An Engineer’s Guide to Cats

For many years now many of my brightest and best students have gone on to study Engineering, despite my best efforts to the contrary.
I consider an engineer to be a physicist who has lost his sense of wonder.

By the way, do you know where the term ‘civil engineer’ comes from?
Apparently it was to distinguish engineers who worked outside the military from those who worked inside it.
Thanks to The Guardian for the heads up on the video.

The BBC – supporting Science

World of Wonder -Science on the BBC
This series is part of World of Wonder – a year of Science across the BBC in 2010. From popular science to Chaos Theory, there’s a little something for everyone.

Did you know that the BBC has a Science homepage?
It’s called “World of Wonder” – what a cool title.

You see the BBC know that if they want the public to watch their programs then they have to first of all draw them in and then they must deliver.
And the single best way to do this is with wonder. And the single best source of wonder is science.
And of course it helps if you have a passionate presenter who is comfortable in front of the camera.

The following represents just some of what they have produced lately:

The Story of Science: Power, Proof and Passion

Hammond’s Invisible Worlds

Museum of Life 

Journeys from the centre of the earth

The Power of the Planet

How the earth made us

South Pacific

Wonders of the Solar System 
Professor Brian Cox (the “rock star physicist” who looks as awed as I do when watching it) visits some of the most stunning locations on earth to describe how the laws of nature have carved natural wonders across the solar system.
Professor Cox has just started work on a new series entitled “Wonders of the Universe” – follow him on twitter.

Not a bad roll of honour – each one a wonderful representation of the story of science.

When RTE does Science it is invariably a natural history program – nothing wrong with that in itself, but a little more from the physical sciences would be nice.

Presumably it’s rather expensive to produce a Science program. The last wildlife program from the Nature department of RTE was aired recently: Wild Journeys was a three part documentary with wonderful scenary but woeful narration. It was completely devoid of that one word which the viewer could respond to more than any other – wonder.  Check it out for yourself

Next time RTE is looking for material for a Science program they should just ask Mary Mulvihill for pointers and then give a lot of thought to choosing a presenter (and not just go with whoever happens to be passing on the corridor at the time). Why not have somebody who isn’t afraid to sound amazed or in awe of Nature? Imagine someone like Kathryn Thomas, Tommy Tiernan or Ray D’arcy narrating, or better still in front of the camera rather than just providing the voiceover.

Or my personal favourite – physicist/comedian  Dara O’ Briain.

A step too far for the fuddy duddies  in RTE methinks.

On the lack of wonder in education: Monbiot hits it on the button

George Monbiot, who writes for The Guardian, finished a recent piece on communication in science with the following:

We are deprived by our stupid schooling system of most of the wonders of the world, of the skills and knowledge required to navigate it, above all of the ability to understand each other. Our narrow, antiquated education is forcing us apart like the characters in a Francis Bacon painting, each locked in our boxes, unable to communicate.

There’s that word again: wonder. Why does eveybody ignore this- surely it’s not that difficult to fix?

A science-teacher’s apology

We educators take this incredibly exotic jungle of knowledge called science and distil it until all the wonder has been removed and we are left with nothing but a heap of dry shavings. We then pour this into our syllabus and textbooks and make our students learn it off by heart so that it can all get vomited back up come exam time.
And then we wonder why so many young people don’t like science.

I would like to attribute that to somebody famous, but I can’t, ‘cos it’s mine. Which brings me to my apology.

I would like to apologise to students of secondary-school science everywhere – past, present and future, for having to put you through this process.

I would like to apologise for being a little cog in this horrible machine.

I would like to apologise for doing so little to change this, or even to raise it as an issue before now.

In my own little way I will do what I can to repair some of the damage, and show what science is like when the wonder is put back in.

Wonder in Science (why do we hide it?)

Yes, yes, yes, yes!

Just read this online article from Simon Jenkins in the Guardian

I devour popular science, finding its history and its wonder a constant delight. . . . It is a mystery how so many science teachers can be so bad at their jobs that most children of my acquaintance cannot wait to get shot of the subject. I am tempted to conclude that maths and science teachers want only clones of themselves, like monks in a Roman Catholic seminary.

I couldn’t agree more. It is a sense of wonder in the world around me that has drawn me into science, and yet wonder is the one thing that is sorely lacking from all text-books and school syllabii. And we as teachers are doing absolutely nothing about it. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

Listen to all the big-wigs tell us why we need more students doing science – it’s the economy, stupid. Yet ask any kid why they are fascinated with science and the economy is not likely to come top of their list of reasons. It’s that word again – wonder. So why are we afraid to tackle it at school level? And why does nobody talk about it?

Heaven preserve us from engineers, university professors and politicians getting their grubby mitts on another science syllabus. Not unless they can first demonstrate a proven track recond on rating wonder as highly as a kid does. Not that we teachers have much to boast about in that regard either. It’s as though we try to hide our sense of wonder because somehow it doesn’t seem appropriate. Is it because we teachers like to give the impression that we have all the answers and therefore there should be nothing to fill us with wonder. I honestly don’t know. And I’m not even sure what I can do about it.

But I guess a good aul’ rant wouldn’t be a bad place to start. 

Feynman, in this regard as in so many others, remains an inspiration.