Saturday, September 26, 2020

Science and stuff

 Miriam made up a joke while we were talking about the water cycle the other day. It goes like this: 

Question: How does water feel when it's vaporized?

Answer: Aghast!

Get it? A-gassed. So funny!

I have to pause here a minute to ponder about school schedules and teaching methods (since I spent a good part of my morning looking at different science curriculums for Rachel, who is kind of hating the curriculum we settled at the beginning of the year). 

Growing up, I was either the most oblivious child on the planet or (and I think this is more likely, though I by no means ruling out my own obliviousness) the schools I went to had more of a cohesive education model. I almost never knew what subject I was learning. There were times I was aware—PE was a pretty obvious time because we'd all line up to go down to the gym or outside, music class was another obvious class for the same reason, and French—but other than that, I'm not sure I ever distinctly knew what we'd be doing any given day. Like...I didn't grow up with a schedule on the board, with times and subjects carefully delineated throughout the day, as I've seen in so many classrooms in the states. We'd just, kind of, go about our day...

Sometimes I could tell, like, "Clearly this is science," but other times I wasn't so sure. 

Like, we studied birds in grade three and it was very all-encompassing. We read Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat (one that I should read with the kids this year, probably). We studied various birds and wrote reports on them (penguins and robins are two that I remember specifically that I did). We learned how to identify birds by their beak shape and their feet and their feathers. We learned about flight and aerodynamics. We went for hikes in the nearby woods and identified birds. We did bird crafts. We dissected owl pellets. We talked about habitats and endangered species and our duty to protect vulnerable creatures. We...had no idea when what we were doing was science or social studies or language arts because our teacher never told us. And everything sort of overlapped and ran into each other.

I'm sure our teacher knew what we were studying when.* But we—the kids—had no idea.

So it's almost strange to me that kids in the states seem to know what their day was going to hold, like that they could look at the board and know what was coming next. Or that (if they're my kids) they can request that I make doctor appointments in either the morning or the afternoon, depending on what class they absolutely did not want to miss that day. 

My days were a complete surprise to me. A mystery! Every day! 

It was awesome, because I learned things and it was all kind of just...learning. 

(Math, I guess, was one that was an obvious class, "Now take out your math textbooks, children..." But would it be in the morning? Would it be in the afternoon? Who even knows?! Again, maybe everybody knew and it was just me being oblivious...but I honestly just think students weren't privy to such information.)

Anyway, I'm trying to find Rachel a science curriculum that's more like that (even though she's in middle school and by that time, I did have a daily schedule to follow (same with high school, but still different from the bland A-day/B-day schedule so common in the states—we had "doubles" sometimes, like in Harry Potter, "double social," or "double science" or whatever)). One that isn't strictly science, and maybe tricks one into learning science because they like reading.

What I'd really like, honestly, is a Canadian science curriculum. But I'm not quite sure how to get one.

Once again, where I come from, we weren't ever sure what we were learning. There was no "sign up for a year of chemistry and hope you don't hate it!" There was Science 9. Science 10 (sophomores). Science 20 (juniors). Science 30 (seniors). And they were comprehensive: biology, physics, chemistry, forensics, geology... We just hit a bit of everything...or most things...every year. So it's not like you could miss out on a branch of science (for example, I did not take chemistry in high school because I took biology in grade 10 and AP environmental science in grade 11 and then left high school (because so much blah) and took geology and astronomy (physics) in college to fulfill the last of my science classes).

I just am kind of drawn to that Canadian model.

They do the same thing with math. I mean, I never quite had any idea what we were studying because, well, we just studied everything every year. Math 9. Math 10. Math 20. Math 30. And again, if you're really loving math you can take a named course and dive deep. But there's also just general...math. And you learn about all sorts of things. Every year. 

Anyway, whatever. It doesn't matter. Rachel's doing "Introduction to Algebra" this year and it's going alright for her, I think. So that's fine. It's just the science that is killing her. So I can't help but wonder if a more eclectic approach might be good for her. A, "Yes, we're all getting sick of chemistry. Some of us loved it but it's not everyone's strong suit. Isn't it nice to learn that about ourselves. How about some biology now?!!!"

That's how she's feeling. That's all. 

Anyway, my point is that so many fields are interconnected—science and math and language and social studies (and even physical education—we have daily physical education in Canada so sometimes even our "movement" time would be enriching our "core" learning (I remember playing a teacher-led predator vs. prey food chain game once))—and I kind of like that better. Here at our house, my kids don't know when we're doing ELA and when we're doing SS. Sometimes I combine ELA and science (and the kids don't realize it). I wish it were easier for me to do...but most of the curricula I have access to is American so it follows the very obviously divided subjects model. And that's fine. We're just figuring it out.

*Andrew recalls having a schedule on the board, because they had to move from classroom to classroom for their...whatever classes. Extra ones? Enrichment ones? Options (although they aren't really options in elementary school)? What are they called? Like music and PE and things like that. 

I guess the difference was that we had those things all year (at least in elementary school). PE was every day for us. And sometimes we would go to the gym and be with the PE teacher. But usually we would just be with our classroom teacher doing PE together. And sometimes we would go down to the computer lab or the music room but usually we would just work on those things with our teacher. I dunno. All I know is that I had no idea what our daily schedule was. 

In grade five the teachers had an agreement that Mme. Muir taught French, Mr...Something taught PE, and Mrs. Bienart taught science. And we would rotate classrooms for that (I think to prepare us for middle school). But prior to that...I mean...I was completely clueless about transitions. 


  1. At Andrew's elementary school, subjects like Math and English were called "Core" classes, and were taught by the homeroom teacher, twice each day. One lesson for the AM group and one for the PM group. (Thus causing the teacher to be responsible for over 60 children per day!). The other subjects: Social Studies, Science, Art, Music, etc, were called "specialties" and were taught for just a term or a semester. These teachers would see even more students per day. The whole system was called "extended day", and it allowed the school to fit twice as many students into the building. I feel that it shortchanged my children severely.

    1. Thank you! I knew it was something crazy like that—I remember being so baffled that my sister only had science and PE for half the year! I didn't realize SS was also a specialty.

      And I think you're right! I think those poor teachers were overworked and the school was overpopulated. Small class sizes are so important; they needed more teachers and more buildings. But for that...they would need more money and you know no one would agree to THAT...

    2. I went to Andrew’s school and LOVED it. It was pretty great to have a science teacher who taught in a science classroom equipped to do labs and such. I thought other schools were so weird. BUT the method you are referring to in Canada is called integrated curriculum and it is the golden standard especially for early childhood education (or at least it was when I was at BYU forever ago...). It makes so much more sense for young kids especially to just learn to love learning. I wish the school curriculum would make that easier.

    3. Thank you! I didn't take many education classes in college but I'll be doing more in my MA program, so "integrated curriculum" is a good term to know. :) I'm sure there are pros and cons to both; I've always been impressed with how well equipped elementary schools tend to be in the US (with art rooms and science labs and things like that) but have been a little underwhelmed otherwise. :D My schools tended not to have as many "specialty" classrooms, but we certainly had equipment that travelled around classrooms, unlike what I see in the US.

      My mom worked in the IMC (instructional materials center) for several years and schools/teachers could request to borrow materials from snow shoes to sets of novels to science equipment, shared all across the district (in addition to equipment schools themselves store—my school, for example, had a set of cross-country skis and I know various cabinets were loaded with science equipment (beakers and things)). In general, though, we just did everything in our classrooms—even eat lunch (only one of my schools had a cafeteria-style lunch, but even that everyone brought from home). :D

      Anyway, lots of interesting differences!