that (also in the UK) is so vivid, for some reason, that even now I have to stop and think whether there are 50 or 52.

  50. wiwaxia says

    I’m a teacher, in a state (‘public’) secondary school in the UK.

    Primary school teachers have to cover all subjects, they are often specialists in ‘Arts’ subjects, and have often had poor Science and Maths based education themselves. They still have to teach it.

    It is not really acceptable for teachers to admit that you don’t know the answer, teachers can’t know everything, the straw polls mentioned here show that many office workers don’t know the answers either.

    My headteacher said in conversation that if we had Ofsted (feared school inspectors) in the school then it would not be acceptable for me to be seen to tell students that I didn’t know the answer to something (so, what, I was supposed to make it up?). In my subject (ICT), things change so fast that I expect to be asked something about something new regularly. I can’t know everything (not with all the other work that I have to do). I told her that I regularly tell them that I don’t know the answer, and that either 1) I will get back to them when I do know, or 2) perhaps they would like to tell us about it themselves/ investigate it, etc. However, for some teachers the pressure is sufficient that they ‘fudge’ things and hope that they don’t get found out.

    I am disturbed that in the UK the government wants only the ‘best’ graduates to be teachers. Often the best teachers at secondary level are those that have not found it really easy themselves, and have had to work at it. I’ve seen too many teachers who tell students that “It’s easy, why don’t you understand it?” If a teacher has never found it difficult then why would they understand a student who does?

    On the other hand – many years ago I used to teach some ‘general studies’ and I was shocked to find out that most of the 16 year olds I was teaching thought that the reason we don’t fall off the Earth is because of the Earth’s rotation!

  51. Pteryxx says

    I remember a teacher in junior high robotics who didn’t know the difference between velocity and acceleration… he was a physics teacher. *headdesk*

  52. tapetum says

    @ButchKitties – I had that happen to me in high school – in Regent’s Biology(!). Lab partners were assigned, and I was assigned to a girl who was a senior on her third attempt to pass her science requirement. The teacher took me aside and flat told me that my job for the year was to get my partner to pass lab, and if I managed it, I would get an A.

    It was definitely a learning experience.

  53. Ichthyic says

    The teacher took me aside and flat told me that my job for the year was to get my partner to pass lab, and if I managed it, I would get an A.

    that’s actually not a terrible idea. It’s been long supported in education that one can learn as much, or more, by teaching a subject than by rote learning it.

    It was definitely a learning experience.

    I bet it was.

    If 2 previous instructors failed in their approaches to get this person to understand the basics involved, but you managed to succeed, I too would consider giving you high marks for that.

    In fact, we often grade graduate student instructors not just on their mastery of the material, but in how well they can get students to understand the material.

    the two are not the same thing, though it does take mastery of the material to even begin to be able to help another understand it too.

    so, yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily paint your anecdote in a negative light.

  54. Curious Chloride says

    It depends on how tapetum was expected to help this girl. If it was to teach her, then yes, your point is very valid. If, however, the unspoken hint was to do her work for her, well…

  55. Ichthyic says

    If it was to teach her, then yes, your point is very valid. If, however, the unspoken hint was to do her work for her, well…

    agreed.

    I chose to expound on the less egregious interpretation, without really any reason to suppose that to be the case.

  56. says

    @32: “As a parent I’ve been very surprised by how much inaccurate information is presented to children.”

    Which is why it’s important to read with your kids and discuss the contents of the books. Read to them when they’re little, continue reading to and with them as they get older. Have them read to you. When a question comes up, reply with “what do you think?” or “why do you suppose that is?” and “let’s figure it out” – and let the child take the lead in exploring.

    @#37: “Adults shouldn’t be afraid to admit to children that they’re not omniscient. The fact that the world is full of interesting things you don’t know should be inspiring, not embarrassing.”

    Yes, great point. In fact, when my daughter was younger and had a question about something, it was great fun when I didn’t have an answer and we would figure it out, or look it up, together. It was a great way to show her about using other sources of information, judging a good source, and comparing info from different sources. I am proud to report that she has grown into a strong and independent thinker, unafraid to ask, unafraid to learn, and delighting in wondering about things and the world at large. :-)

  57. Trebuchet says

    Tapetum:

    I had that happen to me in high school – in Regent’s Biology(!). Lab partners were assigned, and I was assigned to a girl who was a senior on her third attempt to pass her science requirement. The teacher took me aside and flat told me that my job for the year was to get my partner to pass lab, and if I managed it, I would get an A.

    I had a lab partner who was way better than me. 45 years ago. This never worried me until just now!

  58. cunliph says

    In every comment that I read that assigned a gender to the teacher chose female. I might be making an assumption but since I had male and female teachers that most others reading and commenting did too. I think that PZ is a teacher too.

  59. says

    I’m really glad for this thread. As sad as the anecdotes are, I always thought that I was the only one that had experiences like this in high school and it left me kind of embittered. I didn’t really have friends in high school, so I never had anyone to compare experiences with.
    I loathed doing group projects because it always seemed like the teacher was pairing me, purposely, with whichever jock was doing the lowest in the class. In history class junior year, we were doing presentations on different aspects of World War Two and the guy I had to work with looked at me and, very earnestly asked if this was the one with Hitler. Thank goodness I got to choose my chem lab partner, even though our tools and materials were so old that we couldn’t get the experiment sto work half the time.

  60. M Groesbeck says

    Quodlibet @ 73 —

    Which is why it’s important to read with your kids and discuss the contents of the books.

    Translation:

    Which is why it’s important to be middle-class or otherwise have enough time and money to meet your kids’ basic needs and fill in the deliberately class-stratifying gaps in their education

    Translation of translation:

    The opportunity gap is totally the parents’ fault, because broke people who have to work two jobs to get by are lazy and don’t put their kids first.

  61. StevoR says

    *Facepalm*

    Unbelievable. I so wish this was a Poe.

    Talk about people who should know better!

    *Headesk*

  62. StevoR says

    @stonyground :

    There seem to be a few details missing from this story. Who wrote the message?

    Agreed – I’d like to know more of teh context adn story here too.

    Still, kinda shocking.

  63. StevoR says

    I’d also like to type better too. Sigh. Sorry folks should have previewed first.

    That’s

    .. the context and story behind this natch.

    (Natch for ‘naturally’ & ‘kinda’ for kind of are contractions not typos.)

  64. echidna says

    If, however, the unspoken hint was to do her work for her, well…

    I must be straight as. That interpretation did not even occur to me, and wouldn’t have back in the day, either.

  65. sw says

    When I was at teachers’ training college some of the people going into junior science teaching relayed to us that one of the women training to be a science teacher had not known that the Earth went around the Sun until it was said that day in class. She had a degree in Chemistry, was training to be a science teacher, and only learned halfway through teachers’ college that the Earth went around the Sun.

  66. tapetum says

    To fill in the story a little more – how to get my partner through Biology was entirely up to me. My teacher was quite encouraging about me trying to get things through to her, but also made it pretty clear that he would look the other way if I did her work for her. I ended up splitting the difference – doing almost all of the physical work in the labs, but walking her through the steps as I did them, and making her do her own write-ups. (Left on her own, she would do things like doing the control test for sugar in her saliva while chewing gum.)

    She squeaked through, D+ to C- each quarter, but enough to pass her requirement and graduate. I learned a lot about getting information into resistant minds, which has been pretty useful in my time as a karate teacher. The biology I already knew anyway.

  67. dornierpfeil says

    shouldbeworking @ 61,
    If you were so inclined, it would be incredibly interesting to me to hear some of your anecdotes. To me your situation seems the most pernicious of all the ones written about above.
    Thank you in advance if you respond.

  68. says

    I begin teaching a course in “Science Methods for Pre-service Elementary Teachers” at Skidmore College this Friday. I am a retired Secondary science teacher who focused on Physics and Chemistry. My main goal with these students (future elementary school teachers) is to get them comfortable with science, not afraid of the huge amount of curriculum that could be required. You cannot be an expert in every field. But you can learn how to explore an area to know the material necessary to present to elementary students without making errors. I will begin my first class with this image and make sure they only present science info if they have researched the facts they are presenting. But fact presenting is not what I want them to do primarily. I want them to have the students inquire about the world around them. The research shows that students learn best when the “inquiry method” is used to explore science. This is true for young students and older ones. In physics the “modeling method” is the pedagogy that has been shown to allow students to gain the best understanding of physics possible regardless of teacher. Wayne Mazur, a physics Nobelist, writes about it in his book “Peer Instruction.”

    Anyway it is a tragedy that so many elementary school teachers know so little about the process of science, the pedagogy that works best in science instruction and finally so little factual information about the areas of science. I am working to remedy that.

  69. says

    I remember in around 2nd or 3rd grade, I was doing one of these “Mad Math” things where you did simple addition/subtraction problems, as many as you could in about a minute. Maybe it was “Math Minute” or something. Anyway, I got into a phase of writing my zeroes with the slash through them (like programmers do, funny how I’m a web developer now). We graded each other’s sheets, and when my grader came across my zeroes, he had to ask the teacher what those were.

    Get this. She assumed it was a “10” smashed together and told him to mark it as wrong.

    That was the beginning of my disillusionment with the public school system.

  70. Hatchetfish says

    I grew up in an area with both fairly steep hillsides, and cattle ranchers who grazed their herds on said hillsides. In 6th grade, during a social studies discussion of terraced farming in Asia, the teacher asserted that “We have something similar here. Ever notice the ledges on the hills around here? The ranchers put those in so the cows could graze there.”

    This teacher was a megalomaniac, so I knew better than to point out the truth: There are indeed paths across the hillsides, and they crowd together to approximate rounded stair steps about two feet high and similarly wide, but the cows wear them in themselves. It’s called “overgrazing”, not “terraced farming”.

  71. RobertL says

    Once again, I look back on my government-provided public education and realise how lucky I was.

    There have been many posts on Pharyngula about the sexism in maths teaching. You know, “maths is hard”, so it’s not for girls. Every time I read one, I think back and do not remember it being like that when I was at school.

    I can’t remember much in the way of boys vs girls and maths at primary school, but in high school I had male and female maths and physics teachers – although more male than female – and there were plenty of girls in those classes.

    I’ve never really commented before about this because I’m worried that this might just be my male privilege talking, but I really don’t think that is the case. (Of course, I wouldn’t, would I, given that privilege.)

    Anyway, I can certainly never remember a teacher making a basic science mistake like the OP, or all the other ones mentioned here. I remember having a debate with my Grade 7 teacher about an interpretation of a poem, but that’s not the same thing.

    And this was in suburban Brisbane in the 70’s and 80’s!

  72. Ouigui says

    john-michaelcaldero @85:

    To correct: The author of “Peer Instruction” is Eric Mazur, not Wayne, and I don’t think he has a Nobel. The book is primarily about the use of clickers in the classroom and the “Think/Pair/Share” method of teaching conceptual reasoning skills in physics. It has less to do with modeling than other great resources like “Physics by Inquiry”.

    Also, I’d be careful with the statement that “inquiry method” is best. It needs qualification. Unstructured or “open-ended” inquiry activities are at best hard to make work well for all student groups, and at worst are more damaging than “cookbook” or rote exercises. While open inquiry may have its place, some guidance and structure is often better than little/none.

  73. McCthulhu's new upbeat 2012 nym. says

    Is it possible to revive the kind of old-school British ‘teach them like they’re going to make something of themselves’ system that someone like Christopher Hitchens had, only perhaps without the Jeebus, and taking the tar out of someone with a 2×4 for speaking out of turn? The short pants are fine, as long as they’re not used for metal performances.

    I look at some old elementary and middle school text books, but they read like the writer thought the book was for college freshmen. Now there’s too much focus on the lowest common denominator in the classroom and not making the smart kids better. No child should be left behind, but the system is like asking everyone to admire the cityscape from the first storey window because someone has a fear of heights.

    It depresses me to note that my girl will be starting grade school soon, and Orange County (the California one) has ZERO science content in grades 1-5. The news article I read on the matter said the teachers feel threatened by the material. Like it’s hard to throw a radish seed in some dirt for a grade one kid and then say sun, soil and water make it grow. I’m really hoping to convince the wife to move somewhere more…intellectually curious.

  74. echidna says

    RobertL,
    I went to school in country Victoria just a couple of years before you, and while sexism was entrenched (maths wasn’t feminine), Australian girls were also brought up to be fairly independent. As far as I can tell, this “you’ve got to be able to look after yourself, because the men might not be around to help” meme has a long history from the gold rush days, through the world wars that devastated the male population (especially WWI), and never was really overcome by the ’50’s post-WWII focus on finally being able to have a stable, nuclear family.

    That said, in the mid-80’s, I was one of the first female engineers that many of the worksites I worked in had ever seen. That was about 20 years behind the US.

  75. McCthulhu's new upbeat 2012 nym. says

    When I think about it further, how freakin’ hard is it to make a styrofoam solar system mobile and get the planet names right and put them in the right order. People afraid of elementary school science shouldn’t be allowed near children, never mind teaching them.

  76. McCthulhu's new upbeat 2012 nym. says

    TerranRich @86: I had a math teach in grade 10 who was a pedant about the zeroes with slashes through them. It was the height of video games and every kid I knew had a new Apple or Commodore computer (except me, I was from the same side of the tracks as Kenny). They all wrote the zeroes as they saw them on the computer screen and got their tests marked wrong because the teacher insisted that the symbol meant ‘nought.’ I’m not sure why the difference between a name of a thing and the actual thing itself is worthy of mucking a kid’s school marks, and you had to be pretty out of it by then not to know the reason the kids were doing it. It would be like someone asking what a Tweet is now.

  77. Teshi says

    I’m a grade/elementary/primary school supply teacher, so I teach a lot of lessons in a lot of schools.

    While science is definitely one of the least well-known subjects in schools, this comment may not have been written by a teacher– it could have been written by a teaching assistant, a parent helper. Either way, the class involved was clearly very young and I’d rather that the scientific illiteracy was in at the lower end than the top end.

    Many science curricula have problems of one sort and another. A lot of science is about learning to carry out an experiment and accurately record and interpret data rather than learning factual information. This is specifically to counteract the other problem of teaching children complex factual information while glossing over how such information is reached by scientists, or how they might go about carrying out even a casual experiment themselves.

    It seems that there aren’t too many people with science degrees who become elementary school teachers. I come across people who have a math or business background, but only rarely a scientist in an elementary school. The same goes for computers. As a result, the technology/science literacy of the elementary school is much lower than the historic/English/geography (etc.) literacy.

    I am not a scientist. It’s only my personal interest that has brought me to a stage where I might begin to explain about gravity on the moon. If you’ve never come across wire with invisible insulation, you would be unlikely to figure it out without some experimentation of your own.

    Lastly, science is one of many subjects that a teacher has to be highly competant at conveying accurately. Elementary teachers are expected to teach, among others, A first language, maths, physical education, history, geography, computers, art, music, dance, religious education, “how to live”, sometimes a second language and science. This is on top of a teacher’s primary occupation of having children grow up sensible, socialised and kind, and not crazy.

    I’m not surprised that a teacher of very young children made a mistake about gravity on the moon. In fact, I’m actually impressed she/he talked about it at all– that’s more than many would do. She or he has gone off-book to talk about something scientific whereas she/he could have simply read the book and closed it.

    This is not a defense of science in schools. It does need to be improved. But teachers are only as knowledgable as their teachers were, plus some accrued knowledge. Science falls by the wayside because there are few people in school who are scientists and they tend to collect at the top of the school with the 11 and 12 year olds. It’s nobody’s expertise, nobody’s interest and honestly when you’ve got five minutes to set up a magnet experiment once a year, I’m not surprised that you don’t understand why it’s not working.

    “Crap, it didn’t work again. Oh well, these things happen in science and I’ve got to dig out tomorrow’s PE plan, because I’ve run out and i’m not even sure it exists yet. JANE, what cupboard is the PE stuff in?”

    My main goal with these students (future elementary school teachers) is to get them comfortable with science, not afraid of the huge amount of curriculum that could be required.

    This was the goal of my teacher training science course as well. It’s a shame that it has to be so remedial, but it at least gives non-scientists somewhere to start!

    *

    Yeah, the teacher pairs the smart, well-socialised people with the people who are as not as socialised or engaged becase it gets some work out of those kids and avoids a disaster like an argument and/or damaged equipment.

    Sorry guys.

    *

    I have a friend who copy edits high school textbooks. He’s recently been trawling through an art textbook taking out the religious fundamentalism. Textbooks are just written by people.

  78. says

    I put slashes through my zeros when i need to differentiate between 0 and O (when i remember). It’s hard enough to see on a computer never mind my bad handwriting. Same with the little horizontal line through 7s.

    Actually my math teacher used to tell me off for not writing 2s properly… but in a good way. After reading this thread I feel really lucky about my schooling.

  79. kristinc, ~delicate snowflake~ says

    She or he has gone off-book to talk about something scientific whereas she/he could have simply read the book and closed it.

    Yeah, someone earlier in the thread thought it was strange that the teacher was talking about gravity at all given that Goodnight Moon is a simple story book. Which struck me as a weird thing to think, because that’s how you teach very young children.

    You don’t whip out a science text, you read Goodnight Moon and explain that the moon is very big, very far away and made of rock. You read a story about turtles and explain that turtle scales are made of the same stuff as our fingernails, and turtles lay eggs. Or a story about a doggie who finds a lost child, and talk about things we can smell.

    Goodnight Moon is a book for very young kids, so it’s kind of cool that the teacher even thought of imparting scientific knowledge to the class (even though she got it wrong). I would bet that this “school” is actually daycare, meaning the teacher is probably even more undertrained, underpaid and overworked than an elementary school teacher.

  80. Teshi says

    I’m sorry, but I’ve been reading more of the comments and I want to add, vehemently, that if you didn’t become a teacher because you’re a scientist, or a geographer, or you write software, or you lecture at a university, calling teachers “professional babysitters” with a sneer isn’t all that helpful.

    How do you expect people who are well-read, intelligent and scientifically literate to become teachers if your estimation of them is so low? Of course nobody would want to be a teacher if they worked through university to get a science degree and could spend their time in a lab or in a field earning more and doing work that challenges them intellectually at a level they are used to and where they feel highly valued.

    You have to value teachers in order to attract the people you want to be teachers to become teachers!

  81. markw says

    I have to agree with Teshi at #100. Teaching is hard. I made a bit of extra cash while I was at college as a classroom assistant, and I learned quite quickly that I could never teach.

    On the other hand, I can’t resist throwing in my nugget of teacher misinformation:

    We were told in Science class, aged maybe 10 or 11, that there were two competing hypotheses for the formation of our solar system, one of these was approximately the nebular hypothesis (although that wasn’t what the teacher called it; unfortunately I can’t remember now), and the other was that some large body collided with the Sun, the planets forming from the matter that “splashed”. This second hypothesis was, according to my teacher, the Big Bang theory.

    I didn’t quite dare to challenge the teacher, even though I knew he was wrong.

    To be fair, some kids’ popular science books I had from about the same time (turn of the ’70s to ’80s) still had the Steady State universe recounted as a viable theory alongside the (real) Big Bang model.

  82. captainchaos says

    @stonyground: did you specify the reference frame? Because in the Earth’s rotating reference frame, the Sun *does* revolve around it. Perhaps your colleagues were just assuming that that’s what you meant… ;-)

  83. René says

    This thread triggered happy memories, thank you all! I enjoyed school; I’ve never been happier than in class. I was in high school in the early sixties when teachers still had academic degrees and when the profession was in high esteem. I actually had teachers who would compliment you when you asked something smart or when you gave a smart answer. That if anything kept me eager to learn.

    The language teachers were (surprisingly?) not as complimentary. I remember asking my Latin teacher what “the genitive ‘Petri'” would be in a Latin grammar book. It was waved as a stupid question. That hurt, and it was the stupidest thing a teacher can do. I am still proud of my question then, since I clearly understood the genitivus partitivus.

    I remember my geography teacher — who was a geophysicist — with fondness: I loved his beautiful hand-drawn ‘pies’ that explained some geophysical stuff like Karst.

    I also remember that mathematics teacher who was socially an inept nerd, but inspired me with his enthousiasm for maths. I defended him fiercely against my bullying classmates.

    I did the same for my almost blind German teacher, who was an easy target for the bullies.

    Later, when I was in University studying Spanish (two boys, 180 girls ;-) ), I earned a living teaching math, physics and English at a vocational school (boy what an eye opener!). Those were boys who did not like school at all. It was worth it because a whole TWO of my pupils thanked me for teaching them something.

  84. Second Cousin Ogvorbis, OM. Twice Removed by Request. says

    A few years back, whilst preparing dinner, my daughter pulled a bowl of baked beans (canned) out of the microwave ((Wife) and I had leftover angel hair pasta with ragu bolognese con salsiccio) and, reacting to the heat, said, “Washiita!” (at least, that is what her cry of pain sounded like).

    I immediately said, “Oh, that’s a mountain range down in Arkansas.”

    Girl says, “Huh?”

    “The Ouachita Mountains. Come on, kid, we gotta keep your geographic knowledge up,” which brought to mind one of my teachers from middle school and the collision between an authoritarian teacher and a well-travelled student. Miss Babcock (and yes, we were middle school boys, so we went there) taught history and geography. Unfortunately, I don’t know if she had ever been further from the Cumberland Valley than Frostburg State College (which is now a pretty good school, but in the 60s and 70s was referred to as The Last Chance Teaching Degree. I was, to say the least, much more travelled.

    She was teaching about Arizona and New Mexico (this was the same school year that I moved from Arizona to Maryland). “Arizona,” she said, “is a desert state. Except for Phoenix, which is irrigated, the entire state is desert.”

    I raised my hand. She called on me. “Miss Babcock, the whole state isn’t desert.”

    “Yes it is.”

    “No, ma’am. The northern part of the state is more than a mile above sea level. There are forests, and it snows in the winter.”

    “Billy, it is a desert state. That’s why they have a cactus on the license plate.”

    “The Grand Canyon’s like a mile deep. That means the rim is more than a mile high. We got, one year, about 200 inches of snow. And there are pine trees. And I learned to ski in Arizona.”

    “Billy, that’s enough. I don’t think you’ve ever even been to Arizona.”

    The next day, I brought in a photo of me on the rim of the Grand Canyon. I also brought in a copy of Canyon Shadows, the Grand Canyon Elementary (and Junior and Senior High) School year book. Before class, I showed her the photo and the year book (with my photo). I also showed her, in the geography book, a photo of the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff (complete with a forest and snowfields). Her response? “How dare you insult a teacher in class? I don’t care where you came from, but here in Maryland you are to respect authority. You do not question authority. You do not question God. You do not question your teacher. And, on your test, any answer other than the one you get from me will be marked wrong. You got that?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    I spent the rest of my time at that school keeping a low profile and mindlessly regurgitating whatever spewed from the teacher’s mouth. I find this mindset frightening. The idea that one should never question authority is a recipe for totalitarianism, for theocracy, for fascism or communism. Oddly, this teacher had no problem at all questioning the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. She had no reservations about telling us that he was an idiot, that he was sinner who was destroying America, that he had violated God’s covenant by giving away the Panama Canal, that he was a communist socialist out to destroy America.

    I know that this teacher has (had?) children. Did she teach her little moppets (who attended a Christian school over in West by God Virginia) that they were never allowed to question authority? Did she teach them to never question adults? And did she teach them to question liberal politicians?

    Sometimes I feel like I got a good education despite 90% of my teachers. Ten percent were really good, 10% were louse, and the rest were there.

  85. shouldbeworking says

    That enameled wire almost everyone uses can be tricky. If the enamel is light, it can be difficult to see if you scraped all of it off before you make a connection. And if you’re colorblind, it’s even more fun.

    One of the things I am grateful for is the high standards required by my provincial department of education to get a teaching certificate. Parents and the general public need to lobby their state governments to keep the teacher standards high, or in some cases, to raise them.

  86. philipboyce says

    chigau (同じ) @36:

    Re:philipboyce –
    (The last sentence reads “also visted Pre-school”.)

    “The black square covers a person’s name to protect anonymity.”

    Thanks, I missed that. I guess that I didn’t want to believe that any teacher would be responsible for that.

  87. cynic04 says

    It’s all starting to make sense, if the moon has no gravity then the moon can’t affect the tides, so we really can’t explain why tides go in and the tides go out!

  88. says

    “I saw one recently where some kids go in a parabolic flight for astronaut training, and the free-fall is described as suddenly kicking in when the plane goes “over the crest of the wave” – it hadn’t occurred to the author that the climbing half of the parabola counts too.”

    Uh, no. If an airplane is climbing it is at >1 g*. The free fall is when you descend at -1 g.

    * there is, due to inertia, a tiny bit of time at the very top when you first push over that the a/c is still rising.

  89. says

    M Groesbeck, #77: My parents are and were working class. They read to me at night, they made sure my sibling and I had library cards, and they subscribed to magazines and a daily newspaper.

    Oh, and yeah, there are plenty of middle-class and even rich parents who are dumber than stumps and more ignorant than a Republican presidential candidate.

    Apparently it’s OK with you that people were piling on teachers — the lowest link in the educational food chain (other than students) — like mad, but criticize parents at all and the wailing begins.

    Teshi, thank you very much for what you do.

  90. Random Mutant says

    Sailor @ 108:
    My understanding is that the passengers on a vomit comet start experiencing microgravity at the start of the parabolic climb. The aircraft accelerates in horizontal flight close to Vne (velocity never exceed) and then the pilot throttles to flight idle and pulls the stick back. As the aircraft climbs, it converts its kinetic energy to potential and vice versa on the way back down. In the same way a thrown ball it “weightless” once it leaves a thrower’s hand, the aircraft is “weightless” as it climbs.

    I used to fly gliders, but I can’t remember the exact g sensations during aerobatics so I might have to google this!

  91. Anisopteran says

    @Synfandel #62: yup, you guessed it – I’m in the UK. Do they teach geography in US schools?

    @Hercules Grytpype-Thynne #51: weeelll maybe – but that isn’t what he meant. I think the current view is that there are probably no anti-galaxies; current work at CERN includes experiments to measure the asymmetry between matter and anti-matter particles that may be the explanation for this. But if there were anti-galaxies – they would be made of antihydrogen, antihelium, antilithium…

  92. Jerry Alexandratos says

    In response to comment #77 by M Groesbeck:

    I see your point about limited time, but let me give you a counter-example in case you think you gave the only choice. My parents were immigrants with few English skills and neither graduated from the equivalent of high school. When I grew up, we were poor to lower middle class. My parents encouraged reading, critical thinking, and really pushed the need for the education they never got. Out of three kids who all went to public schools, two have Ph.D.s and one owns his business.

    I know hard working, good people today who are in a similar situation to my parents with respect to lower education and income. Some set high standards for their kids education and get as involved as they can to make sure the kids follow through. Others work equally hard at their jobs, and buy (or rent?) a big screen TV, where they spend their limited free time together. My guess is that these different choices will likely predict their kids future priorities, final level of education, and maybe income. These are choices.

  93. kristinc, ~delicate snowflake~ says

    Daisy Cutter @109 — do you question, though, that the school system in the US with its incomplete job of teaching and reliance on parents to fill in the gaps in a decent education, is weighted against those who most need a decent education being able to get it and preserves the socioeconomic status quo? Because that was my reading of #77’s main point.

    I mean, my mom was working class (and a single mom) and she read to me too, but I can clearly see how the opportunities she was not able to give me because I was working class definitely affected my educational opportunities — for example there is simply no way she could have filled in the gaps in my science and math education.

    =====

    Regarding teacher errors, at least with very small kids a useful phrase I read somewhere is “made a mistake”. Small kids can identify with making a mistake, so if you tell them “Mr X made a mistake, there is actually a little bit of gravity on the moon” they’re pretty likely in my experience to accept that. Where trying to tell a small child “Mr X is wrong, at least if your kids are anything like mine, would be indignant foot stomping and refusal to believe such an event is possible.

    ======

    In 5th grade my teacher agreed with the majority of the class that bugs were not animals.

  94. chigau (同じ) says

    My reading of M Groesbeck #77 was as an over-reaction to and misrepresentation of Quodlibit #73.

  95. Pteryxx says

    This is not a defense of science in schools. It does need to be improved. But teachers are only as knowledgable as their teachers were, plus some accrued knowledge.

    That’s why teachers should first and foremost know how to learn and be trained and encouraged (and permitted!) to convey that skill instead of just regurgitating on command and enforcing conformity.

    I’m named Pteryxx because I once challenged a teacher who got her facts on flying dinosaurs wrong. I had to bring in a reference book the next day to prove it, but she did finally admit her mistake, to the whole class, and that she’d teach it correctly from then on. I still got beat up though. *shrug*

    Whoever linked this:

    http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/misconceptions.png

    Why is the first Tuesday in February not already Misconception Day? Come on, nerds!

  96. kristinc, ~delicate snowflake~ says

    I assumed the overstatement in 77 came from a place of frustration with the fact that whenever there’s a discussion about the lacking education system in the US, people point out how parents can make a difference in their child’s education and it feels a lot like derailing — why are we even discussing that mote when the beam is the undeniably fucked. up. and class-stratifying education system in the US?

    It’s like a discussion on food stamps where someone says “you can get more food for your dollar by shopping for simple, whole ingredients and cooking from scratch”. It may be true, but it leans responsibility in the direction of the individual instead of the system and it’s not the point. The point is that an educational system is a travesty if parents have to do the job of independently acquiring the knowledge base to know when their kids’ books are wrong, diligently searching for misinformation, and correcting it.

  97. Ichthyic says

    Sailor vs Random Mutant.

    you’re both right.

    climbing has a specific definition, that doesn’t just mean “ascending” in aeronautics. It requires acceleration upwards, IIRC.

    in fact, you can still be ascending in an airplane, and also experience less than 1g (you are decelerating as you are still ascending).

    just like your forward momentum requires resistance when you apply the brakes on your car.

  98. Ichthyic says

    ..er, point being that you are decelerating when applying the brakes, the car is still moving forward, it’s just that the brakes are not being applied to YOU, so you move forward faster than the car.

  99. andyo says

    canadianchick

    same teacher gave me a C in music because I could actually read music and therefore had trouble with their weird substitute method of numbers which was based on recorder finger positions…

    Was “7” C (all holes covered) and “1” B? I remember the teacher in primary school also taught us that, but he actually liked me more cause I knew the real deal. Another thing was that we never went higher than a couple of notes above “1” which I don’t even remember what they named, probably cause it was too difficult.

  100. mikee says

    It can be a little amusing albeit disheartening to hear of all of these what seem likely silly errors made by teachers but does anyone have a perfect knowledge of science or any other area? Some of these mistakes may be due to the teacher themselves being given the wrong information when they were learning. Almost every day I hear people say things which factually aren’t true and often it comes down to them being told something which was wrong or misinterpreting the original information.
    I’ve been involved in various aspects of teaching, and I’m always happy to correct my knowledge when it appears something I was taught was incorrect, but it makes it a lot easier when the correction is made in the spirit of education and not accompanied by sneering or comments like “how could you not possibily know that”
    Also remember most contributors to this blog are much more scientifically literate than the general population.

    I must admit though that I find all of the instances mentioned where a teacher has refused to change when they have been proven to be incorrect disturbing. I tihnk it is important that children learn that no one is perfect and that it is a good thing to be able to admit when you are wrong, and then modify your view.

  101. Ichthyic says

    but does anyone have a perfect knowledge of science or any other area?

    not the point, AND an unfair comparison besides.

    it’s a teachers responsibility to know and understand the material they teach.

    If there is something they do not know, or are unsure of, the proper response is not to make shit up, or rely on what “grandpa” told them.

    the proper response would be to look it up, hopefully BEFORE you teach the subject material.

    Would you blame a cop for being ignorant of the very law he is sworn to uphold? Do you not hold a police officer MORE culpable for being aware of the law?

    sorry, but whatever you decide to do as a career, it’s a reasonable expectation that you would do your best to actually know more about it than someone who has a different career, let alone if you are ALSO expected to teach others.

    I tihnk it is important that children learn that no one is perfect and that it is a good thing to be able to admit when you are wrong, and then modify your view.

    yes, it would. But children will not learn that when people like yourself are happy to give teachers a pass on handing bad information off to their students, in the spirit of “well, everyone makes mistakes”.

    again, cop shoots you for stealing a lollipop from a corner store.

    You wouldn’t be angry at the cop for not knowing something basic like lethal force should not be used in cases of petty theft?

    accountability: learn what it means.

  102. Ichthyic says

    …shorter:

    Nothing you said suggests we should ignore the very point raised by the title of the OP.

    Why every teacher needs some basic science literacy

    unless you’re really trying to say that our teachers DON’T need basic science literacy, and really FFS hope you’re not, then nothing you have said is of any substance or relevance to the issue at hand.

  103. Ichthyic says

    Almost every day I hear people say things which factually aren’t true and often it comes down to them being told something which was wrong or misinterpreting the original information.

    again, this is a false comparison.

    this was not a member of the general public you met walking down the street, this was someone performing in the role of instructor.

    NOT THE SAME.

    you cannot fairly say we expect the same level of knowledge of a subject from a random person you meet, vs someone who has chosen to actually TEACH the subject.

  104. Pteryxx says

    but it makes it a lot easier when the correction is made in the spirit of education and not accompanied by sneering or comments like “how could you not possibily know that”

    Sorry, but when a person whose job is to convey information doesn’t even know the basics of that information, they are incompetent at their job. I feel completely justified in saying “How could you not POSSIBLY know that?” to a physics teacher who didn’t know the difference between velocity and acceleration. If they don’t know their own material, they shouldn’t be teaching it, period.

  105. McCthulhu's new upbeat 2012 nym. says

    Ichthyic says:

    the proper response would be to look it up, hopefully BEFORE you teach the subject material.

    Or make sure they informed themselves if they were lacking. I had a high school chemistry teacher who would encounter class questions she didn’t know the answer to on a semi-regular basis – not because of not knowing her curriculum, but because most of her students were planning post-secondary sciences and were curious about ‘what happens after’. She would always say I will look that up for you, and sure enough, very start of next class she took a few moments to go over the question to everyone’s satisfaction. That is good teaching. She didn’t BS, she didn’t just say she didn’t know, everyone was confident she was giving them real information. Because of how thorough she was on her questions, I knew half of my first year university chem before it was presented. I wish all my teachers had been that way.

  106. Pteryxx says

    …because most of her students were planning post-secondary sciences and were curious about ‘what happens after’.

    That reminds me – I recently went nuclear on a teaching assistant who was forbidden, by rule and by the instructor’s orders, to teach us students anything except the working of specific homework problems. We couldn’t ask ANY in-depth questions at all, and he wouldn’t answer, not even about his own research as a grad student in the field. I’m labeled as a troublemaker in that department now because I took my objections all the way to the head of instructors… fine, it isn’t the first time.

  107. Ichthyic says

    I wish all my teachers had been that way.

    Indeed.

    It gets even worse when you’re teaching an upper division course at a Uni.

    the questions the students ask surpass your specific knowledge about 25% of the time!

    some are irrelevant, and you can explain why, for the rest, I did one of the following:

    -if it was indeed relevant to what I was teaching in the course, I would look up later what the answers were, and relate them to the class either the next day, or when it was even more relevant to the subject under discussion.

    -I would tell the students to look me up during office hours to discuss the answer in more detail (this mostly as an incentive to get them to even COME to my office hours).

    -In classes where there were term papers (there almost always are for upper division courses), I would tell the students that their question was a good one, and they should pursue it as a subject of their term papers, thus getting them to answer their own questions, which, really at the point of an upper division course, you should be encouraging them to do anyway.

  108. Ichthyic says

    I recently went nuclear on a teaching assistant who was forbidden, by rule and by the instructor’s orders, to teach us students anything except the working of specific homework problems.

    wtf?

    I wonder what was behind that decision.

    I’m labeled as a troublemaker

    anything that calls attention to yourself CAN be made into a good thing.

    just make SURE, that you are getting the grades to match, and attaching extra curricular stuff to your “bad boy” status wouldn’t hurt either.

    this is easier to do as an undergrad (worked for me quite well) than as a graduate student, where it becomes really like walking on the edge of a knife (Did me more harm than good in grad school).

  109. dornierpfeil says

    kristinc, ~delicate snowflake~ says:
    Regarding teacher errors, at least with very small kids a useful phrase I read somewhere is “made a mistake”. Small kids can identify with making a mistake, so if you tell them “Mr X made a mistake, there is actually a little bit of gravity on the moon” they’re pretty likely in my experience to accept that. Where trying to tell a small child “Mr X is wrong, at least if your kids are anything like mine, would be indignant foot stomping and refusal to believe such an event is possible.

    A different way of saying this is to always choose the mildest form of reproof you can. This is a good life lesson for anyone, parent or teacher, to model for virtually any situation. Thank you for sharing it.

  110. Ichthyic says

    Or make sure they informed themselves if they were lacking.

    Whenever you are tasked with teaching a subject, the first thing to ask yourself should always be:

    “What do I actually know about this subject, and what have been my sources of information for it?”

    If you answer yourself with: “Well, grandpa told me when I was five years old…”

    then you probably should consider you know fuck-all about the subject, and should hit the library ASAP, and maybe even contact a few experts to answer the inevitable questions you yourself will have once you start studying the subject in depth.

    The second thing you then ask yourself, after studying the subject to the best of your ability, should be:

    “What is my target student audience here?”

    which directly relates to the level of information you will present, and how it should be presented to them.

    obviously, when you have studied something like how gravity works in detail, you will be presenting it at a different level to a primary school student vs a secondary school student, etc.

    This is not difficult. It’s the very basics of teaching I learned even before I got into college, FFS.

    There simply is no excuse for someone wanting to be a teacher, and not understanding this.

    Now, as the details emerge here that in this case, we are talking PRE-preschool (how old is this kid, anyway?), then hell, while I speak of basic principles of teaching, the “teacher” involved in this case is little more than a babysitter, and the kid will likely not even remember what she said the next day.

    so, there’s that reality to this situation, but I still feel all of what I posted and said, needed to be, and retract none of it.

  111. David Marjanović says

    The salient point sailed right over my head, I had to read the comments before it occurred to me that it wasn’t the kid’s writing (I thought it pretty good for a pre-schooler) but actually the teacher’s, spelling, grammar, penmanship and all.

    The same happened to me. Sure, the handwriting is inconsistent with a preschooler, but the way most letters are drawn on the paper individually isn’t…

    It took about a ten minute argument for me to convince my 6th grade teacher that insects are animals.

    My 6th-grade biology teacher* has never forgiven me for pointing out that fungi aren’t plants. She had learned all of highschool** biology and physics by heart when she studied in the 1950s and just regurgitated it till she retired a few years ago. I know that because she taught my brother for years… and never forgave him that I had pointed out that fungi aren’t plants.

    She was an exception, though.

    * Over here, there is no… well, in any case, grade school takes only 4 years, and then you have to choose between several school types. I was in the most academic one. It lasts 8 years; fortunately I only had that teacher for only one year, but my brother wasn’t so lucky.
    ** See the previous footnote for what I mean.

    She once asked which weighs more, a pound of gold or a pound of feathers? I answered, correctly, the a pound of feathers weighs more because gold is measured in Troy ounces.

    *eyeroll* Somebody must have translated the perfectly cromulent trick question “which weighs more, a kilo of lead or a kilo of feathers?” and forgot to take the baroque complexities of English measures into account.

    I don’t know in which country you went to school, Anisopteran, but I have long wondered whether geography is taught at all in U.S. public schools.

    It’s in fact a worldwide prejudice that Americans have no idea of geography, can’t find their own honking big country on a world map, that sort of thing.

    This is nothing. Just this week i found out my gf’s science HS teacher was telling students chemtrails were real.

    *headdesk*

    I look at some old elementary and middle school text books, but they read like the writer thought the book was for college freshmen.

    My dad’s schoolbooks in 1950s France were in fact written by university professors.

    Nowadays, here in Austria, schoolbooks are written by teachers at the same level. Occasional horror results.

    http://xkcd.com/843/

    There’s a Wikipedia article on…

    *goes to check*

    My hope in humanity is restored.

    It depresses me to note that my girl will be starting grade school soon, and Orange County (the California one) has ZERO science content in grades 1-5.

    Imagine there’s Orange County and nobody comes.

    Seriously. Flee! There shouldn’t be any children in Orange County as long as such a moronic curriculum exists there.

    You have to value teachers in order to attract the people you want to be teachers to become teachers!

    The “value” part has to be taken literally, too. Teachers are scarily underpaid in the USA…

    Her response? “How dare you insult a teacher in class? I don’t care where you came from, but here in Maryland you are to respect authority. You do not question authority. You do not question God. You do not question your teacher. And, on your test, any answer other than the one you get from me will be marked wrong. You got that?”

    At that age, I’d probably have got some holy wrath and asked how she had gotten the idea of comparing herself to God.

    I’m named Pteryxx because I once challenged a teacher who got her facts on flying dinosaurs wrong. I had to bring in a reference book the next day to prove it, but she did finally admit her mistake, to the whole class, and that she’d teach it correctly from then on.

    *clenched-tentacle salute*

    I still got beat up though.

    What, literally??? By whom?

    Sorry, but when a person whose job is to convey information doesn’t even know the basics of that information, they are incompetent at their job. I feel completely justified in saying “How could you not POSSIBLY know that?” to a physics teacher who didn’t know the difference between velocity and acceleration. If they don’t know their own material, they shouldn’t be teaching it, period.

    QFT.

    I recently went nuclear on a teaching assistant who was forbidden, by rule and by the instructor’s orders, to teach us students anything except the working of specific homework problems. We couldn’t ask ANY in-depth questions at all, and he wouldn’t answer, not even about his own research as a grad student in the field. I’m labeled as a troublemaker in that department now because I took my objections all the way to the head of instructors… fine, it isn’t the first time.

    The instructors who gave those orders is completely incapable of teaching at a university (or indeed anywhere else), except maybe theology, and must be fired right now. </wishful thinking> Go nuclear on their ass, and then go nuclear on the rest of them.

    Now, as the details emerge here that in this case, we are talking PRE-preschool (how old is this kid, anyway?), then hell, while I speak of basic principles of teaching, the “teacher” involved in this case is little more than a babysitter, and the kid will likely not even remember what she said the next day.

    I don’t know. Precisely those “throwaway remarks” are what kids tend to remember best.

  112. mikee says

    @Ichthyic 123

    But children will not learn that when people like yourself are happy to give teachers a pass on handing bad information off to their students, in the spirit of “well, everyone makes mistakes”.

    I did not say this. In fact I clearly said that if a teacher does not know the answer to a question they should be honest with those they are teaching. (and then find out the answer quickly).
    At no point did a suggest a free pass to poor teachers, just some consideration that teachers may have small gaps in what they know about a subject, gaps which they do not know they have until asked a question about it.

    the proper response would be to look it up, hopefully BEFORE you teach the subject material.

    This implies that science is a finite set of information that just needs to be memorised. Any well prepared teacher can be stumped by a thoughtful question from a student which goes beyond what the “set curriculum is”

    I agree with you that if a teacher does not know the concepts of their subject that they should not be teaching it. However, every teacher will have encountered questions to which they do not know the answer. This is a fact of teaching and to expect otherwise is assuming superhuman characteristics of teachers.

    Also when I talked about hearing people repeat misinformation everyday I was trying to make the point that misinformation can easily get incorporated into the world. If a teacher was taught something incorrectly then they will teach the same information incorrectly to their students without realising it.
    The good teacher, when challenged on such information, will reconsider what they know and correct themselves – but that requires that they are challenged.