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Teaching Science and Math with Real World Examples

I ran across a great post at Technocrat titled If We Taught English the Way We Teach Mathematics.
"Suppose that those classes, from elementary school right through to high school, amounted to nothing more than reading dictionaries, getting drilled in spelling and formal grammatical construction, and memorizing vast vocabulary lists -- you never read a novel, nor a poem; never had contact with anything beyond the pedantic complexity of English spelling and formal grammar, and precise definitions for an endless array of words. You would probably hate the subject."
This is a great point, and the post goes on to talk about why it's not just a lack of "real world" examples that makes math and science such boring, intimidating subjects.  Here's the perfect example of how a real world example definitely did not help one student with physics: [youtube]cIIwwCi2zwk[/youtube] So if memorizing facts and formulas is no use, and contrived, often bizarre examples are no help, how should we teach math and science? I'm not sure I have any great insights, but I can give you three examples of what has worked for me. First, I think it helps to have (or to project to your students) an attitude that allows for the real value and usefulness of science and math.  This does not mean that great teachers and students have to be died-in-the-wool atheists or materialists.  But I do think there are some basic ideas without which science and math will never be meaningful or interesting: 1.  The world is more complicated than it might seem; 2.  We can figure out the way it works; 3.  We can put the knowledge to use. As Richard Feynman explained:
"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."
Doing some googling to uncover the source of the quote leads me to a post on Edward Tufte's homepage, Grand truths about human behavior.  There you'll find a collection of quotes that express this notion better than I can. Second, you cannot study physics, geometry, biology, or any similar subject in isolation.  When I was in high school a lot of the stuff we went over in math class junior year didn't make sense until I took physics senior year.  In college I took calculus I and II as a computer science student and did fairly well, but I forgot everything I had read the day after each final exam.  When I took discrete math, though, the class was so much more interesting because I could see how it applied to CS. Physics od SuperherosFinally, one great way to teach science is through storytelling.  This is a case where extensive Bible study might be perfect preparation for giving a science lecture - Jesus knew 2000 years ago that parables were much more effective teaching tools than lists of facts and figures (or commandments). The facts of the story are not nearly as important as the lesson and the exercise in creative thinking.  One great example of this is The Physics of Superheros by James Kakalios.  This is a great book - the author talks about the origin stories and powers of various super heroes and uses these very fictional examples to illustrate real physics.  He does not do so by brutally criticizing Stan Lee and insulting Superman.  Instead he uses the "miracle exception" to the laws of physics represented by each super power to tell a story about how the world really works. Thanks to The Adventures of the Accordion Guy for pointing out the post on teaching math like English.

My Mormon Obession, a continuation

Here is a nice little summary from Matt and Trey. I mean, they sum it up so nicely. [youtube]cqWHEVBRfu0[/youtube]

Jesus Christ it’s Jesus!

Finally the question, "Have you found Jesus?", can now be answered yes. The tomb of Jesus as apparently been discovered in Israel of all places, well duh why didn't they look there in the first place. I don't know why he was in this crappy box either, I mean he's supposed to be the messiah for christ sakes, get him a nice coffin. Also it was found by Terminator 2 and Titanic director James Cameron. Apparently he has so much money now they only thing left for him to do was find Jesus, literally. All right maybe he didn't personally find him but he produced the documentary about it that should count for something. Also it looks like they found the body in the 80's but I guess they were too busy watching ALF to tell anybody. Of course this creates a lot of problems for Christians because according to the bible Jesus rose up into heaven while he was still alive, not sure if he floated up slowly like a balloon or just shot up their like a rocket, but then there shouldn't be a body. But I suppose you can still take the less literal interpretation of the bible and say that just his spirit rose to heaven not his body. Of course if you do that you'll be deemed a heretic and banished to hell for all eternity, but hey thats your prerogative. But I'm sure the whole thing will just blow over and nobody will care in a week. I mean look at how upset people got at the da Vinci Code, now nobody even remembers that dumb movie, just Tom Hanks awful hair. And if Jim Cameron really did find Jesus' tomb and was threatening the churches power wouldn't Pope Palpatine have sent his papal storm troopers to eliminate him already? In other news hundreds are flocking to Houston to see and image of the Virgin Mary on a Pizza Pan, so it looks like people will believe anything these days.

The Columbus Disptach Hates Jesus!

I saw this mentioned in ScienceBlogs and had to share. We've talked about the War on Christmas before, but really that war is part of a larger issue: how do you cope when you are part of an over-represented majority? When the majority of Americans share your faith, and your religion dominates the culture and all three branches of government, it's doesn't leave you much to complain about. Now, that doesn't mean you shouldn't complain. Instead, the few things left should be complained about ad nauseum. So when the Faith & Values section of the Columbus Dispatch wrote a few stories about Islam and Buddhism, they got letters from unhappy readers:
A couple of critics wanted to know why we were wasting ink on these "false" beliefs when Christ is the only path to salvation. Another caller said he was tired of having "that Islam religion … shoved in my face."
Mark Fisher, editor of that section, decided to take a look at their coverage. He tallied up the subjects of all the front page articles and compared it to the demographics of their readership. It turns out that one group was being left out, but it wasn't the Christians:
Although Faith & Values isn’t ignoring Christians, my tally does suggest that we are giving nonreligious people less attention than they deserve. We’re already taking steps to correct that.
Looking at the actual percentage of coverage and comparing it to the demographics of their readership is a really interesting idea, but I don't think they will win any converts (so to speak) with an empirical approach. I don't think Dispatch readers were complaining that Christianity was being under-represented statistically. I think they were complaining that any view, other than their own, was given any exposure what-so-ever. There are many people curious enough in their lives and mature enough in their faith to be interested in what others believe, but I fear they are the minority. In my experience, many, many people have the sort of faith that requires putting their fingers in their ears and singing "I can't hear you." Unfortunately, these are often the most vociferous members of any faith. So I applaud Fisher's approach, and I agree with his conclusion - agnostics and atheists probably do get too little coverage in the news. But I don't think the Dispatch have much success. Even if the Dispatch went the other direction and had 99 percent Christian coverage, they would probably still be accused of fueling the "War on Christmas" or some other such nonsense because of that one percent. So good luck.