Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I am thinking about writing a book....

I am thinking about writing a book but am not sure of a few things.

  1. Do I have enough great ideas to fill a couple hundred pages? 
  2. Would people want to know about the aforementioned great ideas?
  3. Can I write a book on STEM education that doesn't put readers to sleep after 5 pages?
  4. Can I get anyone to read 5 pages?
Anyway, my thought is to try to put something together on what it means to teach STEM through solid instructional practices and coherent content. Kind of a STEM teaching 101 in terms of what is out there right now. What are teachers talking about in science teaching, math teaching, technology teaching, engineering? I am thinking of something along the lines of what would happen if an industrial arts teacher talked with a math teacher, who talked with a science or technology teacher. I think the pedagogy they have are defined as different, but fundamentally similar. I have a brief outline and have started on the prologue. I am not sure if my tone would be accepted by publishers of educational texts, but I really believe that I can put some useful facts and ideas between well-placed puns and admin jokes. 

I would really appreciate some comments on this one as I could be on to something, or just thinking of putting in a lot of time for nothing. Here is some of what I have so far in a very rough draft form. I would be expanding on may of these ideas with some research to back up my ravings.  If you are saying, "Hell that needs a LOT of work to be published" you are right it does. This was written in a single sitting and needs some serious re-writes. My hope is that you read it and say. "Hell, that needs a LOT of work to be published, but with that work, I would like to read more."

(working title, duh)

I have a vision of the year 1500, where a young 17 year old Copernicus comes home late for dinner. I imagine him wanting terribly to see what was outside Prussia, asking his parents repeatedly for a vacation to the Mediterranean. I see him, a normal teenager, fighting pimples, getting in trouble with his brothers and sisters, and begging his merchant father for that ornate codpiece to impress that blonde in his morning arithmetic class. I wonder if his parents ever had enough of his questioning? I can see them exclaiming, “Copernicus, you need to realize that the Earth does NOT revolve around you!”
I am pretty sure that is how the renaissance started, even though I have no evidence to support it. Regardless of it’s origins, the renaissance did gave us some great characters to admire and emulate. It gave us Galileo and Descartes, live-action role playing (LARPing) and names for our ninja turtles. It gave us paintings of naked angels, sculptures of naked men, the demotion of our own planet (sorry Pluto, your time was coming), and a method for systematically doing science.
Before the Renaissance, it was Aristotle’s world. As far as “natural philosophy” was concerned, if Aristotle didn’t say it, it wasn’t true. For a couple thousand years our world ran on the ideas of the man who created logic. He was Einstein, Hawking, Brad Pitt, and Jesus wrapped into one. If you dared have an ideas that was contrary to his ancient Greek philosophy, you might as well pencil yourself in for a Saturday with the Inquisition....and don’t plan anything for Sunday. If you don’t believe me, ask Galileo how it turned out for him.
Fortunately the noble and courageous efforts of the people of the Renaissance developed a method for dealing with Aristotle’s logic. Premises of arguments were renamed “data” and inferences were labeled “hypotheses”. The last natural philosophers developed and refined a process they called the scientific method. It outlined a step-by-step process for solving problems that people observed around them. It has given us cures for diseases, trips to the moon, and an understanding of the fundamental pieces of the universe.
The world has run on the principles of these dead white men for 600 years. It is time to rethink our understanding of what science is and how it is done? Today we have new technologies, engineering and mathematical understandings, and teaching techniques that fit together with science principles like the Mendel’s peas in a pod. It may be time to throw back the curtain and examine what science has turned into and how it is being taught.

How you should read this book.
First off, realize this soon to be classic literature you have in your hand was not intended as a judgement on what is currently understood or taught in science classrooms across the nation. It is offered as a frank look at what is currently happening in our scientific culture and schools, coupled with some fifty-cent jokes and puns I got off Twitter (#notreally). It is my hope that first and foremost, the quips are interesting enough so as to grab your attention long enough for you to get a hold of some information that will alter or reinforce an opinion you have about teaching and learning science in our schools. I am not offering this as gospel, simply some observations where you can draw your own conclusions.
In preparing for this book, I of course, did a comprehensive study of the relevant literature. In fact, I typed “science STEM teaching” into Amazon and read a lot of summaries… okay a few summaries…. okay I looked at some titles and decided that people may want to read a book that doesn’t put them to sleep. I have lot of books, or really a lot of pages in books that I haven’t read. I usually get through the first couple of chapters and realize that the twenty minutes I just devoted to this read was really a waste of time. I want to right the wrongs of the dozens of pristine, yet dust covered pedagogical texts that line my office. I have decided that if I am going to put my time into writing this, it should be something that you may enjoy reading. I know it is a novel idea.
I offer to you the 10 Commandments I am putting forward to myself in writing the next two hundred odd pages.
  1. Thou shalt back up any claims with evidence
  2. Thou shalt not rely heavily on research that has not been tested and peer-reviewed
  3. Thou shalt not covet another Acronym other than STEM (it’s in the title)
  4. Thou shalt not create a new pedagogy that is really just renaming someone else’s work and calling it thy own to sell a book
  5. Thou shalt not be boring or tedious
  6. Thou shalt give teachers ideas they can use in their classroom tomorrow
  7. Thou shalt think of three other commandments before I finish this book.

Making an Acronym
Scientific advancements alter history; it comes with the job, like lifeguarding and skin cancer. In 1957, a group of Russian scientists (many captured from Germany after WWII) shocked the world by designing a large ball that beeps and placing it on a rocket. Sputnik changed the world by metaphorically sticking up it’s large metallic middle  finger at the United States. That doesn’t sit well in the land of the free. Up to that point, the US had been the leader of the world in science and technology, punctuated with two atomic bombs to remind the last country that messed with us who was on top.  
America does not play second fiddle to anyone, our ego is too large for that. The flags rose, trumpets blared, and the battle cry was again sounded for America’s scientists to answer our collective id’s call for vindication and the space race was on. President Eisenhower led the charge with a radio address where he heralded,
Of course, free men are meeting and will meet this challenge. Up to a point, this must be done on the Communists' own terms--outmatching them in military power, general technological advance, and specialized education and research.”
President Kennedy took the reins of the scientific stampede and put a man on the moon in the 60’s, a feat that would have never been possible without the Russians throwing down the space gauntlet. America’s workforce was again churning out scientists and engineers at an alarming rate.
Wow, look at the early 80’s! It is no wonder there were so many advances in areas like  walkable music and nylon pants. Many of the engineers and teachers in those times were getting their degrees paid for through programs funded by the government, special interest groups, or industries trying to keep up with rising tide of American scientists.
Then the floor fell out. We won the space race, flew the Voyager probes, and were left twiddling our really smart thumbs. Schools began to realize that by supporting teachers getting advanced degrees in sciences brought with it a very big problem. Teachers got advanced degrees in science! They were leaving teaching and taking jobs in industry, leaving schools back at square one. Colleges stopped offering programs in hard core science disciplines in favor of advanced degrees in ‘science teaching’ and ‘instructional technology’. It was virtually impossible for a teacher to get an advanced degree in science in the early 21st century. Lab classes were not offered during the evenings, and core classes were not offered during the summers. Professors were doing their own research during this time and could not be bothered by people who already had their own jobs.
Then the information age hit our world like a dino-killing asteroid. Jobs were being created that no one could predict would exist, let alone prepare students. Isaac Asimov could not predict the number of web designers and dot com companies that were popping up across the country. Money was being made, technical skills were being awarded, and schools were again trying to crystal ball what they should be teaching. They tried new approaches, innovative lessons, and teaching pedagogy, all restrained in their model of schooling that had proven itself worthy through the last two hundred years. 

What are schools to do when there is a demand for scientific and technological skills tied to math and engineering practices? Schools were asked to help shape the world again, so they sharpened their pencils, laced up their gym shoes, and accepted the challenge. When faced with such a demanding problem, the National Science Foundation in the 1990’s responded with a method that they had formulated refined for over three decades. They created an acronym!
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. That is a large order for a simple set of letters.........

Imagine then a long dialog into defining what STEM is fundamentally, etc, etc, etc. What do you think? Give it up or keep writing? Are you intrigued enough to read more of my blabber for a hundred or so pages? I am open to all feedback, constructive or the kind that rips a man's heart out and steps on his hopes and dreams;)