Friday, April 14, 2017

An Unexpected Answer (Safety Series: Part 1)

This week in my 6th grade Science and Critical Thinking class, we analyzed a story of two children who went swimming at a local pond. The problem arose when recent rain raised the bacterial levels too high. Upon this discovery, the lifeguard informed the children to get out of the water. She continued throughout to emphasize how they didn’t listen to her, how she’s responsible for them, and is their “boss” when swimming. The kick came when a scientist from a local water organization enters the pictures to describe some scientific details. Even with the lifeguard informing them of the rules and the scientist’s explanation, the children still want to swim because of their days, past and current, being ruined.

Thus came three choices the students and I evaluated, discussed, and voiced. 

Who should decide what is safe in this context? And why?

a) the scientist
b) children/people
c) the lifeguard whose first focus was on the rules

Most of the students selected the scientist because of experiences, experiments, and how he could know about what is unseen. I pushed those students to consider how he has this knowledge. Only one out of that group mentioned his education. (Side note: I wasn’t surprised about that, and there are layers to the reasons.) A decent amount of students said we should listen to the lifeguard who “knows what is safest for us”. What if the lifeguard didn’t see the bacteria? What if the scientist wasn’t around? In essence, students needed to defend the why behind their whys. It was engrossing to observe them.

Now one student shared a different perspective. He explained how the children should decide what’s safest here because, as one of the children in the story mentioned, they’ve gone swimming many times before and there weren’t any problems. They’re still alive, and they don’t feel like anything in them is different. He then brought up the possibility that the lifeguard and scientist are telling lies for something they want or just for fun.

Indeed I’m going to ask him regarding the connection between feelings and health, frequency of lies/bribery, and trust with people. But take a minute and consider what he said. What if the lifeguard and scientist are in on something together? I certainly didn’t explore that option.

Usually, more often than not, students will think of a view that hadn’t come to my mind yet. The question I now face is: how willing am I going to be when listening to them offer these suggestions instead of too quickly relying on the “one right answer” from the book or my own reasoning?

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