January 29, 2009


KDeRosa blogs about schoolwork that's not exactly brainwork:

The competition challenges middle school students to design a city of the future with a focus on water conservation, reuse, and renewable energy. The students use the game SimCity (Deluxe 4) to help them build their three-dimensional models to scale. They have a semester to dream up and then construct their miniature cities entirely out of recycled materials. Supposedly, this inspires them to consider engineering as a profession.

He belittles the project, saying:

This is not how engineer's turn an idea into reality. It doesn't seem to me that the students needed to know any actual engineering or any engineering constraints to construct their models. So, this is how a non-engineer turns ideas into reality. And, I'm not sure this exercise , in any way, generalizes to any real-world situation.

I suppose the kids did learn how to play SimCity. Videogames 101. That's what kids need -- more time playing videogames. I'm sure SimCity is a neat program, but it's not exactly a precursor to AutoCAD or other real-world construction/drafing programs.

And how does building a model out of recycled mterials generalize to building real stuff with recylced materials? Someone explain that to me.

Found via Amritas via Joanne Jacobs, where Joanne writes:

My husband, born to be an engineer, built a color TV set when he was in high school. It worked. His father, also an engineer, built model planes as a teenager. They flew.

My first husband, a math-physics guy, designed an atomic bomb in fifth grade for a school project. “It probably wouldn’t have worked,” he said. But he’d studied the science and the math. It wasn’t an art project.

My uncle built a working light show in his basement when he was a kid. He rigged up a Lite Brite to a Casio keyboard, so when he played certain notes, different lights lit up.

I wish I had developed more of an interest in these math and science projects when I was young.

To conclude with an awesome comment by hardlyb:

When I was in 3rd grade I made a sextant out of a protractor, a couple of pieces of wood, some string, nails, and thumbtacks. The trick, of course, was to calibrate it, and I can’t remember what I did, but when I tested it that night against the North Star, it was dead on. Anyway, I turned the thing in after doing a presentation to the class, and I got an A. Then Miss GrumpyFace, the teacher from the class next door, came in to judge our contest. She awarded first prize to a ‘diorama’ that had Native Americans and dinosaurs in it (the diorama was really a shoebox with plastic toys arranged in it), and she held up my entry as an example of something beneath contempt. She had absolutely no idea what it was, and hadn’t bothered to ask.

I didn’t really mind her reaction, because the realization that many of the teachers at my crappy rural East Texas public school were too ignorant and/or stupid to understand the work an 8-year-old was something that I, as an 8-year-old, found very interesting. It doesn’t appear that things have changed much, except now they give all the kids a shoebox and some plastic Native Americans and dinosaurs. So the teachers don’t ever have wonder “What the hell is that thing?”.

Posted by Sarah at January 29, 2009 04:49 PM | TrackBack

"Using science"? More precisely, using the byproducts of science, but not science itself.

"[W]ater conservation, reuse, and renewable energy ... recycled materials" - those are the real key words of this project. Environmentalist ideology, not science. Reinforcing beliefs, not promoting the knowledge that will lead to more "water conservation, reuse, and renewable energy" in the real world.

Ken DeRosa asked,

And how does building a model out of recycled mterials generalize to building real stuff with recycled materials? Someone explain that to me.

It doesn't, but that's not the point. This is a symbolic ritual, a modern version of sticking pins into a voodoo doll. Not science. Such magical thinking makes its practitioners feel good now, but does nothing for the environment in the future.


That shoebox anecdote jumped out at me too. It's one of many on Joanne's site. Art as a substitute for other types of learning is a running theme there:

"Troubled students make rap CD"

"Spanish or shop?"

"Arts and crafts forever" (the collage you showed me last year)

You know I have nothing against arts and crafts. I love your work, and I never held your employment at Michaels against you. :) But you know that knitting DNA is no substitute for learning about DNA.

Posted by: Amritas at January 29, 2009 07:09 PM

But Amritas, knitting DNA might not teach about DNA, but not all of us are cut out with the temperment of set of ingrained skills to be scientists or mathematicians. I am certainly not - I'm the original math idiot. And it's not because I didn't want to understand math - I would study myself into tears in school trying to figure it out so that I could get things consistently right.

I was, however, gifted in other areas. So I got my first letter published in a newspaper (on the front page, even) when I was 5. My first op ed (on sex education in schools) when I was 18. My parents and grandparents and teachers always encouraged me to write - not to the exclusion of all else, but as an emphasis on things I was good at. They also didn't pull any punches. To this day my grandmother will grade my letters to her if I'm lazy in my grammar.

We need science and math - terribly, and we need teachers to stop dumbing it down. But on the other hand - the very acclaimed Eragon series (which is absolutely as good as the critics say - my kids and I have read it and adored it) was written by a 16 year old and published when he was 18.

We need that, too. The problem is that it is people with that sort of skill (writing) that become teachers - especially in the younger grades. So science and math begin to get shortchanged young and by the time kids get to college (probably the first place anyone takes a real interest in their engineering or math hobbies), the kids have been burnt out and molded into expert diorama makers.

Posted by: airforcewife at January 29, 2009 07:39 PM

Reading about that kid losing out to dinosaurs & plastic people reminded me of a traumatic experience I had in first grade.

I made the most gorgeous Valentine's Day box imaginable. I covered a shoe box in aluminum foil. Then, I cut two big heart from cardboard & took a strip of cardboard along the edge of each heart to create a huge 3-D heart. It was open at the top and the point of the heart was too--it went into the shoe box. I covered the heart in red crepe paper & used conversation hearts to spell out "Happy Valentine's Day." I was SURE I was going to win the contest in my class.

Do you know who won? Julie Sheets. With a Chlorox bottle turned into a pig Valentine's box...sure there was a pink, felt heart on the 'snout', but sweet Jesus! You KNOW her Mom (who was head of the 4-H) made it.

I never got over that. Same thing in 5th grade when a classmates' plagiarized poems beat out my story about a little girl who wanted a sibling & her parents adopted a baby at Christmas time. UGH!

Is it any wonder I need a blog!?!?!? Issues. Issues!

Posted by: Guard Wife at January 29, 2009 10:56 PM

GW - how on earth did those teacher grade those kids well KNOWING that crap was "borrowed" and not original work?!?!

I called parents in more than once when their kids turned in things OBVIOUSLY beyond their capabilities. That does. not. fly. in my classroom.

Or didn't anyway.

Notice I'm not teaching anymore?

Posted by: airforcewife at January 30, 2009 02:26 PM

Well, of course the poetry was extra special and the teachers in our grade voted it #1. But, my homeroom teacher, who was young & energetic & smart, thought the poetry seemed familiar. She didn't want to straight out confront a 5th grader unless she knew for sure. This was LONG before Google or other helpful aids so she set about trying to find the poem on her own. She did and THEN confronted the girl. The girl denied it up & down, bawled, etc. so what to do? It wasn't straight up copied verbatim down the entire line, but it was similar enough that the teacher was able to locate the exact poem it reminded her of then. The teacher spoke with me about it and told me that although she suspected what was up, she did not have direct proof and because the other child chose not to come clean, I was being rooked from the prize. I think I still have that book somewhere. I illustrated it and everything.

Posted by: Guard Wife at January 30, 2009 03:13 PM