I’m in a State of Matter State of Mind

In a month and a half I am doing a workshop at RAFT (Resource Area For Teaching) where I used to work.  I was invited to do a two day hands on workshop with Erik Welker (who still works at RAFT) as the two of us are always up to good learning mischief when we work together.  We chose kitchen science, Rube Goldberg and all manner of energy transfers, photosynthesis (extrapolate a good way to teach photosynthesis drawing  on The Harvard Study called Private Universe) and of course, insects.

Part of the inspiration for this workshop is how to actually ‘DO’ science as oppossed to viewing science in a text book or on line or merely writing about reading something without actually doing something.  The class is to be for multiple grade levels (Gr 4 and above) and have teacher appeal as the workshop is for teachers.  One of the greatest joys of RAFT is the ability to do a workshop not based on a specific mapped out, written out, detailed to the nth degree lesson plan. RAFT allows for, expects and endorses  presenting a related  series of concepts which are supported with purposeful rationale (always related to the standards), prevent science misconceptions (to the best of the ability of Eric and myself), and have fun.  Anyone who finds fault with all of that must be affiliated with a textbook company.

As a general rule of thumb, Eric and myself plan out a rough outline and make sure to incorporate Idea Sheets from RAFT. We meet and organize the flow (although it always seems to be over planned and goes well organically, we just have organizational control issues), we meet again to do materials procurement – which, being at RAFT is better than shopping for food, books or things in a hardware store (my personal favorites) and then, in the end, put together useful resources to support what we are presenting.  We organize a HUGE subject specific library of materials, web sites and sources in the hopes that our enthusiasm about what we teach will possibly spill over to others.  It is a fun process and it makes us THINK – something we both enjoy and RAFT also encourages. 

I was in the ‘thinking’ process today which created this blog.   I was just finishing Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott (a great fictional work on Isaac Newton, alchemy and the ties which bind scientists together…) when I had to begin the process of listing resources for cooking science and states of matter.  Rebecca’s book goes back to the 17th Century and dwells upon what Newton was doing as he sorted out light, color, gravity, the beginnings of calculus and so on by using scientific method and observation.  What I found interesting was that even with the limited tools, technology and capacity to test out ideas, Newton was far ahead of some things currently in text books and on line about matter, its various states and how misconceptions are handed down.  I started to feel like the alchemists apprentice as I waded through various on line sources and became critical or what I was observing as ‘interactive’.  Newton may have been proud, however, I fear there will be (there always are) some people who think I am a bit nutty for being critical of how science concepts are presented in 2-D.  To my defense, I am a credentialed teacher with a graduate degree so I think I am entitled to voice my opinion on science materials, so here goes:

Are there more states of matter if you are studying science in college?  I ask this as you have a choice when you do a Google search of 3, 4 or 5 states of matter.  I get the three – liquid, solid and gas but really believe in the four, which includes plasma.  I absolutely believe in the possibility of a fifth state.  I can not justify teaching K-3 students three phases of matter and adding – I know it needs to be addressed, if nothing else to remove the doubt that the fourth state of matter is not in your flat screen TV, so to speak.  I hesitate to view websites that only address three states and are aligned to text books. We can talk about the fourth state and simply say, “You will learn more about what it is and how it works as your science ability improves, but there are four states of matter”.  The equivalent would be to merely teach children matter is matter and that there are not many types of matter, which they can tell at a relatively early age are different by color, smell, taste, sound,etc.  My rotten tomatoes list for this category goes out to almost all text books and the following websites: Chem4kids.com, http://www.nyu.edu/pages/mathmol/textbook/statesofmatter.htmlhttp://www2.mcdaniel.edu/Graduate/TI/pages/LEWIS/matterweb.htm, http://www.harcourtschool.com/activity/states_of_matter/, http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.champaignschools.org/science/images/matter.jpg&imgrefurl=https://room34pstext.wikispaces.com/8.3%2BStructure%2Bof%2BMatter&h=465&w=622&sz=13&tbnid=waslwRMvdViDHM:&tbnh=102&tbnw=136&prev=/images%3Fq%3D3%2Bstates%2Bof%2Bmatter&usg=__CmDE7G4gm1kIdNtvj8ufmnb0Eig=&ei=wez6S8KGOZ34MeC3sYQI&sa=X&oi=image_result&resnum=4&ct=image&ved=0CCoQ9QEwAw, http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.chem4kids.com/files/art/matter_3states.gif&imgrefurl=http://smkap-panitiasains.blogspot.com/2009/08/form-1-matter_23.html&h=109&w=298&sz=7&tbnid=q7_6l8xXiesVlM:&tbnh=42&tbnw=116&prev=/images%3Fq%3D3%2Bstates%2Bof%2Bmatter&usg=__rIITRtCXuNoGd1v3BiNq9acmruE=&ei=5-z6S-isNJi8M-fE-YMI&sa=X&oi=image_result&resnum=5&ct=image&ved=0CC4Q9QEwBA, http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=ie7&q=+3+states+of+matter&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&rlz=1I7ACAW_enUS367US367, http://www.scribd.com/doc/9575801/States-of-Matter-Worksheet  and it continues on, I just did not feel I had the space to go past page two of my Google Search.  I am unsure if the people who put together the books or the web sources listed do not themselves know there are four states of matter or they thought it may be humerous for kids to find out the adults were only kidding when they said there were three phases?

Complaint two – you can not learn states of matter from a book or an interactive website – no matter how interactive. A kid actually needs to touch, visualize and observe.  Please, if you are a science teacher, let go of the book, it is bad for your students.  What makes me curious is how some one might believe it is okay to learn science via a book or computer and be competent enough to work for NASA or be a neurosurgeon.  It just does not work that way – people who practice science quite literally do science.

Complaint three – states of matter online – NO matter actually stops its motion and matter has not been observed to stop motion as science does not yet have the ability to view the atoms at this cold level- this is known as a physics thought concept.  Matter moves, it just moves less the closer it gets to its absolute state of frozen-ness.  Even though I don’t have a TV (apparently the height of all knowledge being passed on), I heard this factoid on NPR and followed it up. NPR was correct.  The following websites demonstrate solids having NO motion.   At least NOVA got this correct in a truly fun manner. Kudos to their web development team and the educators supporting them. 

I keep hoping that the same people who voiced concern about what kids were watching on TV and listening to on the radio will voice concern about the content their children are being fed.  In my mind, I see a parent committee that would give out something like Michelin Stars to web sites for the accuracy of the information they are conveying and give a rating for relative level of concept, rather than grade level or age since we all know humans learn at different rates. 

We still have not recovered from the debacle of the American Dairy Association ‘teaching’ us there were four food groups so they could better market their products.  Since we have begun to scrutinize what we eat as we realize it has an effect on our physical and mental well being, we should scrutinize what we teach children so we can break down the barriers.  Misconceptions create difficult situations for students to overcome and slow learning down.

I would like to give a huge shout out to my parents who always encourage me to ask questions and juggle two or more ideas in my head at the same time in order to reach a conclusion.  Another huge shout out to the professors of Teachers College at Columbia University in NYC who made it clear in their own analysis of how and why teachers should critique the books and materials they are asked to use to teach from.