Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Anthropocene

Geologist have named geologic epochs using many names like "Holocene (recent)" in the Quaternary era less than 1.6 million years. For more information about geologic eras and the time scale you can click here. But it is time to name the present epoch based on the influence that we have as humans in the geologic record, so geologists from the distant future say a few million years from now will refer to. The Anthropocene is a good name, I have just read it in Diane Ackerman's book "The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us." To read a NYT review of the book click here.
The name has been proposed at least from the 1969's and it is supposed to imply that humans are in fact changing the characteristics of our globe in the same way that other conditions, mainly physical, characterized the other periods of geologic history. Like carbon (coming from living organisms deposited in strata) giving the name "carboniferous" (360 to 286 MA) period in the Paleozoic era. By the way this was for some geographic areas where the oil extracted now was formed.

What has this to do with teaching science?

For one it shows that vocabulary is important and nomenclature gives information about the subject. But most important is to see how everything is related and the historical-sociological-economical aspects of learning have to be taken into account when preparing a lesson plan. For the example above the use of MA (mega annum) for millions of years as a unit of time measurement is a good example of developing a vocabulary as we learn about the science in question. This developing of vocabulary has to be based first on previous knowledge and second on the time that it takes to practice using such a new concept. This need for having enough time becomes a critical element when dealing with class preparation. Apart from class preparation but related to it is the student's preparation. This is why is necessary to have clear and consistent sequence in the science curriculum. When students struggle with difficult concepts mainly because they don't have the basic vocabulary it is necessary for the teacher to slow down giving time for students to develop it. But at the same time the paradox arises when "time' is constrained to a syllabus giving a set content.

With today's diversifying student body this elements will have to be revisited and new structures, synchronous and asynchronous have to be developed.

My question for today is: Do we have time for this transition?