“Academic Bowl” Paradox

Published: 2012-03-21 06:19 |

Category: Science | Tags: teaching


Last night, I read the science questions for the Indiana Academic Bowl our school hosted. The city schools all sent teams of students to participate in an evening of trivia and brain-power boxing. It was fun and it was great to see some of our own students putting their heads together to answer science questions.

I have a small problem with the name “Academic Bowl.” We all love our little bits of trivia, but labeling a trivia night as “academic” seems a little off to me. Academics should be pushing real-life problem solving and innovative thinking, and no question came close to that. Sure, our students can determine the initial velocity of an object with lightning speed, but what good is that in life? What are they going to do with that object once it is thrown?

Or better yet, why are they throwing that object at all?

I think we are sending a mixed message. We ask for creative and original thought in class, but when it “matters” (i.e. “tests”), we are still only asking for basic, rote-memorization, recall. This must change.

My Academic Bowl would look much more like Science Olympiad (do they still do that?). Teams are given a problem prior to the competition. Instead of drilling physics equations, they spend the time leading up to the event problem solving, planning, testing, and designing a solution. It could be something as simple as:

Design a system to keep an egg from breaking when dropped from a height of 50 feet.”

Or, something more complex:

“Design, sketch, and propose a location for a new power station in your city. Include resources needed, civic impacts, environmental concerns, and other pertinent information.

We need to remember that everything we expose our learners to sends a message and leaves some mark on their life.

Maybe I am feeling a little snarky this morning, but I do not want to let my kids think that “academics” equals “trivia.”

Comments are always open. You can get in touch by sending me an email at brian@ohheybrian.com