Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Relief of a Science Textbook

Oh I have had a week! Besides my bad news on Monday, money is failing to make it's way to me from all of the directions in which it is owed ( the destiny of a writer, or so my good writer friend informs me- we are last on the list to be paid, after the man who oils the printing press).

Then my post the other day about white people in Africa has stimulated a lot of debate through email, here, and at Facebook. Debate that has me thinking too much about my life here and if it makes any sense. The saddest part of the whole discussion was a comment from a black African living in the United States who spoke about how difficult it is for him to ever make real, true friendships with white people when he is here on the continent. I realised the truth in that statement. The achingly sad personal truth in it. I just recently ended a friendship that I thought was real and true, perhaps the first real friendship I've had with a black, Motswana in the 20 years I've been here. I realised I haven't mourned that loss properly and it has all come to a head in this one single week leaving me a bit of a wreck.

But this post is not about how to destroy a writer in six easy steps for this is, actually, a positive post. Today, finally, I had a very productive day after a week of almost nothing getting done. I am back to science textbook writing and am loving it. This is my fourth science textbook.

Since I've taught science both here and in the United States and at junior secondary, senior secondary, and primary, I have quite a bit of ideas to work from. I also have very strong feelings about science teaching. I believe kids need to get active. I still remember the thrill of doing my first science experiment in school. It's what made me love the subject so much. Here in Botswana many schools, especially primary schools, have little science equipment. I keep this in mind in all of my activities and experiments. I try as much as possible to use easily available items.

Today I was working on a chapter on pollution. I often cruise around the internet to get ideas for activities and then try to adapt them to our conditions. I found a great one today about setting out white plates covered in Vaseline to look at the amount of air pollution. I've adapted it to make an experiment where you use the plates as a tool to compare air pollution at the kitchen ( most schools here cook with coal or wood) , the parking lot, the chicken house, and the classroom.

I also believe in project work. When I taught primary school I insisted on independent project work in all subjects. I think kids should get a chance to learn more about the parts of the subject they find most interesting and not always be bullied to learn what the syllabus dictates. That's even more important in our school system which is defined by the tests taken at the end of each stage.

The other very important part of science textbook writing for me is to bring the subject home. Batswana students need to know that science is not happening only in Europe or in America- science is happening right in Botswana. In each chapter, I try to interview local scientists working on research in the area being covered.

So, today my work saved me. Just the simple act of being productive has placed me back in the right state of mind. Who would have thought a saviour could be found hidden inside of a science textbook?


Elizabeth Bradley said...

To produce something as profound as a science book for children, now that's an accomplishment. It's a little scary to think that I could set a white plate out with Vaseline and find out what I'm breathing in, (or worse yet, my little grandchildren!) Knowledge is power and your efforts will become part of the educational process that will prepare many children's minds to hopefully go on to solve the great problems of the world when they grow older. Work can heal us, that's for sure.

bonita said...

Great news, Lauri! Will you keep a list of your interviewees? I may ask to reference them in a science book here. BTW have you heard about using left-over sari cloth to trap/remove microbes that cause cholera from drinking and cooking water? (Bangladesh).
I agree that the more science is brought home to kids, the more they 'get it" and, more importantly, they begin to like it!

Lyn said...

Laurie, sometimes we have days/weeks like that -- I call tem the valleys in between the mountains. Just when things couldn't get any worse -- they usually do-- just a little. Then the tide turns and things start to get better. It's the law of nature -- ebb and flow. I can see you turned things around for yourself. You should know that as a teacher you have alot of power to influence and affect change. I like that you are not giving up or in.

Anonymous said...

Thats good for you.

Lauri said...

Elizabeth- I think work does heal. For me the accomplishment of finishing things gives me motivation.

Bonita-Thanks fro that tip. I do have a list of scientists and other people working in science fields.

Lyn- No giving up here- I've long realised life is ups and downs, I think it would be very flat otherwise (obviously).

Anonymous said...

My son now wants to try the Vaseline experiment. Guess what we'll be doing this afternoon?

Glad things are looking up!

Lauri said...

Selma you should leave the plates for about a week. Hope it goes well. Let me know please.