No Love 1/14/23

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

A former student turned friend posted a photo of her son studying for exams on her social media size.  Paraphrasing, she said something along the lines of “I’m glad it’s him and not me, I do not love doing this stuff.”  To be fair, I’m kind of surprised that she wrote this as she was one of my better students.  I immediately commented, saying that it’s not a test to see how much he doesn’t know, but rather an opportunity to show off how smart he is.

My personal opinion is that it’s probably better to put positive spins on things like this, even if it’s stressful and difficult, can only help.  Instead of being afraid of how bad it could be, we should be trying to build up the excitement of showing off how much we’ve learned.  Not only will it help the student relax and get them, hopefully, more excited about learning and working, but it also puts them in a positive frame of mind.  Yes, they can do it, and if they believe that, then they will. 

We have a habit of sending these negative messages to students even if we’re not aware we are doing it or doing so intentionally.  I know I do it.  Even recently I was talking with somebody (I do not remember with whom or the context) about biology.  Personally, I’ve always viewed biology as a memorization course, and that is a weakness for me.  I prefer reason and logic.  In the physical sciences, it’s possible to figure out the answer (more often than not if it’s taught and tested correctly).  Yes, there are terms and concepts that often require some memorization, but being mathematically based, a great deal of the material can be worked out. 

For a time, I taught a basic science course for elementary education majors.  Yes, there are always exceptions, but some of my worst students were education majors.  I guess it’s similar to the reason that physicians don’t like having fellow doctors as clients.  There’s something about people who think they already know everything there is to know, and education majors often (not always) believed they didn’t need to know science because they “know how to teach” (an actual quote from a middle school teacher I know).  As I taught this course, I tried to make it a point that a big part of teaching has to be at least feigning enthusiasm even in subjects that they don’t like.  When students hear that they don’t like science, they’ll pick up the attitude, and it’s like turning off a light switch on the subject. 

My friend is far too young to be a grandmother, and certainly looks too young as well, but she is.  In fact, of her five children, the youngest is now with child as well.  She has so many grandchildren, and she has to be the coolest grandmother in the world.  Her house is filled with interesting and fun science and engineering-based toys and activities.  And she has a friend who is a chemist, so how cool is that? 

Not all of her grandchildren are into science, but I do know that some are.  They like asking her questions like “how can anybody not like this stuff?”  That’s such an excellent question.  One big secret, though, is not to be disgusted by the things the kids love, and certainly don’t ridicule them for what interests them.  And, no, parents do NOT need to have all of the answers either.  In fact, how much fun is it to find the answer with your children and grandchildren? 

I happen to know that one of the games she bought a year or two ago was the poop game.  I’ve never played, but my understanding is that there is a plastic “poop” that goes into a “toilet” built into the board.  Randomly, on somebody’s turn, the “poop” will shoot up, and extra points are gained by actually catching the poop.  Yes, you can think of it as gross, but how much fun would that be for a kid?  And how much would they love a parent or grandparent who plays along?

You might be wondering how this relates to science, but it can open up a plethora of questions.  What is poop made of, and what’s the mechanism of the launching poop?  If it’s air pressure, what is air pressure, and if it’s spring based, a discussion of kinetic and potential energy is appropriate.  I had a former student send me an email asking why asparagus makes urine smell funny.  Of course, I looked it up in my handbook (a copy of which I gave to my young grandmother friend) and provided an answer.  It’s a chemical that is related to those found in skunk smell and added to natural gas to give it a smell in case of a leak.  She was thrilled that I could answer it.  In her email thanking me for the reply, she said that she asked all of the science teachers in her college, and all she heard was “that’s gross”.  That pipeline of scientific curiosity was just shut down by them.


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