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Learning with Animals: hard science meets the rhetoric of twee

November 29, 2009
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Two recent online videos depict science and scientific experiments in compelling ways.

First, the Kansas School System employs golden retrievers as metaphors for atomic particles in order to teach elementary chemistry concepts (WWDHD?):

I wonder if there are any latent ironies here between this obvious performance of species-co-evolution and a state school district who infamously insisted on teaching Intelligent Design.

Second, an NPR report on ants takes E.O. Wilson’s explanation of ant phenomenology one step further: scientists suggest that ants can count.  OddTodd produced the video that accompanies the radio short. The video highlights the ethical dimension of the experiment–human augmenting and removing of ant legs–by drawing comic attention to the violence; however, it never quite resolves the tension. I also wonder how we should interpret the ants “feminization.” Is the video’s female gendering of ants “progressive” or does it collate them with a victimized nature?

How do you think children, who seem to be one target audience of either video, will interpret these lessons?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2009 12:38 am

    Um…Pablo…all worker ants are female. Like the rest of the insects in the order Hymenoptera, ants have one fertile female (the queen), a small association of fertile males (the drones), and legions of sterile females that can take on several different roles (worker, soldier, honeypot, farmer, etc.), depending on the species in question.

    So I’m not sure we should read too much into the feminization of the ants in general. However, I do think it terribly interesting that all the scientists depicted were male, and that they did do some pretty ghastly things to female bodies. There could be some interesting commentary there.

    I’d love to screen that video to children. I can imagine only two scenarios: “cool!” and “DON’T LET THEM TAKE MY LEGS, MOMMY!”

  2. November 29, 2009 12:49 am

    Remind me not to raise my children in Kansas, by the way. If they’d used hydrogen to explain how electrons reside in “shells,” it might have worked. Hydrogen does conform to the Bohr model…but beryllium? You can’t really explain it unless you talk about atomic orbitals. They seem to try to do that here (electron cloud)…but combining two rights from two differing models does not equal ‘more right!’ Why do we promote misinformation in our primary schools? I’ll grant that kids might not be able to grasp the intricacies of quantum mechanics, but my 7-year-old brother could readily grasp basic orbital shapes and functions! Argh! Kansas!

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