# Opinions on elementary school science homework

1. Oct 27, 2017

### ZapperZ

Staff Emeritus
I disagree. "Matter" in the "technical term" is WAY more complicated than even many of us can comprehend. Just do a search on "what is matter?" in this forum alone! I hate to think that we expect THAT kind of sophistication from elementary school students!

Zz.

2. Oct 27, 2017

### symbolipoint

What amazing unproductive arguing.

Main original question from SciFi, this:
YOUR goal as one of the parents is tell your child which of each is observable and which measurable; explain as needed.

3. Oct 27, 2017

### SciFi

Thanks all, I appreciate the different viewpoints. So my daughter got 3 answers marked wrong on her homework. My daughter answered:

shape, texture, odor, state, length = observable
sink/float, weight, temperature, magnetic, volume, density, mass = measurable

According to her teacher, "length" is not observable: you must have a tool to determine length and therefore it is a "measurable" property of matter. Further, "sink/float"(!?!) is not measurable because observation is sufficient to determine whether something is sinking or floating: no tools required. Lastly, "magnetic" does not need a tool to determine this property: our senses are sufficient to determine the magnetic property of matter. She says that an observable property of matter is one that does not need a tool to be determined: our senses are sufficient; measurable properties of matter are those that cannot be determined with our senses: we must create a tool.

I disagree with this reasoning. However I need to pick my battles, so I simply thanked her for the clarification and explained to my daugher why I disagree with some of what her teacher explained. I still believe this exercise was poorly worded and does a disservice towards teaching science because it adds unnecessary confusion, which turns kids off science.

4. Oct 27, 2017

### Staff: Mentor

Really? Which of our five senses can we use to tell if an object is magnetic? I understand that birds can navigate by means of a part of their brain that can detect magnetic currents, but I'm not aware that humans have this ability. In any case, "observable" really should be "sensible" -- whether we can use one of our senses to determine whether an object has a particular attribute.
To determine whether an object sinks or floats, I use a tool labelled "sinks" and "floats" with no other marks. I use this to "measure" the ability of an object to float in water.

5. Oct 27, 2017

### haruspex

I agree completely.
I can observe weight and temperature by holding the object, mass by trying to throw it, volume and length by looking at it. True, I cannot assign numerical values without an agreed yardstick, but that requirement is not made clear in the question.
How is the student to know that the texture, odour and magnetism assessments do not require numerical answers? See e.g. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2621.1963.tb00217.x/abstract.

6. Oct 27, 2017

### haruspex

But the first hurdle is to guess what the teacher has in mind. Seems it was the distinction between quantitative measures and qualitative ones - hardly clear from the question, and debatable for several of the parameters.

Last edited: Oct 27, 2017
7. Oct 27, 2017

### SciencewithDrJ

I had a similar experience a couple of years ago. My grandson, in grade 5 - in Canada - at the time, invited me to join his class because the teacher held a parent-student competition. Parents were invited to compete against their children in science. Even with a PhD in microbiology and biochemistry, I failed the test and did not pass, because my perspective on answers was totally different. For example, a question was "Sunlight is turned into sugar by plants, TRUE or FALSE. My answer was FALSE, of course, because carbon dioxide and water turn into sugar with the energy supplied from sunlight, but sunlight itself can never turn into sugar. But I failed, because the right answer (according to the teacher) was TRUE. I told the teacher later on and she insisted that I was wrong. There were many other similar erroneous questions and answers, and I failed miserably. My grandson was very disappointed in me, thinking that I really didn't know "my stuff" and I failed.

How do you deal with that? Sometimes, over simplification can be deleterious.

It is unfortunate that the quality of science education in schools lags far behind. The teachers themselves need refresher courses in science. When I taught undergraduate courses in microbiology years ago, my fresh out of high school students literally knew nothing and I almost had to start from scratch.

8. Oct 27, 2017

### symbolipoint

Let's have an informal vote. How many members reading disapprove of that competition?

9. Oct 27, 2017

### symbolipoint

I had earlier said not to be mean to the teachers, but now after this here quoted post, some assignments are seriously badly misguided. PTA or something? Other scientificly educated and experienced parents in the neighborhood? Complain to the school administration.

10. Oct 27, 2017

### haruspex

Sight, sound, touch, pain, temperature, taste, balance, proprioception, smell, itchiness, hunger, thirst, nausea, ... not to mention familiarity, fear, fatigue, ...
Of course, we did learn in school that we have five.

11. Oct 27, 2017

### SciencewithDrJ

I think the problem is this: the teacher either lacked in-depth knowledge and consequently misworded the assignment, or she did have that knowledge but did not have enough educational skill to simplify it enough for her students so that it would remain simple, but still accurate.

12. Oct 27, 2017

### haruspex

Yes, plus a tendency to use scientific-sounding terms even when they are not being used with scientific accuracy.

13. Oct 27, 2017

### SciencewithDrJ

Hello, Sci-Fi,

Good posting and it generated a great deal of healthy interest and discussion. It is a very important topic and touches deeply on serious quality issues in the current educational system. The input from the various participants has been very enlightening and I find it very useful.

14. Oct 27, 2017

### SciencewithDrJ

I hope this is not going off topic, but I believe it touches deeply on the very essence of this thread: proper science education in schools. There is emphasis on facts rather than teaching the skill of asking questions and learning how to discover answers about nature. Lawrence Krauss says it best in this short video on the Big Think:

15. Oct 27, 2017

### haruspex

True, but arguably the teacher that triggered this thread was trying to get the students to think more. It could have worked if she had required the students to explain their answers and accepted variant answers if they were adequately justified. Her insistence that her own answers were right is particularly sad.

16. Oct 27, 2017

### SciencewithDrJ

Totally agree. We perhaps need to recruit more science school teachers to join this forum.

17. Oct 28, 2017

### SciFi

I agree, that's a horrible competition!

18. Oct 28, 2017

### SciFi

I agree 100%. I was really hoping she'd respond with "don't worry we're not grading them, it's just to get them thinking and discussing their answers." That would've been awesome. Sadly that was not the case, they did grade them, and apparently many students did poorly.

19. Oct 28, 2017

### SciFi

I agree and great video, thanks for sharing.

20. Oct 31, 2017

### slufoot

good question thanks

21. Nov 1, 2017

### Rob Stow

The comments here are quite possibly the kind of discussion the teacher wanted to cause in her classroom. The "homework" is just to get the students thinking about the topic beforehand so that they are prepared to participate in the discussion.