Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My Science Textbook is Written by Bill Bryson

I just love reading the book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, with my students. Even though the terminology, the lexile and the humor may be a little over their heads for their immature minds, they simply enjoy reading about the crazy and interesting antics of some of the most famous scientists. Students who are usually a handful in the classroom and have attention spans like that of a mosquito, will literally sit there and read along as the audio book reads this novel in its English accent to them. Of course, as with every classroom, you will have a few that just do not seem to participate no matter what you do, but for the most part, my middle school kids just eat it up.

For example, so many students are just taken aback when they learned that Sir Isaac Newton, the man behind the Laws of Motion, stuck a bodkin behind his eyeball “just to see what would happen”. This genius also stared at the sun for quite sometime to see what sort of damage would be done to the human eye. Luckily for him (and us), nothing did happen, except for a sore eye and having to remain in a dark room for a few days until his eyes forgave him from the burning sunlight.

Or how about Hennig Brand, the German scientist who thought that he could purify urine into gold (the similar color must have been behind this idea). Besides making his humble abode probably smell like the inside of a kitty litter box, the urine eventually formed into a paste and began to glow. Brand had become the discoverer of phosphorus.

Today, the students learned how Carolus Linneaus, the Swedish born scientist and father of taxonomy, was a cocky and sex-obsessed fellow (he went so far as to name one genus of plants Clitoria). He was very comfortable with own greatness to the point of painting numerous, flattering portraits of himself, and declared his system of classification as “the greatest achievement in the realm of science.” Being middle school students, they were especially glued to the book when reading about how plants were previously named mare’s fart, hound’s pissopen arse. Whatever it takes to keep them reading, right?

We finished up today with the final chapter of book, Chapter 30 “Good-Bye”. Since they have such short attention spans, we had skipped around the book quite a bit, focusing on the chapters that coincided with whichever unit of study we were currently involved in. “Good-Bye” is about how humans have caused the demise and extinction of more animals than can possibly be counted. Students were dumbfounded to learn that the last and only remaining specimen of the dodo was ordered by the museum director to be thrown onto a bonfire because it “began to smell a bit musty” in 1759. We no longer have any idea what a living dodo looked like and have more evidence that the Apatosaurus was around, even though the bird lived in modern times. Bill Bryson continues with a description of the eradication of the Carolina parakeet, the Greater Koa finch, the Steller’s Sea Cow and the Tasmanian tiger, all animals that really didn’t cause any harm to human beings but were simply obliterated for the sake of being killed. How amazing is it that species can unlock the secrets of the universe yet still have the capacity to kill animals that haven’t done us one bit of harm?

What I find to be so interesting about this book is that it is a science textbook written for the typical modern American. Most scientific text are so mundane, can be rather boring and just don’t get into the nitty gritty details behind the scientific discoveries and inventions. Bill Bryson notes that the science textbooks he had read as a child were not only hefty and dull, but the authors appeared to keep the “cool stuff” a secret. This is honestly my reasoning behind not using the textbooks provided by the school district as much as some other teachers do. My kids actually enjoy reading in science with Bill Bryson’s book! I cannot count the number of kids who have informed me that they have asked their parents to purchase this book for them. A few of my students are reading this book for their book report in Language Arts too. I just think this book is an absolutely amazing teaching tool that all middle school and high school science teachers should utilize in their classrooms.

1 comment:

jerbear said...

That book sounds like a very interesting publication. You are so right in that most scienc textbooks, they are soooo boring in their method of knowledge. Sometimes, we need to be entertained, you see that trait in a good teacher, an interesting pastor, a motivating coach etc. Storytelling is an art that has been in existence since the human race. Read a Greek mythology book or a Native American tribes history. They all have some legend that has been told from generations to generations. Life needs interesting facts that still keep us well-informed individuals. Keep on captivating those young people!!