Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Simplification & Science

There is a fascinating conversation going on at WolfAngel in response to the article listing 10 science questions for high school graduates, which I posted a few days ago. Teachers have to deal, all the time, with how to simplify material so that it is age appropriate without simplifying it so much that it is wrong. You can't teach everyone every detail, but you want to build a foundation free of major misconceptions so that students can build on it as they continue their education.

I would argue that for questions about the color of the sky, it's enough for the non-scientist to know that it has to do with the way air scatters different wavelengths of light. Incidentally, I agree with commenters there that the color of the sky might not really be one of the most important science questions of today, but it's included because it is a frequent wondering (in fact, some of my 7th graders are presenting on this very topic next week). Other questions are there because they lead to more questions or startle... I think that's behind the question about the percentage of the earth's surface covered in water - it's such a large number, it might make some people reconsider the importance of understanding the oceans. Some questions (such as the salt on roads) are there because they have practical relevance. And other questions are there because they are important for scientific literacy, necessary for making wise decisions as a citizen. Evolution comes to mind, as does the question about bacteria and viruses. I think everyone needs a solid understanding of evolution and natural selection, and the role that plays in how we fight diseases is important (genetically modified food and anti-bacterial soap, anyone?). The non-scientist needs to know enough to be able to learn more when interested and to evaluate information encountered in the media; that's not the same level of detail or precision required of a working scientist, obviously!

What science questions do you think all students should be able to answer at high school graduation? (And for that matter, what history questions? What math questions? What literature questions?)


Blogger Al said...

Essentially, I'm against anti-bacterial soap. I firmly believe that there are many infections I DIDN'T get because I had sucked drinks from the garden hose and eaten hot-dogs off the lawn after they fell. I have, for example, no fear of Mexican water, and experience enough with it to suggest that my lack of fear is justified.

I am, however, allergic to penicillin. And snarky comments. Weird.

9:23 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

I loved all of those questions, but I would have liked to see something on carbon dating/half life to better understand how we know how old stuff is.

Especially with ID and Young Earth people out there, we should be trying to best inform the students of the truth and how we came about it.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Chaz said...

Ms. Frizzle;

I always ask my high school students why the sky is blue? Their answer is almost always it is the reflection from the ocean.

By the way when I was in 2nd grade I asked my teacher "why the sky is blue"? Her answer was ask your parents. I went home and asked my mother "why is the sky blue"? She was quiet and then said ask your father when he comes home. That night, during our usual male bonding (watching the Yankees on the livingroom couch, I asked him "why is the sky blue"? My father looked at me and for what seemed to be hours (probably 5 minutes) he stroked his 5 o'clock shadow and I could tell he was searching for just the right answer. However, none seemed to satisfy him. He finally responded to me that "God made it that way". Even as a 2nd grader I knew enough that wasen't the right answer but I also knew, based upon the tone of his voice, not to continue the questioning further.

It was in the 8th grade that I finally knew the answer.

8:00 PM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

The other day in class one of my students said that she had never been exposed to radiation. I responded to her that we are exposed to radiation of all kinds every day. She had NO idea what I was talking about. I'm certainly no science expert, but, really.

12:29 AM  
Blogger Ivory said...

It's late but I'll take a stab.

Where do babies come from?

Does the earth orbit the sun or vice versa (and why)

What causes the tides?

Why do scientists believe evolution best explains the existance of life as we know it on earth?

Why is biodiversity important for ecosystems (what consequences can a lack of diversity have)?

What is the consequence of using up non-renewable resources?

What tests are done to show that a substance is safe for human exposure / consumption?

How do scientists agree on what is "real" and "true" in science? Why do they sometimes disagree? (Who said, "God does not play dice!" and why is that important/significant)

What is the difference between the greenhouse effect and global warming?

What makes us think something is alive?

How are diseases transmitted? Where do they "come from".

Does science disprove the existance of God? (Can scientists be religious and "scientific"?)

I think that's more than 10 - anyway...the first one is probably the most important.

12:57 AM  
Blogger 雪花 said...


7:45 AM  

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