Thursday, January 29, 2009

She Blinded Me With Science

My older boy's science teacher showed him a video made from Tom Lehrer's musical recitation of the Table of Elements set to a tune from The Pirates of Penzance.

I don't understand the thinking. Actually, I lied; I understand it perfectly --I think it's foolish, that's different.

Science is not interesting because Tom Lehrer wrote a funny ditty about it. Tom Lehrer is interesting because he wrote something witty about something boring. If you're interested in the table of elements it's interesting. Just like all things. The idea that all things can be made interesting to all people by making them get up and dance in presentation is silly. To put it in woodworking terms, pointing to the veneer doesn't make the flakeboard underneath it any more interesting to look at. Besides, people truly jazzed about chemistry are so much funnier than people jazzed about jazz ragging on chemistry. Behold the Boron lady and Phil Spector, PHD: Chicks Dig Boron.

My son was somewhat delighted I knew all about Tom Lehrer and could recite many of his ditties from memory. The Table of Elements song is his least entertaining work I can recall. Short on funny, long in presentation. This one's much darker, and gleeful:


teresa said...

Funny, the first thing I thought when I read this is,"Why is the teacher using something like silly songs to memorize the Periodic Table with kids of that age?".
The ideal age for using silly songs to memorize stuff is 5,6, 7, maybe eight or 10, but teens tend to like stuff that shows that you recognize that their SOH is becoming a bit more sophisticated. Like the Chicks love Boron video that you posted.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi teresa- I don't think it was introduced as a mnemonic device. I think the teacher thought it showed how fun and, like, WOW! the periodic table is. It shows just the opposite, really. Like you said, a middle schooler is way more sophisticated than that.

I don't know whatever happened to thinking that knowing useful things was its own reward, and interesting enough. Does every damn thing have to be expected to get up and dance to get you to look at it?

teresa said...

It's the poisonous cacophony of TV that does it, I'm convinced of it.
When everything is presented as entertainment, nothing is truly entertaining.

Me, I just entertained myself by plowing the dooayahd for the last 4 hours. Everything eise today is gravy!

Stuart said...

Back in my teaching days, I never considered it my job to make things interesting. If you are a curious, thoughtful sort, many things are interesting. If not, then no song and dance is going to change that fact.

I often took the advanced math group because many teachers are intimidated by those kids (if you need your manual to correct 5th grade math, you want to avoid kids who are smarter than you). We'd breeze through the required stuff, then starting digging into "boring" things like different numeral systems, create-your-own algorithms, or programming calculators. Maybe it's my inability to remember things from 10 years ago, but I can't ever recall those kids being bored by that stuff.

It wasn't about dressing up ideas with nonsense. It was about problems presented at the right level of difficulty and a bit of guidance here and there. Genuine curiosity is infectious, too.