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Thinking Is Hard (When You Tell Me What to Do)

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I like to think of myself as a fairly calm and rational person, but there’s a few things that really set me off:

“Science is hard.”

No, it’s not. Mythbusters says so. It’s the story behind the science that may be hard.

I drew this at the beginning of the school year. I don’t remember why. But this is how school often feels to people:


Maybe I should make it my background.

And while I was good at school, I hated memorizing lists and vocabulary (and I am still terrible at remembering names and dates). It’s just not 1. interesting, and 2. meaningful. One teacher called standardized tests “bulimic learning,” because you take in massive amounts of facts, regurgitate it all, and forget it immediately. (Sorry for the graphic nature of that last sentence.)

I taped a quote above my desk:

I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught. — Winston Churchill

The reason I’ve been uncomfortable with a couple of sections of my curriculum is that it’s very mechanical and boring; I need (really, my students need) a better story. The reason I hate teaching empirical formula calculations is that it’s not very useful now that lab equipment does the detection and even some identification automatically, and students won’t need this stuff unless they take college placement tests.

There’s a big mental shift between doing calculations mechanically and explaining why it all worked. This conversation (of which similar versions have floated around the math Twitter community lately, regarding algebra, geometry, and calculus curricula) is starting to congeal some ideas I’ve had all year. There’s a question about the depth versus the breadth of the material covered in any classroom.

So where do you draw the line? Teaching chemistry, which isn’t on state tests, I have the luxury of relatively little external pressure (however, there are still elements of chem in the NGSS, although those standards are nebulous enough to get by with a physical science course, rather than a full-blown chemistry course). However, I feel the pressure of potential colleges: if it says “chemistry” on my students’ transcripts, I assume the college thinks I covered particular topics. I feel obligated to give my students what I consider a first-year chemistry course, with chemical reactions, balancing equations, sig figs, moles, and stoich. But all of that is mostly mechanical, and frankly, not very interesting. It also lulls students into thinking that calculations will always be presented in a particular way. They have little to no knowledge as to what they’re actually calculating or why they should care.

After my fantastic class yesterday, I feel obligated to change, not what I’m doing, but how I’m doing it.


Chris Hadfield AND Mythbusters?!

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Tested and Chris Hadfield! Now I’m addicted to these movies of shrimp and asparagus, a space burrito, and space games:

Actually, the food videos are pretty funny. It’s a bit of Schadenfreude watching gourmet chefs grimace through freeze-dried space food. Heh. “Food Systems”.

Lunch Dates: Mythbusters

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“The difference between screwing around and science is writing it down afterward.”

This was one of the last lines Adam Savage gave as part of their Behind the Myths touring show.

Having been treated to these tickets and staring at them in my hot little hands for a while, I’ve been dreaming and scheming of what kinds of questions to ask Jamie Hyneman or Adam. I didn’t actually ask any questions during the Q&A portion of the show (so many little kids wanted to ask about favorite explosions and scariest myths!), but I realized that there were a lot of things I’d love to discuss with them.

Tested was also billed as their new all-Adam-and-Jamie website (although I’m not so clear on the “new” designation, since I’ve been using the Reed Nuclear Reactor video for a couple of years, and their forums (fora?) go back three years). Definitely some cool, nerdy stuff going on in there.

I think a lot of people would love to have lunch with the Mythbusters. Why are so many people so fascinated with them? I think it’s safe to say that there are only a few kinds of people who watch Mythbusters: people who like explosions, kids who like explosions, people genuinely interested in why things work (or don’t work), and a few teachers. Those interested in explosions would have been far less interested in the early seasons. I’m certainly not one to complain about explosive myths, but there are a lot of myths that don’t involve C-4.

To me, Mythbusters is a lot of what I like in everyday people: curiosity about anything and everything, a go-for-it kind of infectious enthusiasm, and (at least to an outsider) fantastic reputations on a personal level. Jamie and Adam seem like genuinely good people, who work on things they like and want to try things for other people (and do some cool things along the way). And apparently, Adam likes to cook, which is definitely a plus in my nerdy-cooking family.

Questions to ask during lunch:

  • Are there criteria for types of myths that make the show?
  • What kinds of footage don’t make it to the TV show that you wish viewers would see? (Does it depend on the myth?)
  • Is there a myth you’d like to test, but it would be too boring for TV?
  • Who have you met, famous or not, who impressed you as a fan?
  • Do you consider yourselves professionals or hobbists?
  • To you, what’s the difference between a good use of tech and a poor or gratuitous one?
  • Adam, do your kids go to public or private school?
  • What are most U.S. kids missing today as part of their (formal or informal) education?
  • Do you like the idea of gadgets and technology in the classroom? What kinds of problems do you think tech solves?
  • Do you think STEM education is the right way to go for U.S. public schools?
  • Do you know of Gever Tulley? What do you think of him?
  • Would you like an official education person on staff at Mythbusters? I might know someone with an interest…