“I saw a show on The Discovery Channel….”

In science, and all content areas, a common hurdle teachers are faced with is finding and correcting preconceptions. I find one of my biggest assets and resources for student engagement in science outside of the classroom is also the bane of my existence: The Discovery Channel.

Don’t get me wrong, there are very few shows on The Discovery Channel that I don’t love, ‘Myth Busters’ is a classic favorite and ‘Curiosity’ has been a recent interest, with many in between.  My problem is not with the content, I am sure I would be amazed by the amount of fact checking and rechecking that goes into the production of shows, on top of the steadfast use of the scientific method.

However, I personally know that if I listen to an hour of information and facts I’m going to remember the big picture, but the small details, not so much.

Students, on the other hand, seem to become instant experts (or at least think they are). They will watch a show on Discovery and something in class will trigger a memory of that show. Leading to the classic line, I’m sure hundreds of teachers have heard, “I saw a show on The Discovery Channel….”

For instance, tons of students love ‘Shark Week’ (as do I). They watch what sounds like hours of the programming and come to class as experts on sharks.

I get lines like:

“I saw a show on The Discovery Channel… and a shark can’t bite with a force of 3000 pounds per square inch”

or

“I saw a show on The Discovery Channel… and sharks have 15 rows of teeth that replace each other when one falls out.”

First of all, this is Great! To have students engaged in science outside of the classroom is excellent. Yet, students use the line ‘I saw a show on The Discovery Channel…’ as a way to make what they are saying instant fact. Yet, I often find the ideas they remember are correct, but the details are off.

For instance, according to The Discovery Channel the record bite strength measured experimentally to date is 42,000 pounds per square inch, a bit more than the student thought, but on the other hand some species of shark do have up to 15 rows of replaceable teeth. Batting .500, not too shabby.

The students’ information gets to the meat of the idea: sharks have powerful jaws; they do have rows of replaceable teeth. But it leaves out important details like: what type of shark, the difference between strength, force and pressure, and did the student remember the numbers, or the science vocabulary correctly.

(Check out these Top 20 Shark Fact videos from The Discovery Channel for more great shark info.)

Oftentimes, we end up fact checking and at times have discovered that students, in fact, had remembered the exact factoid, but we’ve more often found the alternative. The main idea is correct, but the details are off.

Again, I love that students are remembering some of these big picture concepts and making connections in the classroom (I’m a sucker for a good tangent), but when I get “I saw a show on The Discovery Channel….” I know that I’m going to have make sure we do some research as a class and make sure students learn and remember the accurate information. Because, for some reason students can remember a miniscule fact, right or wrong, uttered by a peer, for months after, but can forget something I told them a minute ago. Imagine that. Weird.

Discovery, I beg you, don’t stop what you’re doing. You get students excited about science at home! I’ll keep doing my best to make sure the next “I saw a show on The Discovery Channel…” gets handle and we learn from it, just like all the rest of them.

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Get Your Hands Dirty; Learn Something

If you look up the definition of Biology in any textbook you’ll find something to the gist of “the study of life.”

Now, if you didn’t notice, life is all around us. You can’t get up from your bed every morning, go through your morning routine, and walk out your front door without being aware of Life.

From the mites that thrive in our sheets feeding off our flaked off skin, being constantly replaced and healed to keep our first line of defense from infection intact.

Even washing the sebum (that oily substance) from our hair and body in the shower, which we secrete as another secondary protective mechanism. Finally, the glory that is the outdoors, it is a whirlwind of the interactions and symbiosis of life. Photosynthesis, predation, decomposition, mitosis, I could go on. Countless phenomena I don’t go a morning without having the chance to experience.

For most people these mundane routines are not filled with Biology, and maybe some of you are thinking, ‘I wish I didn’t know about those mites…’ but my goal is to show my students that Biology, life, and all its intrigue surround us in our everyday life, in all that we do.

In my opinion there’s only one really good way to do this, only one really good way to learn Biology: You have to get your hands dirty. We have get out there in the world and look at it with new eyes. Biological eyes.

My first unit of the year is a projected-based learning opportunity that focuses on Ecology, studying the interactions between organisms and their environment. This is very conducive to getting out into the world. The project is to create a miniature ecosystem that we then use as a model to study topics such as food chains, competition, symbiosis, and succession.

So, this week was spend outside, surrounded by Biology getting dirty as we searched for, and collected specimens that would inhabit our ecosystems. Some students stayed to the path and collected from the edge, some climbed and crawled through brush and grass to chase a critter, and some got more dirty than others, but everyone was out there engaged in the Biological world.

My personal favorite part was when two students went barefoot, ankle deep in a pond to get an illusive tadpole, reminded me of what I would have done.

And I’d say most of my students’ favorite part was when I end up shin deep in a mud hole, in dress shoes and chinos.

But hey, in Biology that’s what it’s all about. Sometimes you’ve just got to get your hands (or feet) dirty.

We Are Vermont Strong!

This next post is not on my normal topic of education and teachering; however, it is just as important and close to my heart.

In the wake of the receding flood water caused by Irene’s rain, Vermont is left with a lot of rebuilding. It makes me proud to be a Vermonter to see our communities coming together to support one another. From lend a helping hand, a warm meal, hot showers, and even a bed to sleep in, Vermonters are doing exactly what I would expect them to do having live in this state all my life.

I cannot express my gratitude enough to all of the electric and road crews who are working long hours on hot days to get power and access back to our homes! You are appreciated so much! Thank you so much!

I put together the short video above to show some of the damage around Bridgewater Corners VT, express my gratitude, as well as provide hope. We will rebuild!

We Are Vermont Strong!