ImageI still remember the time I first got in an argument with a teacher. It was in a science class in middle school and the teacher was explaining how some simple physics would work in some rockets we were making (2 liter coke bottles with water and compressed air). Things went pretty well in the class until I asked a question about why the water worked better than just the air.

I know now that water has higher mass, that the compressed air pushed the water out and imparted a greater initial thrust. That’s not the answer the teacher gave me, that’s one I figured out later on. My teacher just said ‘because it works.’

My response, in typical twelve-year-old fashion, could have been more tactful. I said, “That means you don’t know.” Cornering your teacher with the fact that they don’t understand how something works is not a way to endear them to you.

What I didn’t really grasp then (and the teacher, who had a teaching degree rather than a physics or engineering degree, didn’t get either), is that science is about asking those questions. Knowing how things work is the key to science… and something our education system does its best to program out of students at a young age. I don’t have a degree in teaching, but it seems to me that telling someone to read the text book is not a way to encourage kids to ask questions. Nor is, oddly enough, having them take rote tests designed to ‘check on learning.’

Teaching science, as in teaching most things, requires interaction and participation. I’ve had a few teachers who understood this, but only one in High School who taught science. My chemistry teacher was so good at the time that I retook her class as a senior as an AP class, both for the college credit and to do some of the crazy experiments she’d put together. Creating methane bubbles in a classroom and lighting them on fire might not seem like an educational process. Doing that while discussing the properties of soap films and the exothermic reaction of methane and oxygen both gets the students to pay attention and to actually think a little bit. This was a teacher who wasn’t afraid to admit that sometimes she didn’t have the answer… but that we could work on it.

The scientific method, trial and error, these things are essential to learning and developing science. That’s something that we, especially as fans of Science Fiction, should always remember.



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