Science in the classroom: musings 1.
Reading material on science teaching, the one thing that stuck out is that science is not strictly logical.
Bjorn Andersson, in a paper called, “Some Aspects of Children’s Understanding of Boiling Point”, asked children about what they think happens when water boils and is left boiling.
“Some of the pupils’ explanations are quite consistent. This of the pupils on category 2 B on problem 1 (the longer the water is on the hot-plate, the hotter it gets), 80% explain, as would be expected, problem 2 by saying that the switch-number determines the temperature of the boiling water. …many of the apparent misconceptions came from good logical thinking, the problem was merely that the pupils had inadequate background knowledge.” (258-9)
Science does not proceed from first principles, it proceeds from learning by rote what others have frequently figured out by intuition, and then proved by experiment. I know this, it isn’t knew. But I don’t see this paralleled in much science fiction for children—although it used to crop up a lot in 1950s engineering style sf where often the sensible and Iogical choice was not the right one (think Colin Kapp here).
But leading on from that is that, and more interesting for some of the issues science fiction raises, is that studies of science teaching demonstrate how it is possible to have a well educated populace, steeped in superstition and ignorance.
“Driver and Easley point out … that whenever we attempt to introduce a topic to our pupils they come to it with a framework of ideas relating to it which they have derived from past experience. When they are faced with the statements of teachers or textbooks or the result of their own experiences, not in keeping with the conceptual framework they hold, they either have to modify their own framework or keep two separate systems. Alas, the two systems are sometimes never reconciled; some pupils using one to pass school examinations and one they use in every day life. Likewise Karmiloff-Smith and Inhelder … provide developmental corroboration that a child does not easily relinquish a new theory. And when they do they first prefer to create a new theory, quite independent of the first, before attempting to unify all events under a single, broader theory. ( from Kenneth Lovell, “The Relevance of Cognitive Psychology to Science and Mathematics Education”, (3)
Which goes a long way to explain how you can teach a class physics and still end up with a bunch of people who believe in Creationism.
All of this interests me because one of the absolute staple threads of much of what I’m reading is an interest in pedagogy and a belief that a properly educated workforce will be an enlightened one. The nearest book I can think of that reflects this alternative idea--that classroom theory can exist independent of other theory--is Jeff Noon’s Nymphomation, in which children drop out of different stages of the education that’s on offer. I’m pretty sure someone important wrote a very scary story with the same idea (Zenna Henderson perhaps?) in which this is expressed also.
But it also interests me because of these multiple reading protocols we discussed earlier, and for many children, the multiple behavioural protocols they adopt: school, playground, home, grandparents’ home. Again, it’s not an idea that crops up much in fiction for children where one of the definitions of maturity appears to be the ability to bring together oneself in one neat package.