Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Partnership

This week I had the pleasure of teaching science to some students with a genuine interest in science. The lesson, set up by their regular science teacher, contained some carefully worded introductory text about the theories of evolution versus divine creation, or a combination of the two as theories for the beginnings of life on earth.  It also included two videos created by Bill Nye, in case you don't know the song, "the science guy".  (Lucky you, if you don't!)

I expected I may have walked into a hornets nest with the topic being evolution and the beginnings of life on earth.  I don't live in "The Bible Belt", per se, but there are always enough people around with deeply held beliefs against the scientific theory of evolution to make these sorts of lessons heat up very quickly.  As a sub, I prefer not to open cans of worms when the can is clearly marked "Can of Worms".

Nye's video featured evolutionary change, a CGI of Darwin talking (ick!), an experiment simplistically demonstrating the primordial soup theory of the beginnings of life, and an outtake of Carl Sagan,

I pointed out Carl Sagan was the "Bill Nye" of my generation, that he made science cool for us. These children born in 2002, I could feel, instantly felt sorry for me.  Carl Sagan, with his steady camera angles, turtleneck sweaters, and lack of music and computer animation was not for them. They have not had the pleasure of viewing his series 'Cosmos', nor his beautifully illustrated book of the same name.  The gift of that book, from me when I was in my twenties, to my truly baby sister (she was seven or eight), launched her interest in science, and eventually her career as a mechanical engineer. It is a career she truly loves.  She has indicated that book was that first push for her into a scientific field.
Image of a blueprint from a mechanical device created by my sister. ( Don't ask me what it is, she does do a lot of work on braking systems for Caterpillar.)

The lesson posed the question, "What does it mean when we say something is alive?" It also began with the classification of all life, that anal compulsive thing humans like to do and to whom in the form of the Swedish scientist Linnaeus, we all must pay homage.

Photo: of Linnaeus
I pointed out to the students my favorite Kingdom, plantae, during the discussion of kingdoms.  We discussed how to be inclusive of all living things, words like "eat food" don't work for plants or fungi and "photosynthesis" doesn't work for animalia. We need to be very broad in our thoughts.  Backing up the lessons, they used the text to discern what the seven condition for life meant and then to put them in their own words.

One student brought it to my attention that their book mentions all living things clearly need oxygen.  He stated plants breathe carbon dioxide. Clearly this was a misprint?  Fortunately, I was aware plants need oxygen in their root areas for proper nutrient absorption, but this was not something typically discussed when we talk about plants.  We focus on the role of plants in photosynthesis and the breaking down of carbon dioxide and release of oxygen, something he and his classmates clearly understood.  He referred to this partnership between plantae and animalia.

He and his classmates truly understood there is a partnership among all living things on earth.  It was very obvious to me their regular teacher might be the inspiration for these very young minds.  The gift of science passed from generation to generation can have a huge impact.  This is the role of teachers and books.  

It was a gift to me to spend the day in her classroom.

1 comment:

  1. My first thought when I saw the top photo was "Eek!" It's good to hear about kids who are excited and open-minded about science. It seems there are growing numbers, including many in positions of great authority, who consider science to be un-American. As for Carl Sagan vs. Bill Nye, for my kids it was Ms. Frizzle from the magic school bus.