Something Terrible Has Happened Between Kindergarten and 12th Grade!

Children are naturally curious. They are always getting into things, sometimes things we don’t want them in, but they do get in and make a mess. I got in trouble for taking apart a radio, back when they had parts and tubes. And then I could not put it back together again. Oh, Oh! Boy, did I get in trouble? One dead radio and lots of parts making a big mess on the floor. I was spanked for that.

As youngsters, this is how we learn. DO NOT stick a fork in an electrical socket. I did and I learned. As young children, we poke and prod to see what happens. Babies mush the food in their bowls with their fingers and then smear it on their faces. Why? To see what it feels like. What is this stuff?

Along the way in my career, I had the opportunity to teach 3rd-grade science as well as physics. The third graders were so much fun. They had so many questions. I opened up one science class by asking, “Who has been on a boat in the gulf or on a lake? I had 20 hands go up and each one had a story to tell me about being on a boat. After five stories, I realized I could not stop the rest from telling their stories since five had already gone. That would not be fair. I learned my lesson.

That school year, we had monthly themes about which we studied and performed hands-on projects. The students were so inquisitive. With a focussed theme, they wanted to know everything there was to know about that topic. It was so much fun!

Then I would head to a physics class of high school seniors. They looked so bored and non-interested. Some tried to sleep in class (that is what erasers are for, the perfect projectile). As Carl Sagan says so well, “Something terrible has happened between kindergarten and 12th grade.”

I believe that the teacher “super-star” complex takes over. The teacher is the center of the room and talks on and on about the subject. This goes on in many subjects for many years. The students become un-excited about the subject matter. I am an adjunct physics teacher at the local community college now in retirement, and I show short youtube videos and perform demonstrations in the classroom using the students. I walk around the room while talking and asking questions of the students. I always strive to surprise them with new information, to grab their interest. Did you know we think there is a black hole at the center of our galaxy? What’s a black hole? What’s a white hole? This is not officially in the curriculum, but it is physics and it is interesting. A few minutes on this won’t kill us.

I am sure every teacher, with a little thought and preparation, can find little know things that will grab their students’ interest. Give it a try. That terrible thing that occurs is tragic to a student’s learning.

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