This story bugs me. It’s a heartwarming tale of an inspiring teacher in an inner city school, who gets young kids motivated to learn science. Or does he?
These are elementary school kids, so they’re young and maybe the most important thing is that some enthusiasm for the subject is instilled…but I also see a lot of simplistic thinking, a reliance on rote memorization of trivialities, and stuff that is just plain wrong. I have to disagree with the article: the kids are learning discipline, but they sure aren’t learning science.
“Name one main kind of organism on Earth,” White is saying to two students seated at a table before microphones and buzzers. A girl from 112th Street slaps her buzzer first.
“One main kind of organism on Earth is a plant,” she says in a burst of syllables.
“Correct. One point,” says White. “Name the other main kind of organism on Earth.” This time, the competitor from the Watts Learning Center starts to answer first.
“The other — “
White cuts her off. “You don’t have the light.” The girl hadn’t hit her buzzer first. The student from 112th Street answers.
“The other main kind of organism on Earth is an animal.”
“Correct, one point.”
Uh, what? What is this kid going to say when a lichen or bacterium is waved in front of her face?
There’s Philip Aubrey, one of the co-captains of the fifth-grade science team who shocked White by learning the seven systems of the human body — respiratory, circulatory, muscular, etc. — overnight. “Usually, that’s a two-week process,” White says.
Hmmm…respiratory, circulatory, muscular, skeletal, nervous, endocrine, urinary, digestive, immune…is reproductive a separate “system”? Are lymphatics lumped in with circulatory? What kind of nonsense is this, memorizing arbitrary blocks of organs? I don’t get how you can say some set of basic memorization exercises is a “two-week process,” either.
I detect an obnoxious level of rigidity here, and a lack of integrative thinking about physiology. I know, little kids have to have the subject split up into small and digestible pieces…but it’s the way it’s being partitioned that bothers me.
White is saying: “For 20 points, the definition of science?”
The girl from the Watts Learning Center pounces. “The definition of science is a body of knowledge and an understanding of the physical and natural world,” she says, without a nanosecond of hesitation.
“Correct,” White says. “Twenty points: The definition of the scientific method?”
She nails it.
Suddenly, things aren’t looking good for 112th Street.
“Last 20 points, what are the six steps of the scientific method?”
Once again, the girl in plaid gets to her buzzer first. “The six steps of the scientific method is purpose, research, hypothesis, experiment and — “
White cuts her off: “Incorrect.”
Jazmani hits the buzzer.
The words fly out of her mouth: “The six steps of the scientific method are purpose, research, hypothesis, experiment, analysis and conclusion.”
“Correct, 20 points,” White says.
For lack of the proper verb — the girl in plaid said “is” instead of “are” — Watts Learning Center has lost the points.
AAAAAAAAaaaaaaaarrrrrgh! THE scientific method? What about the important steps of blind memorization and regurgitation?
Seriously, I think the most important aspect of science to inspire in young kids is creativity and imagination, and this fellow’s approach seems calculated to drive out exactly those desirable attributes.
I’m not on the ground at 112th Street Elementary School, so maybe this is how they have to start to get these kids involved in their education—it certainly sounds like their teacher, Stan White, is getting them fired up—but if they were to show up in my classroom 6-12 years later, I’d have to tell them that Mr White was all wrong, and that they need to forget everything he ever told them. And then they’d hate me and they’d hate science.
(via Science and Politics)