High school science is all wet

Sean Nash asked me if I’d step in for him this week. He’s a mensch, and I happen to be off this week, so I said yes. We both write about similar things, but from different angles. I’m on my best behavior here–so I’ll save my opinions on vaccines, fluoride, God, and Higgs bosons for another day….

An osprey, first one of the season, hovered over me while I was fishing this afternoon. It looked down at me, I looked up at it. 400 hundred years ago, on this same shore, an old Kechemeche man stared up at an osprey, and it stared back at him. Our story has changed. The osprey’s has not.

I think the Kechemeche had a better story than ours. In our story the osprey had nothing to share with me. I’ll never know, since their story is now dead. I know this much—the osprey was aware of me on a late afternoon. The tide was rising. The sun felt warm on my face.

There’s a tension between what we know, what we can know, and what’s unknowable. Teaching what we know seems to be the least controversial. Teaching what’s unknowable should not be a function of science teachers in public schools, but distinguishing between what’s knowable and what’s not, well, that’s science.

Why is water wet? Why does my hand get wet when I hold it briefly over a lit grill? Why does water cling to the side of my glass?

That hydrogen bonds form between water molecules, that organic fuels have electrons ripped off by oxygen to form water, and that water molecules cohere to charged surfaces are good enough answers to pass high school science.  Reciting them without grasping that they are models of reality, myths, stories of a special sort, is to give science idolatry it does not warrant.

Science uses models, imaginary constructs, to piece together the world. The world (in science) means the stuff we can sense, directly or indirectly, or logically (and rationally) infer from what we sense.

If a child does not grasp the idea that the constructs of science are, in a real sense, stories, myths framed by specific parameters, the child will see science as facts, tidbits of truth, nuggets of knowledge. Trivia.

And we teach it as such. We trivialize science.

Why  is water wet? What does it even mean to be wet?

I spend a few messy moments in class asking my lambs to do a simple task. Take a handful of peat moss, toss it in a beaker, and wet it. What happens?

The lab benches get messy and wet, but the peat moss mostly stays dry. Why? Why does water roll off wax paper but sticks to cotton?  Why is water wet?

Now the question is not so silly. (Alas, it does not make my students any more likely to dive into the chemistry of water, but at least they have an idea what “wet” means.)

Next question. Why does my hand get moist when I hold it briefly over a flame?

“Simple, Dr. D! You sweat!”

I grab a cool beaker and flame the outside of it with a propane torch. It “sweats.”  I flame the metal faucet pipe—it immediately fogs up. Where does the water come from?

I could show them this equation all day long:

C3H8 + 5 O2 —> 3 CO2 + 4 H2O

I interpret it, which helps a bit:

Propane + oxygen => carbon dioxide + water

Seeing water rise from flame still startles me, every time I do this. Despite my training, or maybe because of it, I forget that chemistry is descriptive, not prescriptive. We put together the story after we gather what we see.

You cannot learn science as you would learn truths, or dogma, or religion. We see the shadows, then we make up the story. The story, however, must make sense. It must give us a way to grasp the shadows, to predict what the shadows will do next.errant horseshoe crab

The tide rises, the tide falls, no matter who tells the story, no matter what the story says.  Until the child can see the osprey, the water, the tides, the stories cannot make sense, no matter how scientific they sound, no matter how hard she studies.

~Michael Doyle


She Might Be Jackson Pollock

They might be heroes

Prepare for awesome.  Whatever it is you do for that…  do it.  I have no idea what you may have thought of They Might Be Giants prior to this post.  If you are unfamiliar, prepare for awesome.  You are hereby twice warned.

This band had a few airplay successes prior to becoming an educational boon for children far and wide.  Moreover, if you teach science or math to little ones, you owe yourself a catch-up weekend with these guys.  Delaney, our three year old, is a huge fan.  She’d tell you so, but you’d probably rather hear her sing.  Her all-time favorites:  Cells, The Bloodmobile, Photosynthesis, Science Is Real, Meet The Elements, Electric Car, Number Two, and Roy G. Biv.  There are many more she’s loved in the past couple of years, but really…  wouldn’t it be cool if a group this edgy would have something like  -oh, I dont know-  a wiki to organize all of this awesomeness?  Yep-  you guessed it:  This Might Be a Wiki.  Dig it.

So today I’d like to highlight an amazing band, a slick iPhone application, and a bit of the early-childhood learning fallout resulting from a clash of the two.

Today while Mommy was away, Delaney sat upon my lap for about an hour floating fingers through digital space…  spilling paint ala Jackson Pollock (one of my faves), all in the name of science influenced by TMBG.  As I sat in my chair piddling about with a new app, Delaney quickly came up to sit on my lap.  She’s used to occasionally plunking about with learning apps on Erin’s phone, but rarely gets that chance on mine.  Today, she watched me scribble about for something like 20 seconds before wanting to “…do it Daddy…  can I pwease?”  What do you think I said?

crappie jig I

Can you guess where my mind is in Midwestern March after 1) a very long and precipitous winter, and 2) flailing out the above image?  It is here that I have to warn you: the remainder of this post may contain mushy dadspeak.  If you can’t hang, bail now.


Delaney quickly said…  can I do it?  After a shake of the phone, and a clear of the screen. I asked her what color she wanted to use.  She promptly chose bwack… and after a circumnavigation of the screen with her sweet little finger, she starter chattering quasi-intelligibly about cells.  “What did you say?  What is that?  “It’s a cell Daddy…  cells are inside of all of us, it’s a blood cell.”  I had heard that much before.  But from there it got a bit more fun…

a cell

From there she whipped out an interior circle of sorts which she called the “nutrients” (smart me quickly realized this to be the nucleus) that “…has DNA in it.”  Now, a biology-teacher dad like me might be completely freaked out at this point if he hadn’t known of his daughter’s exploits with the TMBG songs and videos residing in Mommy’s iTunes closet.

She went on to tell me that, “DNA makes brown hair… and eyes… and boys and girls.”  If I wasn’t already in love with this little lap critter as my own little girl, I would have soon been hooked.

Who says this sort of thing when three?  As an instructional coach, I pay a great a great deal of attention to academic background knowledge.  Setting aside for a moment my deep beliefs in a rather constructivist approach to learning, we all know the benefit of children beginning any new learning with a prior set of relevant experiences…  or at the very least some of the vocabulary that goes with it.  How does Freshman biology change when these basics roll of the tongue like Schoolhouse Rock did for me?

cell number two

This cool little app allowed her to select new colors with the flick of a tiny finger.  I pointed out which buttons did what, and she quickly drank it in like it was the tricky block atop the Lego tower.  She then cranked out a few more cells and ended with, “Daddy, it’s your turn… you do it,” as a plea for modeling some fun.  What did I do?  Not much more than what she had already done.  It’s a bit tough trying to squeeze in a mitochondria with big kid fingertips.  All I did was to ask questions along the way.  I asked if she would tell me what I needed to do next.  I let her run the show.  I tried to roll with what she already thought was important.  She’s three.  Not fourteen.

trees and birds in the rainforest

After tiring of cells, she wanted to make ” a tree.”  She shook the phone to get a blank white slate, and then begged me to “draw too.”  She implored me to begin and I quickly drew in the brown trunk and branches.  After grabbing it away, the rest was all her.  Of course the tree needed “green leaves” and a line of “grass” beneath, and then a flock of “birds” above.  The black scribbles of birds in the image above are the birds in “the rainforest.”  Birds and coyotes… in the rainforest.  Who knew?


It all came flooding in to me as I remembered the lyrics regarding cells, the bloodmobile, etc…  I sat in my chair with my girlie atop my lap, piloting my little phone through her rich imagination.  A post with all of her descriptions would fill this page.  I won’t do that to you.  What I will do is ask you to think about the efficacy of a touchscreen in the hands of a toddler.  Full disclosure:  I love paper.  I adore the smell of crayons.  I love sitting down at the table with her and having her pick out colors for me and bossing me around the page, telling me what to color next.  I do not think it is a good idea to passively babysit kids with electronics, or anything else for that matter.  Just because they take to it like a fish to water…  doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a good thing.

For me though, herein lies the difference in today’s experience:  it wasn’t anything close to passive.  The size of this device allowed her to be fully seated within my arms and legs for some serious one on one time.  Close is good.  After all we are humans, not computers.  We were snuggled up.  We were storytelling.  We could get away with whispering.  So I’m reflecting on the synthesis of a touchscreen loosely emulating the style of Jackson Pollock, the musical genius of They Might Be Giants, and playtime that involves close physical touch with Dad.  The fun of all of this spilled out upon my lap this dark, rainy day in March.  When does a silly phone become a handheld learning tool… a creative tool… a play toy?  Think about that.  This was fun.

Artwork credits

*”A crappy crappie jig” ~  me.
*”Cell number one” ~ Delaney
*”Cell number six” ~  Delaney
*”Rainforest with birds and coyotes” ~  Delaney & I.

Is This a Sluggish Strategy?

The following verse was created in response to and in reflection on the following mass-media story:  Sea Slug Surprise: It’s half-plant, half-animal.  Overall, this post starts with a bit of participation and play, continues with the story of how the “Sci-Po” fun began, how I gave it a shot in the classroom, and why this sort of thinking matters.  It then ends with a few specific resources for biology teachers.

Elysia chlorotica

Is this a sluggish strategy?

Thieving genes seems crazy to me
When seeking food in the mighty sea.
It doesn’t take a Phd
To locate a parcel of green algae.

And yet this shell-free busy bee,
A sea slug with a far lesser degree,
Attempts to boost his MPG
By somehow producing chlorophyll b.

My thoughts on this: In harmony.
I appreciate getting food for free.
Many beasts have green devotees
With sugar secretion their docking fee.

It isn’t merely charity
This molluskan peculiarity,
For algae ultimately die in this
Symbiotic irregularity.

This may seem like barbarity:
Genetic coup of the highest degree.
But I’d bet when we search we’ll see
Biological regularity.

Though no degree from MIT,
I know a fair bit of biology.
I’m nowhere near insanity,
This twist: a slant I just I failed to foresee.

Perhaps we’ll get some new study
That changes the rules for you and for me.
Starvation ebbs, but we shall see:
Would we submit to our skin being green?

What is a “Sci-Po”

Sci-Po.  You read it correctly.  A digital (thus far) friend of mine, Dr. Punya Mishra (who is an associate professor of Educational Technology at Michigan State University), recently wrote a post on his blog about a little project that his daughter had been working on. Shreya is ten years old and writes at Uniquely Mine, her blog. Give it a look- I think you’ll like it.

Punya wrote about the blog and the “Sci-Po’s” within it as a comment on this blog post of mine about some truly ugly mathematical poetry within Mother Goose.  Everything up to and including these two blog posts was completely unrelated.  Months later, another comment to this post was made by Sue VanHattum, a community-college math teacher in California. She then wrote a blog post challenging her readers to write a positive poem about either the beauty or significance of math. Even her first comment by a reader named John is rather impressive.

Punya then responded to this whole woven set of communications by people from all over…  and of very diverse ages. His post on this emerging phenomenon: “Poetry, Science & Math, OR why I love the web.” He was then inspired enough to write a few Math-Po’s of his own.

What’s a guy to do?

At this point, I had to shift my personal involvement in this issue over to my teacher identity and present this little instructional sub-genre of poetry to my students.  By this point in the year, they are likely rather comfy with new.  Be sure to check out the developing thread on our classroom network regarding SciPo’s.  At our last meeting, I invited my students to play along.  I suggested finding any single reading from this past semester as a starting point.  Below is what I personally see as the anatomy of a “Sci-Po” (or a “Math-Po” for that matter).  Allow me to suggest a protocol:

  • Read an interesting article in a field of science (I teach biology, thus the more specific origin of our work).
  • Re-tell the article in your head.  This is summarizing folks.  It is not an autonomic reaction.  Many have published this fact.  At the very least, demonstrate this for your students before you assign it.
  • Reflect on why the article matters.  If it doesn’t have lasting impact, then don’t use it.
  • Retell the main ideas from the article in poetic verse.  You may choose to go back to the original Mother Goose verse and spin yours as well with a sing-songish rhyme.  Somehow I think this even adds a step in the challenge direction.  Try it yourself, you’ll see what I mean.  The poem above is my shot at a Sci-Po.  It came from an article we used for a read aloud earlier in the week.  I cannot imagine expecting students to do something you aren’t doing along with them.  You shouldn’t either.
  • Link back to the article in your post.  My students seem to have taken to creating this link within the text of their poem.
  • Publish in some open Internet forum.
  • Reflect.
  • Communicate.
  • Rinse.
  • Repeat.

The other thing you must understand at this point is that as a classroom project, this one was thus far done in a vacuum.  During this first trial, my students were provided virtually zero instruction toward composing poetry.  Several remarked that they had never actually been required to author their own work in a related genre.  I say this to be fair to those students.  This is experimentation out loud.  As a science teacher, I feel that it is imperative that I give my students the opportunity to explore biology through many other lenses that carry the potential for personal engagement.  I say this because, as of now, that thread includes scientific poetry that is the result of 100% inspiration and 0% instruction in terms of constructing poetic verse.

Let’s get this straight:  I’d love to provide this instruction.  Time is always the issue here.  Even students who feel comfortable with this genre could learn from content instructors with differing vantage points.  However, our current NCLB-influenced curricula almost inhibit such a crossover approach.  Disclaimer:  My Dual-Credit Biology curriculum currently permits experimentation.  My students earn one-university-semester worth of work (5 credit-hours) in an entire high school year.  We have time to enhance and explore.

Personally, I’d find a way to make something this rich work in my classroom at some point regardless.  However, as an instructional coach who has worked with many teachers in the course of the past four years, I would understand the hesitation to do so.  Since NCLB, our core curricula have become more broad, and yet more screwed-down to specifics.  This tends to inhibit innovation.  And yet we must push through that somehow.  The more these content goals are lasered, the more rich pedagogy gets clipped in a vain attempt to meet such specific goals.  The more pedagogy gets clipped, the more student engagement is allowed to plummet.  Lack of student engagement is the first step toward disaster.  Anyone care to talk graduation rates with me?  How did we get to this topic from…  scientific poetry?

simplicity is hard

At this point in my life as an 18 year educator with two toddlers, I seem to see fewer silos and restraints on what we do during the day as teachers than many folks do.  I realize that perhaps the best thing I can contribute to education (outside of what I do in the classroom) is to show folks that there is an alternative to shooting disparate facts into the heads of kids.  In writing that sentence I realize that I intend to stand up for a philosophy of education that pushes beyond segmented practice and into a space where students can find something that inspires them to thinking deeply about new things… whatever those are determined to be.

I believe in and I am certainly analytical enough to help teachers hone in on specific curricular goals with laser precision.  However, I somehow seem to find myself more frequently asking, “why wouldn’t you consider connecting this to that?”  I hope our national system doesn’t soon drive us all to the point where those connections go the way of the dinosaur.

If you are still rather rigidly delivering disconnected lectures in secondary science and mathematics…  find a way out.  If doing anything else feels too fluffy or out-of-sorts, grab a constructivist colleague by the sleeve.  Sit with someone doing things differently.  Find a consultant.  Give another approach a try.  If you really are that traditional, then I certainly recognize the potential for this blog to annoy the daylights out of you.  For another… since you are still reading, I wish you’d have seen the faces of my kids during the 30 minutes of class time I allowed them to explore this on Friday.  I am accustomed to engaged kids, but these were the furrowed brows of surgeons in a pinch.  I love it.  I plan to continue working on it.  I’d love to do so inclusively.  Anyone want to play along?

Content matters?

For the biology educators:  this blog post is a rather nice outline (more content than MSNBC above) of the ecology of the aforementioned little critter.  New Scientist does this one nicely as well.  Even better, Dr. Mary Rumpho, at the University of Maine has a nice little website advocating, as well as supporting, the use of Elysia chlorotica as a model classroom organism for study.  There seem to be a ton of positives to this.  I once had a student keep a colony of hundreds of Hydra viridissima alive and thriving for months (until Christmas break) for an independent research project… and those are some delicate beasts to keep.  Biology teachers: (and perhaps many elementary educators) I suggest giving them a try.


*Image of Elysia chlorotica.  This one is now all over the web, and sadly, it is tough to nail down the origin.  Therefore, no citation, nor linky.  Anyone?
*”simplicity is hard” by Will Lion on Flickr


Tinkering: A “Boys Only” Club?

Boys only?

According to the NCES, since 2004, girls have -in general- been shown to outdo boys in nearly every measure of academic success.  Girls outpace boys on nearly every one of our measures of “winning” when it comes to school.  And yet, when push comes to shove on earning degrees in engineering or computer science, boys still outpace girls by margins of 77% and 85% respectively.  The overarching assertion:  girls don’t tinker. Or at least, they aren’t often encouraged to.

Tinker. In nearly every published version, the origin of the word seems to trace back to an itinerant mender of kitchen utensils- and more specifically, those made of tin.  As a verb (of which we are obviously more interested here) it hints of clumsy, unskilled or experimental efforts.


After that little search, I’m even more interested than before.  Clumsy?  Haphazard?  Unskilled?  Somehow I have always elevated the word in my mind toward something more sophisticated.  I wonder why I so highly regard this word (and many of its associated meanings) when it seems this may not even be the general consensus at all.


Just last week I read an Education Week article entitled Teaching Girls to Tinker by author Lisa Damour.  As an educator of nearly twenty years and a father of two girls under three years of age, this article certainly gave me pause.  I’ve gone forty years (see how I slid that big number in as text) assuming that even if “tinkering” was not done with a specific purpose in mind, it was still a valuable effort.  The idea of tinkering being a valuable pursuit seems to be at odds with the definitions I found today.  And yet the truth remains…  at times, connotation means everything.  Think of how these two statements paint opposite connotations of the word:

He tinkered with the nation’s economy by regularly deregulating banks.

She tinkered with the lure in order to make it run deeper in the water.

Perhaps overall success… or gravitas plays a role here?  Of course my take on this comes through the lens of a teacher/instructional coach.  Before sitting here to type this evening, I even asked the Twitter crew what sort of off-the-top-of-your-head definition they’d give for the word.  Twelve of them responded with:

tweeps on tinkering

tweeps on tinkering

I see tinkering on par with the sort of purposeful play I so highly value in the classroom.  The kind of play we don’t do enough.  The sort of thing most NCLB required state exams force teachers to push aside.

I find it interesting that although some of the twelve Twitter responses speak of tinkering as simply “messing about,” most contain language that seems to elevate the activity a bit, such as: “investigate”, “modify”, and “explore.”  Several even mentioned it as something that leads to an actual accomplishment.  Is it perhaps that the vast majority of these people are educators?  Or is it that they are progressives?  Things got even weirder while writing this post tonight when I clicked a Twitter link to view the list of scheduled “conversations” at Educon2.2.  A quick scan down the list shoved me smack into a Sylvia Martinez presentation entitled “Tinkering Towards Technology Fluency.”  Her brief description of the session mentions that the content will surround themes she’s been exploring on her blog.  Networked digits provide digital serendipity, no?

Tinker vs. struggle?

Regardless of our take on the meaning of tinkering, apparently by some measures girls are not being afforded an equal share of the tink.  Damour points to the 1994 book Failing at Fairness which includes an observation that, “…teachers allow boys to struggle with mathematics problems long after they have rushed in and rescued girls from the same struggle.”  This seems certainly overlapped with the concept of “tinkering” mentioned here…  but it also seems to go in a bit of a different direction.  This quote speaks directly of struggle.  How much overlap do you see in these two words?

scientific struggles

I try to create struggles every day.  More often than not, it’s my classroom modus operandi.  In short, I try to engage students in a concept…  address the fuzziness between what we know and what we don’t know… point towards the structure we’ll be using to explore it…  settle on how we’ll evaluate our work…  and then allow the relatively safe struggle between learning and meaning to take place.  My role is coach.  My day to day mission is to support this type of tinkering with ideas within the framework of standards in which we work.

This tinkering takes its highest form when actually following a problem through to include actual harvesting and analysis of data followed by conclusions that lead back to more problems.  In line with data presented in the article, my females generally tend to outpace my males in achievement.  How do the numbers hold up by the time my students graduate from college?  Even with the dawn of social media, this data is still fuzzy.  So I’m left to wonder…  could I too indirectly contribute to the tinker-divide outlined by Damour?

At home

The bottom line for me is that any article that comes back to haunt me a day later is a good one.  In fact, just the other night I found this one still on my mind.  That night my two-year old approached me in the kitchen with toy troubles.  She had stuffed far too many toys into a little lunchbox that holds critters.  While holding it up to me with two hands and two big eyes, she asked me to “fix it, Daddy.”  I looked down to see both ends of the latch not quite matching up with the strain of the critter load.

the tinker box

My gut reaction was to reach right down and latch it right up for my little dollface.  However, I stopped short…  sat down beside her and coached her through it without touching it myself.  I wonder how that might have played out if Delaney were a boy.  I don’t consider these tiny struggles to be “tinkering.”  I do, however, consider them to be related.

And yes, I still open doors for women.  When you’re forty (twice in one post!) and were raised to be (roughly) a gentleman, it is just something you do as a kneejerk.  Heck, to me it is a courtesy thing toward other humans in general.  So yes, I treat men and women differently on a conscious level.  It’s the subconscious level I wonder about.


*Sculpture by iwishmynamewasmarsha on Flickr.
*Twitstream definitions by the twelve mentioned in the image.
*Classroom inquiry by me.
*Tinkerbox by me



Good conversations

This rather dull snapshot was taken with my phone at the recent NECC 2009 conference in Washington, DC.  Funny.  Sometimes it’s the non-conference things that really push my thinking forward.  EduBloggerCon was one of those, “sit around with smart folks and discuss and debate self-selected topics of interest in education” kind of days.  What, you don’t have those every day?  Ok, I’ll admit it- sadly neither do I.  One of the sessions in particular, led by Jonathan Becker was entitled: “Where School Reform Meets Madonna:  Can public schools fundamentally reinvent themselves?”  The rule in this one was that if a “tech tool” was even mentioned that the violator would have to stand on the table and sing.  EduBloggerCon is certainly an “unconference” about more than edtech tools.  Good conversations do more than stimulate your brain during the immediate time in which they are occurring.  Good conversations are those that change the way you see the world in some small way from that point on.

Washington Public Library

The building above is found in Mt. Vernon Square and has an interesting history.  A much better close-up view from Wikimedia shows that this was one of Carnegie’s libraries.  The building was also recently a City Museum and still serves the Historical Society of Washington, DC.

While walking the city with Jeanette and Luke (Principal and Asst. Principal at BHS) during lunch at EduBloggerCon, we ran across this building.  Initially, I was interested in the architecture.  However, upon closer inspection I became much more interested in the three bold words embedded into the marble front of the building:


These three words, especially appearing below the phrase: “DEDICATED TO THE DIFFUSION OF KNOWLEDGE” were enough to haunt me the next couple of days.  By the way, I had probably better let you know that if you came to this post looking for answers… prepare for a 10:1 question vs. answer ratio from this point.  Sorry about that.

A light word study

Let’s talk about those three little words.  Do you have thoughts on this triplet as it was laid out so many years ago?  Truly any three words could have been chosen, yet these are the three that were cut into rock.  For one, I am a pretty big fan of all three of those words.  If you dig through the “poetry” tag here on the blog, you’ll certainly find a thing or two that relates over the past year.  Science is the obvious one.  I have been a science teacher since 1992.  Further… for me, history so often provides not only context to the world in which we live, but also connections in and amongst all fields of study.

But I live out my days in an American high school.  Where are the other two great core areas of study?  Where lies Communication Arts, or English, or Language Arts, or…?  Where do we fit Mathematics?  Perhaps the folks who laid out this building saw those as modes of communicating the ideas of science and history.  And poetry?  Perhaps this is the art that takes human communication to creative and innovative heights.

altered playing card - inspiration - davinci

Step outside a moment

Imagine a school where the base subjects are those three: science, poetry, and history.  What would that look like?  Now of course I’m not suggesting we look away from all of the other myriad courses in our world such as practical arts, physical education, etc.  My friend and Principal, Jeanette Westfall, would be quick to remind anyone discounting the importance of the “non-core” subjects, that these courses (and their teachers) represent about 60% of our school today.  Anyone pushing this part of high school life aside would be someone with a rather narrow view of the American high school scene of 2009.

But instead of seeing a focus on science, history, and poetry as narrow…  what if we saw it as something much larger?  What if we found a way to teach all of the subjects we care about today within this framework?  Could that be done?  What if we dissolved our hallowed curricular walls and found a way to deliver all of those wonderful bits of learning through very broad lenses such as these three?

I can see a million problems.  Where does engineering fit?  Engineering isn’t really science.  It is most usually an outgrowth of science.  Engineering is science applied to life.  However, aren’t the best examples of engineering a marriage of art and science?  There are others of course.  I welcome the discussion following this post.  Writing online is great like that, right?

23, 24


Perhaps the largest thorn in the side of such an experimental approach is our compartmentalized teacher certification system.  Not only that, but with most of us as products of such a linear, territorial system- could we even create a small number of schools that could do this at a high level?  I understand why this is different in secondary vs. the elementary world.  The content knowledge required in the higher grades in 2009 is daunting for sure.  I get it that most folks couldn’t deliver calculus.  Most of us couldn’t prepare teenagers for college-level physics or a journalism program either.  And yet, what percent of your student body did I just include by mentioning those two courses?  More importantly, perhaps restructuring schools toward a more integrated nature seems more daunting to the “closed four walls” of the typical classroom.  Perhaps those who have opened up the walls of their classroom to colleagues near and far can more easily imagine a new and innovative structure for schools.

Of course this couldn’t really fly in a public school today, could it?  But then again, how is what are are doing right now working for us?  Many universities have “honors” programs within the normal school.  These programs are often about collaboration and integration of subject matter to create a more relevant and rigorous environment.  The same goes for gifted ed classes.  It seems that we continue to create opportunities for both our most talented kids as well as those who display “buy-in” to the system of schooling as it is today.  Of course I think this is a great thing.  But, what about the massive chunk of the teenage populace who see school as not immediately relevant to their lives?  What needs to happen for us to imagine a learning environment that is chunked up in some way different than we have already tried?  The huge numbers of disaffected or otherwise uninterested teens can’t wait much longer.  I wonder if their vision could be any more comprehensive.

3d glasses

As is often the case…  far more questions than answers here today.  Once again, I’m appreciative for the ability to think aloud in a loose forum full of smart and enthusiastic people.  What about those three overarching “subjects” mentioned above?  Are there three you’d propose alternatively?  Hopefully an idea or two will be left stirring in your head.  Feel free to share below if so.


*science:poetry:history via iPhone by me
*altered playing card – inspiration – davinci by Blazing Moon on Flickr
*23, 24 by Rob Shenk on Flickr
*3d glasses by dryxe on Flickr