|A Newsletter of Scientific Literacy.||Fall 2000|
here is a Chinese proverb that goes like this: "A peasant must stand for a long time on a hillside with his mouth open before a roast duck flies in."
My wife Jane and I visited China this spring. We didnít see many peasants standing on hillsides with their mouths open but we did see many thousands of Chinese working hard on hillsides, in schools, in factories and in new city skyscrapers to make sure they did have more roast duck on their dinner plates. And more electricity, more cellular phones, more computers, more houses, more food, more travel and entertainment, more wealth. And they were succeeding. And this was in Yunnan Province, one of the poorest provinces of China. People in Yunnan seemed to know that for those who stand and wait, resources are few. For those who search and work, resources are plentiful.
Our visit in China was one stop on our first Hawkhill round-the-world expedition. The first question friends asked us when we got home was "What was your favorite place?" Our answer - Madison, Wisconsin. After Madison though, I would have to say China was the most interesting. That may be partly because we spent the longest time there, almost three weeks. We also visited for shorter periods Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Russia and England.
What did we learn? Our answer may surprise you.
|leadership||We learned that people the world over are by and large not waiting for roast ducks to fly into their open mouths, but are working hard to build exciting new civilizations led in large part by the example of the successful American civilization of the late 20th century.|
|science literacy around the world||
What has this got to do with science literacy? A lot. The trip confirmed with dramatic eye-witness evidence what I was pretty sure of before I left home. There are three big ideas that are making the difference in the world today. One is science and technology. The second is free market capitalism. And the third is political democracy.
I realize that some vocal opponents of "globalization" will disagree with this assessment. I think theyíre wrong. If you want to see and hear why, take a look at our new series PLANET EARTH - THE 3RD MILLENNIUM. As you read this newsletter we are putting the final touches on these six programs and we will be able to deliver them to your school by Jan. 1, 2001 (the real beginning of the third millennium).
|CD-ROMS for science literacy||
The second of our new programs this year 2000 is our first CD-ROM, a self-paced interactive learning program to teach basic concepts and connections in modern genetics. I have long thought that the large information-storage and interactive possibilities of the CD-ROM format provided interesting opportunities for science literacy education. Many games and simulations are available on CD-ROM. The ones I have tried out are fun but they donít seem to teach many basic science concepts nor do they make many productive connections. Our first effort, THE GENE on CD-ROM takes a different tack. Read about it and then ask for a free 30-day preview. We would very much like to hear from you as to how it works with your students.
A recent e-mail from chemistry teacher Beth Silver got me thinking about educational resources in old ways and in new ways.
|too high a price?||
"I am a new school teacher," wrote Beth, "and would love to order and use your videos in my classroom. I spent over $200 on videos for Biology last year, ordering from the Discovery channel, the Learning Channel and Nova. Your videos are outrageously expensive in comparison to these other video options. Your prices average around $3 to $5 per minute of video footage."
Here was my answer.
|cost per viewing||What can I say? Maybe you can think of the cost in a different way. Instead of calculating the cost per minute of video footage, consider how little it costs per student viewing. The average entertainment movie in our part of the country costs $5 to $8 a viewing. If you show one of our videos to only 100 students a year (many of our customers would share the video with other teachers and have an audience of a thousand a year or more) and use it for its usual life span of five years, this would work out to about 17 cents per student viewing (in many schools less than a penny per viewing!). Not a bad price for some education in science literacy.|
|entertainment and education||In addition, you have to realize that the Learning Channel, Discovery and Nova are all heavily subsidized, and while I too like some of their programs, they are more directed to entertainment than to education. They donít attempt, in other words, to teach basic concepts in science so much as to entertain adults on broadcast television. In this quest they reach quite a few million viewers, which is fine. We at Hawkhill, on the other hand, get no subsidies, produce our programs with the sole goal of teaching basic concepts and connections, and have a potential audience of only a few thousand teachers and schools. This means we do have to charge more for a single program since this is our only source of income.|
|you get what you pay for||I could have added much more. Cost is important, but even more important is quality-what are you getting for what you are paying? How can you tell whether a given video-or for that matter, any kind of learning material, print, computer software, whatever-will be helpful in teaching science literacy? A few years ago I invented one way to measure this power. I called it the Learning Power Index.|
To measure Learning Power it seems to me that there are at least three things to consider. One is how many new things-like concepts, facts, ideas-the program teaches. Two is how much it helps you connect these new things into more powerful networks of meaning-like other sciences, economics, history, geography, values, popular culture. And finally three, how easy is the material to understand. All three of these things can be quantified and the end result is a Learning Power Index.
Briefly, hereís how it works.
|how to calculate Learning Power||Take a representative sample of the text and count how many important concepts are taught in the sample. Now count how many connections are made between concepts. (Use any length to count concepts and connections but then standardize to 1500 words-this is a power measure, remember). Finally figure out the Fog Index of the sample. The Fog Index is a measure of how difficult the average literate person would find the passages.|
|free article||In the last step, you multiply the number of concepts taught by the number of connections made and then divide by the Fog Index. The resulting figure I call the Learning Power Index. In ordinary language, this is a measure of how powerful the learning material is for education. Kind of like the stickers on new car invoices that tell you how many miles per gallon you can expect. If you are interested in more details about this Index I would be glad to send you a free copy of an article explaining it that was published a few years ago in the journal Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society. Call (608) 251-3934.|
|Learning Power comparisons||
In writing the article, I surveyed a wide variety of learning materials and computed their respective Learning Power Indices. The larger the figure, the more learning power. Here are some of the surprising results:
I tested 10 of the most popular textbooks in junior and senior high school science. The Learning Power Indices ranged between 2 and 7. I tested four Nova segments and they had an average Learning Power Index of 11. Carl Saganís famous Cosmos series scored 12. A sample of Isaac Asimovís books, 11. Three articles in the New York Times Science section rated an 18. The highest score I computed came from one of our own programs THE ATOM. It has a Learning Power Index of 35. This may help explain why it is the single most popular program produced in our twenty-seven year history. THE GENE (now in CD-ROM format as well) has a Learning Power Index of 24 - six times that of most textbooks! Other members of our Keys to Scientific Literacy series (pages 2 to 9) ranged in Learning Power from 18 to 35.
|concepts and dimensions||This disparity in Learning Power may help explain why a group of scientists and educators recently gave low marks to 10 biology textbooks used in high school. They said the books-hundreds of pages long-miss the big picture. They teach a lot of facts and concepts but donít relate them to other dimensions very well. Most important of all, they donít flesh out the four basic ideas driving todayís research: how cells work, how matter and energy flow through living systems, how plants and animals evolve and the molecular basis of heredity.|
|what is important to teach?||Is it more important for science literacy, for instance, to learn terms like cephalathorax, uracil, Klinefelterís syndrome or to learn how Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA? Or where Cambridge University is? Or how genetic engineering works - in rough outline, not in technical detail? Is it more important to learn details of quantum states of the atom or to learn what part people like Niels Bohr, Ernest Rutherford and Enrico Fermi played in discovering details of the atom? What part the Second World War played? How living things are made of atoms, of chemicals? How the atom is powerfully present in just about all sciences and technologies today? As the comedian Steve Wright once quipped, "You canít have everything. Where would you put it?"|
|the importance of individuals||One of the other big ideas learned and reinforced on our round-the-world-trip is one familiar to all teachers-the importance of individuals. The most lasting memories of the trip are of individual people we met along the way. Iíll admit that my wife and I both lean to the optimistic side, but we found over and over again that if you treat strangers with respect and good humor you usually get the same respect and good humor in return.|
|taxi driver in St. Petersburg||Almost always. We did have an expensive camera pickpocketed off my back in the subways of St. Petersburg, Russia. The good humor this time (and the reinforcement of the big ideas of world progress) came later that day from a taxi driver, Alexander, in the same St. Petersburg. He drove us to Pushkin, the summer palace of Catherine the Great. Along the way we talked-he spoke excellent English, we spoke no Russian-and got to know each other rather well in a short time. He was 57 years old, married with a couple of grown up children, a good hockey player still, and now in the new Russia, an entrepreneur who owned his own cab.|
|not a good enough hockey player||
He told us that for many years he had dreamed of defecting to the West. But he wasnít that good a hockey player. And he wasnít a famous dancer or the famous writer. Now though, he said, "Hey, Iíve got my own business. I make enough money. My wife and I have our own apartment. I was born in St. Petersburg and I guess Iíll die in St. Petersburg. Things are better now."
We hesitated to tell him about the theft of the camera, not wanting to say anything negative about his city (it happens in Madison, Wisconsin too) but in the course of later conversation it somehow came out. Alexander just laughed and told us a better story.
|things are better now||He and his wife had waited 30 years to get their own private apartment. They got it just before one of the first election days in Russia. They packed many of their belongings into his cab but decided on the way to their new apartment to stop and vote for Boris Yeltsin. They had to wait in a line and when they came out they found that all their stuff had been stolen from the cab. Was he bitter? "Naw. Things are better now," he said again.|
|radiation man||Another amazing individual we met this summer was Steve Jones, a house painter from Salt Lake City, Utah. Steve helped us and he can help you. Besides painting houses he has a mission to educate people about radiation and nuclear power. Some of you may have met him at National Science Teachers conventions where he was helping to staff the booth of the American Nuclear Society. He was also the lone ranger who prodded the government to give thousands of surplus geiger counters to school science departments in Utah and around the country. (The government planned to put them into landfills!)|
|inexpensive radiation meter||Steve has also adapted a cold war instrument, the Kearney Fallout Meter (KFM), into a simple Radiation Meter Kit that does the job of a Geiger Counter at a fraction of the cost and with more real learning potential in high school and college laboratories. You can get a KFM Radiation Meter Kit from Steve for only $15, a real bargain..For more information or to order a kit write directly to Steve Jones,1402 South 1000 West, Salt Lake City, Utah 84104. Phone if you have questions, Steve is very obliging and knowledgable. 801-972-0863.|
|blackboard quotes||"I see myself as/An opportunity that/No one else had had." From a poem by Hannah Kingdom, 6th Grade student in Toronto, Canada. "I wouldnít have seen it if I hadnít believed it." All of the people in the world could gather in a square 25 miles on a side and be about as crowded as at a rock concert. Suppose they are here and you have ten minutes to teach them something. What will you teach them? Plan your lesson.|
Editor: Bill Stonebarger