Sunday, August 31, 2008

MythBusters On Science Education

The opinions expressed in this piece aren't well formed, but they're a nice starting point for discussion.


Dean Baird said...

I read the piece and got to the end before I found something to disagree with. I'm not sure what you mean by "well-formed." Savage's opinions appeared well-formed to this science teacher. Then again, I don't pretend to be without bias.

Darren said...

This isn't well-formed:
"MythBusters is not a show where two guys read about stuff—it’s two guys doing stuff. When we need a valve to fire a baseball at nearly the speed of sound, we get it. Most of my friends who are grade school teachers pay for their own supplies. People say, 'You can’t just throw money at the problem.' By all means throw money at the problem!"

Those guys have the requisite book-learning *before* going out and doing their work. And you and I both know there's plenty of education money around, and we both know that a good chunk of it doesn't make to the point of instruction.

His heart's in the right place, but his head is somewhere else on that particular point :-)

Dean Baird said...

Military spending, though; that money goes like a silver bullet to solve the problems at hand. Or not. Though not ideologically palatable, the reality is that waste in expenditures is like error in measurement: one hopes to minimize it but is aware that it's not completely avoidable. Should we cut back on education funding until the waste has been eliminated? And should take a similar tack with the military?

Some schools have adequate money for lab work; many do not. I work with teachers throughout northern California, and many can't access adequate lab funding. Science equipment is expensive. It's taken me decades to build up the many tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment in my lab. If I had asked for all that stuff when I showed up in 1986, I wouldn't have been asked back in 1987.

Oh, and I think the Mythbusters' backgrounds are much, much more "practical" than "theoretical." They're special effects guys, not science professors. Their content knowledge arose chiefly from hands-on experience. So they value practical over book learning. You can disagree, but I wouldn't cast it as "not well formed."

Students don't have practical, hands-on skills when they come to class anymore. They don't take apart radios or motors, etc., and no one at the state level asks them to. Nor are any such skills tested for AYP/NCLB purposes. Most of those assessments prefer strict (perhaps even rote) book learning.

I don't think anyone can find Savage's perspective wanting without seeing the demands of "educational accountability" in science as equally off the mark.

Donalbain said...

How much hands on time do the kids in a science lesson get in your experience? I try my best to do a practical with them every single lesson. That is obviously not always possible, but that is the aim and is the standard we work to in my department. Would that be about the same in your experience?