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April 19, 2021

Without Struggle, There Is No Progress

Recently, I was notified that one of my science experiments, Climate Change in a Bottle, was flawed.

In my lesson, I informed my students that it was the radiative properties of carbon dioxide that led to an increase in temperature in the experiment. However, a commenter on the video countered that it’s the convective properties of carbon dioxide that in fact cause the temperature change. After reading several articles written by experts in the field, I confirmed the error.

Shame and Embarrassment

My initial reaction was one of shame and embarrassment. These feelings were compounded by the fact that this lesson series was highlighted by Teaching Channel. I was mortified!

I felt like I let down the teaching community, the science community, and especially my students. As educators, our responsibility is to deliver content that is accurate and sound. We read, we research, we plan, and we teach. Yet, sometimes we miss the mark because we are not experts of everything.

“Get rid of the lesson,” I thought to myself. I was ready to remove this from my curriculum and tell Teaching Channel to do the same. I was so sorry for this error, for getting it wrong, and for giving my students false information. I felt like a failure.

I cowered as I viewed the lessons again and found myself cringing in light of the flaw.

While cringing, however, I realized something very important.

Wait a Second…

In the video, I saw my students excited, thinking critically, working together, and fully engaged in the steps of scientific inquiry. They were asking questions, making hypotheses, problem solving, collecting data, interpreting data, designing controlled experiments, and much much more. In the videos, they were happy and engaged; I was happy and excited guiding them through the learning process.

I had wanted to throw out this tainted lesson. I was ashamed of it. I had forgotten, however, that there are many facets of a lesson. Surely, one important objective of a lesson is content knowledge. Yet there are other objectives, too. These can include practicing the process that leads to content knowledge, and using noncognitive skills (attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, grit) to successfully reach those goals.

I reminded myself that I didn’t need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. What I definitely needed to throw out was the conclusion that the radiative properties of carbon dioxide caused the temperature to increase in the bottles. In fact, I do not only need to throw out that conclusion, but I also have the responsibility of modifying the lesson to be scientifically sound. What I didn’t need to throw out, however, was the relevant, hands-on experience of scientific inquiry, and noncognitive skill development that this series of lessons achieved.

Becoming a Better Teacher

I will revisit this lesson in the upcoming school year and will share the revisions and results with you, the Teaching Channel community. Before I do, my responsibility is to do more research, find ways to modify and supplement the lesson, include experimental error in the lesson’s discussions, and determine what level of scientific content (radiative and conductive properties of gases) is age-appropriate for my 6th graders.

I recite Frederick Douglass’ quote to my students regularly: “Without struggle, there is no progress.” This time, I had to recite it to myself. I struggled as an educator and individual through this experience. However, I believe that what I’ve learned through this struggle has, and will continue, to make me a better teacher.


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