Science and Making

Some thoughts on science education from Seth Godin in a presentation for the 2012 New York MakerFaire:

If you sit in a science lab, in a high school class, you will not see any students doing science. What you will see them doing is following the instructions to demonstrate that they know how to go through the steps of doing science that someone else did 40 years ago, or 400 years ago. And if they try to innovate, if they try to be a maker, if they try to understand and see what doesn’t work, they get marked down. And then if they get marked down enough, they have to be reprocessed and do it again.

Making is what science education should be all about. Instead kids do a lot of memorizing and replicating processes with predetermined outcomes.

Then there is his observation about creativity.

And if we think about what we ask people to do when we pretend that we are challenging them to be creative, we’re not challenging them to be creative at all. We’re challenging them to look like the person who came before them.

Finally, Godin’s wonderful definition of making: “What real makers understand is this: if it might not work, then you’re doing some making.”

The 27-minute talk is worth watching.

Stop Replicating Google

Seth Godin:

The job is no longer to recite facts, to read the bio out loud, to explain something better found or watched online.

No, the job is to personally and passionately make us care enough to look up the facts for ourselves.

As always, Godin is talking about the process of marketing.

For me, however, that’s a near-perfect description of what school and teaching should be in this time when much of what we still do in the classroom is replicate Google.

Just a thought to start the week.

Are You “Good” At Math?

Seth Godin on being good at math.

It’s tempting to fall into the trap of believing that being good at math is a genetic predisposition, as it lets us off the hook. The truth is, with few rare exceptions, all of us are capable of being good at math.

So, what does he mean by “math”? I suspect most people believe they are not “good” at math (or as I’ve been told, not a “math person”) because they got lost in and bored with the highly mechanical approach inflicted on most students.

For the math taught in most schools, especially at the elementary level, “being good” is largely a waste of time. Is completing page after page of problems by hand using standard algorithms a valuable skill, when the calculator found on almost any mobile device could get the same result faster and more accurately?1

Understanding the mathematics behind the PowerBall lottery, and why money spent on tickets is likely a really crappy “investment”, now that’s something that would benefit a student for their whole life.

But let’s face it. We all know what “being good” at math really means: passing the test.

Being good at standardized math tests is useless. These tests measure nothing of real value, and they amplify a broken system.

For a business guy, Godin has a pretty good understanding of American education.

  1. Please don’t tell me the kid needs to understand the process to know when the calculator is wrong. Or other such crap. Learning a mechanical process does not lead to conceptual knowledge.

Stamping Out Great Teachers

I’m listening to Seth Godin’s Linchpin1 and early in the book he makes these observations about our education system and teachers.

Why is society working so hard to kill our natural born artists? When we try to drill and practice someone into subservient obedience, we’re stamping out the artist that lives within.

Let me be really clear. Great teachers are wonderful, they change lives. We need them.

The problem is that most schools don’t like great teachers. They’re organized to stamp them out, bore them, bureaucratize them, and make them average.

Godin’s usual focus is business and marketing but he’s also written some very insightful pieces on American education. For more, download his manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams, “a series of provocations” that he hopes will lead to people taking action, and watch his TEDx talk of the same title.

  1. I know it’s three years old. I’m always behind on my reading

Getting Unstuck

Seth Godin:

When times get confusing, it’s easy to revert to the habits that got you here. More often than not, that’s precisely the wrong approach. The very thing that got you here is the thing that everyone who’s here is doing, and if that’s what it took to get to the next level, no one would be stuck.

Of course his point is directed at business.

However, falling back on the habits that got us here is exactly why reform of the American education system is stuck in the 1960’s. Teacher-directed instruction, using a curriculum based on the concept of a fixed knowledge base, with learning assessed in the narrowest possible manner is “precisely the wrong approach”.

When do we move to the next level?