Why I Don't Do Volcanoes



That's not snow. It's ash from a volcanic eruption that happened in Chile last May.

According to Wikipedia, a volcano is "an opening, or rupture, in a planet's surface or crust, which allows hot, molten rock, ash, and gases to escape from below the surface" (link). I hope to never have a volcano in my classroom.

I mention this because I felt a twinge of guilt reading through the 2009 Grass Roots Press catalogue. (Which, by the way, is offering new titles from the Quick Read series, including Matt Reilly's Hell Island. And, they're selling a new Judy Murphy title, Living With Healthy Relationships. I haven't seen it, but her Living With Stress is an outstanding resource... but I digress.)

In the blurb for Science Within Reach, somebody writes, "Learn how to use the principles of chemistry to make cheese, crystals, and volcanoes."

Part of the book's subtitle "...adult literacy program..." caught my eye. Then I read the blurb and thought, "Oi, I'm a failure as a facilitator of adult literacy because we never do science experiments in my classroom!"

But wait a minute. I do do science. I just don't make volcanoes. Nor, I think, does anybody else. Surely we'd hear about it on the news!?!

In-class science experiments, like in-class math manipulatives, always seem inherently phony to me. There's nothing functional about the Pizza Fractions Math Game. Tape measures, measuring cups, thermometers: these things are functional. With them, hands on math makes sense to me. With them, learners are learning a real skill, as well as underlying principles. So too, it's possible that the science of cooking, of mechanical advantage, of nutrition, of software engineering may show up in a recognizable way in our lives and learning.

But schoolish science experiments - science demonstrations, really - seem like... extra. They seem like the fake-life I remember from my own days in public school, staring out the window at all the real life just outside while somebody else mixed vinegar, baking soda and red dye #40 into an bubbling froth of stained carbonic acid (which almost immediately broke down into into water and carbon dioxide, with the later sailing off to contribute to global warming *sigh*). I guess it was a good illustration of a pointless acid-base chemical reaction, but it weren't no volcano.

"Science Within Reach explores basic science principles that relate to our everyday experiences" the blurb begins. Well, it's true that I eat cheese. But I hardly ever make it. Or crystals.

So, you ask, how are tactile-kinostetic learners supposed to learn about volcanoes if they never make one?

Same as the rest of us, I guess. Talk, ask, read, write. Watch You-tube video footage. Troll online news sites or National Geographic for recent news of volcanoes. Get the volcano poster down off the wall and read all those facts and figures. Plot famous or recent eruptions on the big wall map, and then compare them to known fault lines. Go home and watch bad science movies like Dante's Peak or Core. And gather from all those sources that the earth's crust is made up of plates that move and grind and part, and that the melting-hot rock underneath sometimes breaks through.

I guess I'm saying that I don't believe learning about volcanoes is like learning to ride a bike.

It's about acquiring the kind of brute geophysics facts you and I and they - hopefully - will never experience first hand.



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