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Science as a Soap Opera
We can learn a lot from the way they package TV shows. People are hard wired to pay attention to new things in packets that do not take eons of time. I think we try to package too much into our introductory science lessons. Maybe we should take a page from the soap opera book and leave the kids wanting more information.
By tying science to soap operas I am not talking to skinny people with teeth so white they could land airplanes in a fog. What I am talking about is the way they present information. Soap operas follow a formula. I think one person told me she stopped watching one and then three years later the story line was about the same. She was able to join right back in and not miss a beat. What if we could do that in school? Could we ever have a program so smooth that if a student left for an illness they could return and they could seamlessly join the class in progress? I am not sure about that one but I am sure about the decisions regarding what to keep constant and what to change.
The story and characters in a soap opera is pretty constant as is the location (generally my students say). This is so if you come back to a story you will not have to get to know many new faces or story lines. In our lessons we often change the whole story to try to keep it interesting. I think we should select one or two really interesting connections and stick with them for the year.
If you selected say foods as a focus and wrapped your lessons around that theme you would be keeping one thing constant. Chemistry lessons could focus on foods (cabbage makes a good acid base indicator). Life science could focus on food without effort. Even physics could focus on the dynamics of storing food (thermodynamics) and even forces and motion on the transportation of food, seeds from plants and calories. I watched some fruit hanging from a tree last fall and wondered how much force that tiny apple stem was holding up and when it might fall.
OK, the theme could be food or weather or a book or transportation, water, plastics or a host of others. Now we need a few compelling stories. I like the human side of science. I love telling how Lavoisier wrapped one of his assistants in an airtight body cocoon and tried to measure his oxygen input and his Carbon dioxide and water output to study combustion. The kids love the image of some poor assistant in this fabric cocoon sweating and fretting. That kind of story is pure soap opera but connected to science. To take a page from the soap opera writers I would break this compelling story into three or more segments and tell a little bit each day. I wonder if there is a story out there that can be pulled out to longer interesting segments. I think of starting each day with, “when we last left our intrepid scientific explorer.”
There are a few out there but they need a little imagination and teacher flair to bring out the interesting aspects and to know when to break off and leave it for the next day. There are a few good stories about scientists at the Baldwin Project web site.
Another has some super scientists.