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January 04, 2023

Bonus Book Thread - 01-04-2023 ("Perfessor" Squirrel)



In my class this past semester, I assigned students the task of selecting one of the above books on physics and then writing a persuasive argument about why it was the bestest physics book ever! They worked in groups to develop their arguments, focusing on elements of rhetoric such as ethos, logos, and pathos. They were not required to read the books, but were expected to delve into them enough to understand the arguments on physics that the authors were making. (This is usually found in the front matter of each book, such as the preface, forward, or author's note.)

One of the purposes of this exercise was to expose the students to different levels of scientific writing. All of my students are studying STEM fields, so they will need to be able to read and understand scientific writing in their academic studies, and perhaps their professional careers as well. They are also all freshman so until now they have had limited exposure to truly in-depth discussions on science. I was also curious to see how they would handle this assignment in an "English" class, where they were probably expected to write very different essays.

As has been pointed out on this blog and elsewhere--like the post I put up yesterday on the stupidity of the "gas station of the future" servicing EVs--there seems to be severe decline in scientific literacy among the general population. My students, for example, were largely brainwashed into supporting the environmental messages about global warming/climate change that they were taught in high school. It was a bit disheartening to see how little curiosity they had about the subject. They just assumed it was "common knowledge," like how EVs are saving the Earth.

TheJamesMadison pointed out earlier today just how bad the problem really is for young boys in K-12 and even in university settings. There is an active movement to get rid of men in STEM fields in favor of disadvantaged minorities and women. Fortunately, science--real science, not "THE SCIENCE"--is agnostic about who learns it. All of the scientific knowledge that anyone could ever want to learn is available on demand.

How do things work? *Why* do they work? What are the fundamental principles that allow our reality to function at all? We are so blessed in these times to have access to the very near sum total of all human knowledge. The power of the Internet gives us unprecedented access to information and wisdom, though sorting through information to find what is useful to you can be a challenge. Developing scientific literacy is a skill like any other that can be mastered through study, training, education, experience, and practice.

You don't even have to become a sage on a specific topic. Just a cursory amount of scientific knowledge can be a wonderful thing because you'll start asking questions when something sounds "off" to you and you will then go seek out more information. I do that all the time. I used to buy a lot of books on science topics, especially with regard to physics. Now I tend to seek out YouTube videos as they are much more condensed, yet give me the basic information that I'm really looking for. Trying to wade through Roger Penrose's book, The Road to Reality, can be fun, but requires a level of dedication and mathematical knowledge that is a little bit beyond basic calculus. Isaac Asimov's Understanding Physics is more my speed.

What are some of YOUR favorite books which bestowed upon you a level of scientific literacy? What books would be good for children to start their journey towards scientific literacy? How can you as a parent or grandparent engage your students in learning about science?

(NOTE: If you want to see an instance where "scientific literacy" goes horribly wrong, Buck Throckmorton has a great post from yesterday about "Pyramid Power!" - don't comment on old posts...)

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posted by Open Blogger at 05:15 PM

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