Saturday, September 1, 2012

Let Kids Break Stuff-Ode to My Mom

I'd like to share two videos of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson that inspired the writing of this article.  This is all in honor of my mother, who raised kids who are naturally inquisitive, willing to take chances, especially if it includes getting dirty and making noise. I know watching videos takes time, but these are definitely worth it! If you're a parent, these  carry a powerful message about letting a kids' environment be their science lab. We need to get out of the way of their discoveries (while keeping them safe). 

I will add here, that I was in the hospital every year up until I was eight for my "natural discoveries." My mom traded the nagging maternal phrase, "No," for trips to the emergency room. For example, my  too-close observation of what happens to rock when it is thrown straight up into the the air resulted in stitches in my forehead.  And honestly, I'm thankful for these "learning opportunities." Over the years, hearing my family tell {all} the stories, I believed that this was because of my naturally inquisitive, unquenchable spirit. But now, seeing my mom with my own kids, I see that it was the pairing my of personality with the parenting style that allowed me to enjoy life and to discover things on my own! And for this I am eternally grateful.

I'm happy to say that I do let my kids bang pans with spoons, that I love it when they stomp through mud puddles, and use paper towel cardboard tubes as trumpets. I make sure that anyone sitting my kids understands that being dirty is part of life--too many baby sitters are worried about keeping kids clean! I have adopted this "discovery" philosophy in raising my own kids, and therefore, these videos support my parenting philosophy. However, the videos challenge me a bit as a teacher. How does this philosophy fit into the structure of "school"? Textbook descriptions, vocabulary definitions, cookie-cutter labs, are not the science I want to perpetuate. Sadly, I have discovered that the view I had of what science is, was in fact wrong. And unfortunately, most educators in the educational system suffer from this same delusion. I've come to believe that the problem is systemic. Education attracts teachers who prefer to teach facts, facts of which they are passionate about, rather than process and learning by exploring and experimentation. The problem affects how we train preservice teachers as well as the support we offer inservice teachers. And parents' view of what their kids should learn in science doesn't help in overcoming the perception problem. 

There are no easy answers to improving science education, but I think Dr. Neil Tyson has a lot of good ideas on how to begin changing our view, not only of science, but our view of how kids should view science. This second video is a Stephen Colbert interview with Dr. Tyson where he shares how we should let our kids break stuff for the sake of learning. He uses humor to make his point. 

Dr. Tyson is the second astrophysicist that I've found who is really fun to listen to, and has strong ideas on science education. As you may remember, I wrote about the NSTA session I went to of Dr. Jeff Goldstein and his thoughts about how teachers "ruin" the scientific method for kids!  Although I don't agree with everything these men say (I've listened to a number of You Tube videos of them speaking), I think they both make some insightful observations that we as teachers need to consider. Our view of science, and how it should be taught may be warped by our past experiences and training (and the fact that most educators have never practiced science). 

These videos also remind me of a principal who spoke at ISTE years ago (I can't remember his name, but he was from Hawaii). He shared a story of how his son got in trouble at home for putting an egg in the microwave. Yeah, I know, right? The mother was furious with having to clean up the mess, and after dad was appropriately stern with his son, he asked, "So, what happened?" And the boy lowered his head and was going to share what he had done, but the dad interrupted, looked into his boy's eyes and slowly spoke, "No. Tell me what happened!" The boy began smiling from ear to ear, "Dad, you wouldn't believe, it, it started shaking and hissing, and making all kinds of racket, then it was sooo cool!" THAT is a wonderful learning opportunity! 

And since this article is an ode to my Mom...and to end on a lighter note, I just HAVE to share this video as well, which is a wonderful song thanking moms for all they've done--cellularly, that is! My favorite phrase in this song is "Slightly more than half of everything I am is thanks to you!" Enjoy!


  1. Great post and bang on in every respect!

    Your Mom sounds fantastic. Love that song, too.

    1. Hi Eddie,

      Yeah, getting dirty and making messes are one way I recapture my childhood. I find I have to hold my tongue a lot...I just think, "in the scope of things, why am I hesitant to let him do this..." and usually its because I'm worried what others will think, and if that's the reason...I let them do it! I say ha on them!

      Also, my mom IS fantastic! She went to med school after I was in elementary school and ended up practicing radiology for all my years growing up!



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