Stop Saying I Don't Know to Student's Questions

Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler - Albert Einstein

The above quote is the challenge of every science teacher. My professor once told me that Einstein would walk up to people on the street to tell them about his theories and if he was unable to explain it to them or answer their questions sufficiently, then he felt he did not understand it well enough himself.

I am a big fan of the Mythbusters as well as books like There Are No Electrons which show us when our conceptual models are too limiting to our understanding. So when David Rudel, editor of the excellent ExploreLearning site (home of the awesome science Gizmos) asked me to review his book Science Myths Unmasked, I couldn't wait to check it out. I have to say I was not disappointed, in fact I would have written this review sooner but I was enjoying the book too much to stop.

Science Myths Unmasked takes the most common experiments and models that every middle and high school student encounters.  In Vol 1: Earth and Life Science, Rudel challenges some of the big questions that teachers encounter every day from students.

If you have ever had students question the genetics and evolution curriculum they are right to do so. Textbooks ask students to go from Mendel's pea pods and variation within the species to evolution into new species which leaves them wondering how Dominant and Recessive genes can accomplish this. With clarity and research to back it up, the book explains how evolution can occur as well as the modern viewpoints on the mechanism for evolution.

There are many other topics covered in the book like:
  • How do clouds form?
  • Why do my veins appear to be blue?
  • What is the "greenhouse effect"
These topics are those that keep coming up in classrooms and from our own children, unfortunately the canonical explanations are often half true or completely false (the blood in your veins is not blue). These books read like a mystery novel rather than a textbook and you will find it hard to put it down.

I especially enjoyed Vol 2: Physical Science, having spent time as a 8th grade physical science teacher. Students are wonderfully skeptical and with encouragement will have no problem speaking out about it. When something doesn't match their view of reality they must ask WHY?

Unfortunately, our textbooks in an attempt to make things simpler often omit or erroneously explain natural phenomena. I have reviewed most of the textbooks out there and there is always one or two places where I reread a paragraph over and over because it just doesn't seem right.

I must admit there were a couple of times in Rudel's book where I thought, "Oh that's why, that never made sense before!" I too have misconceptions that I have explained away and it has been a great week to reaffirm and test my own understanding of Physics.

Some of the explanations include:
  • Why does the water in an overturned jar rise when the candle inside burns out?
  • Does electricity only flow in a "closed circuit"?
  • What do we mean when we say a wave of light and why do we draw a sine wave to describe it?
The best part about these books is how accessible they are. They contain no additional math and the descriptions are clear enough to be read by anyone with an inquisitive mind. Rudel takes all of the questions teachers and textbooks sweep under the rug and finally bring them to light.

If you go to the book's website, you can download sample chapters. At the price these books are being offered, they make a great gift for the science teacher in your life.

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