Author Reinvents Science Textbooks as Lively, Fun Narratives
By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 28, 2008; B02
To middle school teacher Chad Pavlekovich, most science textbooks are dull and lack the context students need to understand scientific principles. That’s why he is exposing students in the town of Salisbury on Maryland‘s Eastern Shore to three new textbooks that are unorthodox in concept, appearance and substance.
The “Story of Science” series by Joy Hakim tells the history of science with wit, narrative depth and research, all vetted by specialists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The first book is “Aristotle Leads the Way,” the second is “Newton at the Center” and the third is “Einstein Adds a New Dimension.” The series, which has drawn acclaim, chronicles not only great discoveries but also the scientists who made them.
“These books humanize science,” Pavlekovich said.
. . . Scientists and educators say that there are many ways to teach science but that Hakim’s approach makes sense.
“If you talk to any first-rate scientist about a particular development, you will very quickly hear a narrative, because the way good scientists think about developments in their field is in terms of stories,” science writer Timothy Ferris said. “Telling a story reminds you of how you got to your present state of knowledge,” he said, and scientists constantly test whether those steps were reliable.
It’s hard to knock a worthwhile effort and Joy Hakim has certainly made that.
Having said that, American elementary schools are so incredibly behind the curve in how young people assimilate information, that Hakim’s work is sort of like welcoming the steam engine to a jet-aircraft transportation system.
Kids today are MTV, TV, Internet, cell-phone-camera, SMS masters–and we’re still trying to reach them with textbooks. Why not just wood-block printing? Whatever happened to teaching kids how to properly drive a team of horses? Where’s a good engine-lathe when you need it, in this world of computer driven and programmed lathes?
The Hakim model is fine as far as it goes, it’s just four or five decades late in getting there.
When we finally get around to the Steven Spielberg model–creating fascinating and memorable visual classrooms (with written follow-on exams)–it will no doubt be well past Spielberg’s life span and another four or five decades of child-abuse in the learning environment.
Children are fascinated by things and stuff and events. Watch an ignored child at their mom’s side and see where their eyes track, where their hands move, what’s going on in their heads. They’re fascinated by life.
And yet, we have done absolutely everything possible to snuff out that basic ‘burning for learning’ in our children, replacing it with boredom, rote memorization, ignorance (as in ignoring) and the death by immersion we create when 60% of educators are in the administrative food-chain. Teaching–that grandest of callings–has been reduced to the lowest form of academic life.
Joy Hakim is but the first step in acknowledging just how far behind we are in quenching our kids’ natural thirst to know.