Saturday, August 10, 2013

Teaching Science - Accuracy vs. Joy of Learning

I was telling her about my lesson on "Characteristics of Living Things" in which I taught my kids about 7 vital characteristics which all living things show - nutrition, reproduction, respiration, growth, movement, excretion and sensitivity. There were seven, yes, but these seven did not explain how the basic element 'fire' was not a living thing. Being neuroscientist in the making, I thought she would have a better answer for KIDS. She left me with an answer and an afterthought.

This was what she told me: First of all, these seven characteristics are not shown by ALL living things. For example, viruses do not show most of them. Viruses are said to be the bridge between the non living and the living. You should read these articles I am sending you to understand that. Secondly, the most consistent and measurable characteristic of a living things that their level of entropy actively keeps reducing.

And then I get a quote from the wiki article stating:

Later, building on this premise, in the famous 1944 book What is Life?, Nobel-laureate physicist Erwin Schrödinger theorizes that life, contrary to the general tendency dictated by the Second law of thermodynamics, decreases or maintains its entropy by feeding on negative entropy.

In 1964, James Lovelock was among a group of scientists who were requested by NASA to make a theoretical life detection system to look for life on Mars during the upcoming space mission. When thinking about this problem, Lovelock wondered “how can we be sure that Martian life, if any, will reveal itself to tests based on Earth’s lifestyle?” To Lovelock, the basic question was “What is life, and how should it be recognized?” When speaking about this issue with some of his colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he was asked what he would do to look for life on Mars. To this, Lovelock replied: "I’d look for an entropy reduction, since this must be a general characteristic of life."

I ended the discussion feeling glad I learnt something new but at the same time wondering where to draw the line between being technically perfect vs. making science learning, inquiry, observation and skill centric. As much as I love ACCURATE science and reading about it, sometimes I am just amazed at how much we get caught up with the technicality to take away the joy of learning from kids. Wouldn't it be easier for kids to observe the seven characteristics and be 90% accurate than to check for 'entropy reduction' and be 100% accurate? 

I am sure my kids will not hold a grudge against me when they grow older for the 10% of the time they could not get the answer right. I will be happy when they hit 100% accuracy consistently for most everyday examples and ask me smart questions for those 10% examples for which the NASA scientists are figuring out answers to.

PS: This discussion reminded me of the TED talk I had seen sometime back! Do watch it to get a perspective.

1 comment:

Priya K said...

Nice post.. I can relate to this topic somehow.. I have been always a person with so many questions,, the curiosity in me never ends.. I love to question almost everything and cannot believe anything until I have a reason for it.. Glad that I found a same minded person here on your blog.. New to your blog.. Following you.. Keep writing..!!