Real STEM Studies

In an article in The American Biology Teacher, Ann Haley McKenzie wrote:
“My son is taking biology this year. He is learning about observation through note taking, lectures, and answering questions at the end of the section review. I am not amused. No anoles are lapping water off the side of the enclosure for him to observe nor can he marvel as they grab at crickets to eat headfirst. No decaying logs are resting in aquaria for him to watch over the course of the school year as different pill bugs roll up and encircle a clump of wood. The classroom walls are barren of aquaria filled with schooling fish. No time is devoted to observing the plants that do not hang from the ceiling. Desert and bog terrariums are missing so observations about varying plant species and specific adaptations cannot be made. What’s my point? How can the essence of biology be taught if observation in not at the heart and foundation of everything we do?”
McKenzie goes on to say that,
“Making a thorough observation should be the first entry in the portfolio for any biology course at the high school or college level. Students should be able to demonstrate that they are capable of producing a thorough observation of some biological phenomena before exiting a biology course.”
Observation is a key to studying biology. (Wonder and Order, by Beth Pinkney)

Edwin Way Teale, one of our greatest naturalists:

 You make progress in exploring this world on two legs: interest and knowledge. If you are interested but don’t know what to look for, you are like a one-legged man and hobble along getting only half the fun you might. Even the commonest cricket or katydid, if you learn enough of its life and habits, becomes intensely interesting.

The Boys’ Book of Insects by Edwin Way Teale


You want more ‘STEM?’ Toss the screens. Take the kids outside.  Look at things. be curious. Be observant. Wonder about what you see. Marvel at it. Delight it.  Muck about in the mud and water and sand and trees.  Climb, jump, throw, dig, roll.  Let them skin their knees and scratch their faces and get splinters that have to be pulled out tweezers and let them lift heavy rocks and pry things out of the mud and get absolutely filthy.


Let them throw things in puddles and notice on their own what floats and what sinks, and what displaces the most water (I.E. makes the most satisfactory splash).   Watch ants on an anthill and squirrels in the trees and notice.  Once you’ve built up a large colletion of memories, of personal observations and experiences and questions, break out some books.  But never lose the willingness to get out and get dirty.

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