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jgourlay
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[*] posted on 22-9-2008 at 07:02
Safe or Stupid?


"Science" for an 8 year old is basically about "WOW!" as a hook to teach basics in a qualitative manner. One of the basics is "element, mixture, compound". I want to bullet point out a demonstration and get your comments on safety. I'll lay out the whole thing, but the safety concern comes in when the fire is introduced.

Equipment: mason jar, alchohol lamp, match, alembic+stand, thermometer, cork.

Chemicals: Water, sugar, yeast.

Procedure:

1. Put match on sugar to demonstrate it doesn't burn.
2. Put match in water for same reason.
3. Put match in yeast for same reason.
4. Dissolve lots of sugar in water (mason jar).
5. Put yeast in water and observe fermentation over several days.
6. After fermentation stops, hold match to liquid to show it doesn't burn. Pour liquid through filter into alembic.
7. Put cork w/thermometer into alembic stopper hole.
8. Heat alembic with alchohol lamp.
9. Observe and record temperature at boiling.
10. When evaporation begins, hold match in front of alembic outlet to flare the alchohol vapors.
11. Observe temperature of liquid when flare ceases.
12. Observe temperature when next boil starts.
13. When next boil starts, hold match to exiting gas. Record result.

My question is this: during step 10 is there ANY chance this could go horribly wrong? I know this would be an unacceptable practice with, say, an alembic full of Old #7. But with a non-flammable liquid?
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[*] posted on 22-9-2008 at 07:30


Depending on the type of yeast you use and the conditions you may not get a lot of alcohol, yeast tends to require the right conditions to produce good yields of alcohol.

And you may find it hard to produce a spirit that is sufficiently pure to catch fire by simple distillation.
Why not just collect the spirit in a small dish, warm it and try to set fire to it?
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[*] posted on 22-9-2008 at 07:49


With this kind of experimentation lots could go wrong but in essence not much more than, say, when having a barbeque. Naked flames, potentially inflammable substances and such like are of course the cause of many a fire.

But if I had any objection to this kind of experimentation it would be rather that such relatively complex experiments will fly over the head of most 8 year olds. And the Wow! factor may well obscure any reasoning the child may otherwise have to engage in.

Science is largely about cause and effect and there exist many much simpler (and safer) experiments at the level of an 8 year old that demonstrate the cause and effect principle. Although I'm not a homeschooler, I have carried out many a chemset experiment with my daughter, from the age of about 10 and upwards. My experience is that using complex, quite abstract concepts ruins their attention span completely and the best result that can then be hoped for is that the child politely observes, then thanks dad ("Well done Daddy!!!") but hasn't necessarily taken anything home from the experiment, other perhaps than increased veneration of the ("hero, all-knowing") parent.

Inspiration for what counts as interesting and engaging science experimentation at these young ages should be sought in the science curriculum of most decent schools, IMHO.

[Edited on 22-9-2008 by blogfast25]
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[*] posted on 22-9-2008 at 09:08


I think you should stick to acid base indicators, maybe separating salt and sand etc, heating iron filings with sulphur to make iron sulphide and then reacting it with acid to make hydrogen sulphide etc.
This experiment will take hours spread over a week or two, save it for when they are closer to eighteen rather than eight.
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[*] posted on 22-9-2008 at 09:46


Demonstrating the physical properties of iron and sulphur separately, mixing them together and showing that the mixture can be separated back into iron and sulphur (use a magnet wrapped in a plastic bag), and then finally reacting them in a boiling tube, allowing your son to see that a reaction occurs (due to the fact that heat is produced), and that the compound consisting of iron and sulphur, does not share properties analagous to the individual elements. I would keep acid well away from it however as hydrogen sulphide is really not something I would want around young children.
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[*] posted on 22-9-2008 at 09:48


I agree with the former two posts. This experiment, although nice and sufficiently safe in itself, when carried out correctly, is way too complex and too long-lasting for an 8-year old kid.

Experiments must be complete in at most 15 minutes when kids of this age are involved. A nice experiment is burning of Mg, explaining that Mg and oxygen combine to a compound, where Mg and oxygen are elements. This is a spectacular demo, which can be done in minutes and which can be explained nicely.

I did the following with my 10 year old daughter:
- explain that all matter around her consists of atoms. I presented atoms as simple blobs with handles, which can be attached to each other.
- explain that the number of different kinds of atoms is very limited (ignore isotopes)
- explain the concept of molecules, a molecule being a set of atoms, attached to each other through their handles and tell that EVERY compound around us consists of molecules. Molecules can be as simple as single atoms, or as complex as consiting of thousands of atoms.
- explain that the number of possible molecules is virtually unlimited, even with only a few kinds of atoms . Elements are compounds, consisting of molecules with only one kind of atom in them (take examples, such as oxygen, carbon, diamond, sulphur).

With this basis you can even explain isomers, e.g. CH3CH2OH and CH3OCH3. You have to explain that it does matter how atoms are arranged.

I explained these things and my daughter did understand. I explained that chemical reactions are nothing more than rearrangements of atoms. Molecules are broken apart and new molecules are formed, but atoms never appear nor disappear. I explained this to her with the help of marbles of different colors (I explained burning of natural gas, CH4 with marbles of three different colors).




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[*] posted on 22-9-2008 at 17:22


You can make hydrogen sulphide quite safely and children love it.

Take a small amount, say a piece or two of iron sulphide the size of a lentil, and place it in a boiling tube. Add a few ml of dilute sulphuric acid and warm gently, when gas evolution starts waft gently towards the audience.
When everybody has caught the smell of it add a lot of water to quench the reaction and then pour down the sink, any small pieces of iron sulphide can be collected and thrown in the bin.
The gas is toxic but it is detectable by smell at minute concentrations and it has no cumulative effect.
The substance is commonly formed in hard boiled eggs that have been allowed to stand and masses of leaves that have been allowed to rot underwater in anoxic conditions and in decaying cabbage.
I have been repeatedly told that it smells like eggy sandwiches. Obviously the eggs had been boiled the previous evening, chopped and made up into sandwiches. A warm day and a bit of decay and on opening the box the characteristic smell!
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[*] posted on 22-9-2008 at 17:32


When I was younger, I learned the most by just being able to play with the chemicals as I saw fit... mixing them, igniting (or melting) them, dissolving them... Afterwards I would look at the results and try to figure out what happened. The more I did it, supplemented with adequate reading, the more I learned...

I think thus it would be more beneficial to give free reigns to the experimenter... I personally don't think such simplistic experiments really do much to captivate the imagination. I've never found experiments like that interesting (as a kid or now), and I doubt that will change any time soon...

The coolest stuff was acids, bases, metals, gases. Chemistry in its raw form.

My only wish was that I had been taught more advanced mathematics and physics at a young age... If I knew how to do mental computational quantum mechanics at 12, maybe chemistry would make more sense now!

Seriously though... safety should be the last concern in my opinion, when introducing someone to science. Obviously, this doesn't mean give someone a kilo of sodium, but at least enough that there is a little bit of danger element.

Edit: Woelen, I can bet that if you gave someone a box of chemicals (copper salts, acids bases, some dangerous stuff, maybe some pyrotechnical chemicals) their interest would last for more than 15 minutes. More like a lifetime I think. ;)

And just to clarify: I still have all my fingers, don't have cancer or chemical-related scars. It's pretty obvious after the first second that something like sulfuric acid gets on you, that it shouldn't be there. Wash it off quick though, and there's no damage - just the knowledge that sulfuric acid is f***** awesome. :)

[Edited on 22-9-2008 by PainKilla]
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 04:12


Quote:
Originally posted by PainKilla
When I was younger, I learned the most by just being able to play with the chemicals as I saw fit... mixing them, igniting (or melting) them, dissolving them... Afterwards I would look at the results and try to figure out what happened. The more I did it, supplemented with adequate reading, the more I learned...


Sorry, painkilla, but that all depends how young you are. I'm not a safety freak in the least and recognise that all human activity involves managed risk taking, you however strike me as wanting to throw all caution to the wind, in the name of freedom.

The idea that a child should learn freely by messing with chemicals at will is patently absurd. The nature of modern chemicals is that their often innocuous appearance belies great dangers when used incorrectly, as the many fingerless and eyeless experimenters of much older ages, in particular those whose imagination was somehow caught by 'explosives' testifies.

No, Woelen's approach of at least explaining First Principles to the pupil and then proceed with actual experimentation that illustrates those principles isn't only much safer, it's also much more effective IMHO. Even relatively basic operations like boiling a bit of solution in a test tube using an alcohol or oil burner requires some skill, as anyone who's done it the wrong way will attest.

Tel me, in the name of free experimentation, would you entrust your 8 year old with a bottle of, say, ammonia?
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 04:31


Sure, just not a 28% solution. The smell of ammonia makes it pretty obvious that it's not the safest thing around. I understand that children can be careless, but chemicals are just like hot stoves - dangerous if handled improperly, but otherwise quite useful. I guess I just don't believe in playing big brother for kids. Everyone needs to get burned at some point in their life, else who knows what will happen when they did. It's part of growing up, and part of maturing, realizing that your actions have very real consequences. That's why introducing chemicals is a good idea, just not very dangerous ones. A whiff of 3% ammonia is already enough to make sure that most people treat it with respect.
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 04:57


There are plenty of safe experiments to do, like making slime from borax and PVA glue or recrystallising Rochelle salt.
So in my opinion it is fine to save the toxic and corrosive until they are older and a lot more aware and experienced.
And it is important to teach good technique, there is quite a skill to boiling something in a test tube.
A lot of chemistry teachers today find this sort of basic operation hard. Classical analysis has almost disappeared from schools and university courses are more focussed on instrumental analysis.
And I know that all this finding out for yourself is supposed to foster scientific method, but it has replaced the ability to read a published method, execute it for yourself and then write it up in a competent manner.

[Edited on 23-9-2008 by ScienceSquirrel]
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 05:14


I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an 8-year old that can write up a scientific experiment... I agree that the theoretical aspects are very important, but teaching theory without allowing free practice is equally inefficient. Chemists of back in the day were in my opinion much better off than chemists nowadays. Why? Well aside from the fact that they were better educated, on top of that they had relatively free access to chemicals. I think if you let someone explore science on their own, just being there for them when they have question, will do a lot more good than just holding their hand and making sure they don't stray from the path.
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 05:23


I think you would be hard pressed to find a fifteen year old that can write up a scientific experiment in a competent manner.
Free expression etc is OK in Creative English, sadly the benighted half wits in charge of scientific education have allowed it to creep into school science.
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 06:36


Quote:
Originally posted by PainKilla
Sure, just not a 28% solution. The smell of ammonia makes it pretty obvious that it's not the safest thing around. I understand that children can be careless, but chemicals are just like hot stoves - dangerous if handled improperly, but otherwise quite useful


Most people that know that hot stoves (or chemicals) can be dangerous know this from other people's experience, not from their own scars. It's a human trait that we can learn from another person's (and persons') experience. We don't need individually to experience the whole gamut or possible burns, cuts, bruises, accidents and incidents, to know what and what isn't dangerous or harmful.

I don't know whether or not you're a parent but if you're sooner or later to become one, I'd like to see how you would control your innately protective impulses towards your offspring.

Quote:
Originally posted by PainKilla
Chemists of back in the day were in my opinion much better off than chemists nowadays. Why? Well aside from the fact that they were better educated, on top of that they had relatively free access to chemicals. I think if you let someone explore science on their own, just being there for them when they have question, will do a lot more good than just holding their hand and making sure they don't stray from the path.


Is a romanticised viewpoint. Tell it to the many experimenters that died while trying to isolate fluorine, to name but one example. What's more interesting: carrying out audacious but safe and controlled experiments with the king of non-metals or losing your life (or limb or eyesight) through ignorance, ill-advised passion or haste and the pursuit of fame and fortune?

Regards "holding someone's hand", good education strikes a (difficult) balance: just letting people muddle along is simply irresponsible and not even very effective either.

Yours is a rather extreme, somewhat theoretical, libertarian position, not really born out of realistic experience with education. That much is clear.

[Edited on 23-9-2008 by blogfast25]
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 07:51


DJF/Squirrel--the iron/sulfur experiment is great. I did something similiar with thermite. What I like about the thermite is that the resultant is magnetic where neither of the constituents were.

I agree the original thought is too long and draw out. My wife accuses me of "age appropriate" is not a binary point on either side of "can't talk/can talk".
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 07:54


Squirrel: H2S.....

I'm third generation in the oil patch and thus have a genetic reaction to H2S causing me to run like a raped ape cross wind whenever I smell the least bit of "rotten egg".

Don't have all the relatives I once did because of H2S...think I'll leave that one alone.
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 08:12


I wanted to weigh on the "let your toddler batch in the acid bucket" vs "water should not be experimented with without government supervision" debate.

Wood working, strangely enough, is an analogous activity. It has some deep knowledge, requires analysis (really!), and is seriously skill based. There are also methods of learning and tools and woods (ingredients) that range from very safe to slow chronic exposure death to insta-death.

Many woodworkers either don't teach their kids, or are so "safety conscious" that teaching is no-fun for Junior because the primary concern is not getting a hand lopped off on the table saw. This is the reason so many schools in America don't have "woodshop" any more, and that by and large is the reason you only see immigrants building houses here.

On the other hand, you can teach children woodworking from a very young age. First rule, you have to start with real safety basics such as training (not education, TRAINING) on how not to get your hand in front of a blade. Or...how you pour things, why you wear splash goggles, etc Second rule: the meeks burner, the lathe (death by spinning), and the table saw are off limits until a certain level of confidence an maturity are reached.
Third Rule: the concentrated acids, Rosewoods, Lacewood, and anhydrous ammonia are off limits until a certain maturity level, skill level, and committment to PPE are demonstrated. Fourth rule: you leave your great-granddaddy's hammer, or your daddy's distillation tube out in the front yard over night and you get a whuppin'.

Within those limits, at a young age, I think there is a lot of good stuff to be done that will really pique interest.

Something that would help me, and maybe others, would be a list of a dozen or so chemicals having the following properties:

1. non-toxic OR so horrible tasting that no kid is going to drink enough to be poisened.
2. Will have "interesting" reactions when mixed together.
3. can be safely handled with bare hands.
4. won't make bad poisons when mixed
5. won't burn too hot or "explode" when hit with a match (sulfur may be in, gasoline is out)

I'll start with 4 already mentioned on this page.

1. Vinegar
2. baking soda
3. Borax
4. PVA glue (I'm rushing right home to try the slime after work!)

The point of the list is to make that 8 year old chemistry that can be used as Painkilla suggests without having mommy cutting off marital favors for a year.
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 09:59


You can add phenolphtalein indicator solution, 1% HCl and 1% NH3 to this list. With these two chemicals added to the list you can also do acid/base indication reactions. Red cabbage juice is interesting as well. With these chemicals there will be no dangerous situations, even if the kids get some of the liquids in their eye.



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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 10:27


Woelen, thanks. I just picked up a bottle of muriatic acid so I can dilute that. Ammonia: are there any ammonia products that you know of that are ONLY water and ammonia w/o all the soap(s) added?

Red cabbage juice acid/base indication is something I have found memories of.
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 12:51


Apropos of chemistry with food, see The Cookbook Decoder, by Arthur E. Grosser. It's essentially a few chemistry lessons using kitchen recipes for its experiments.

Also, turmeric is another pH indicator.
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 13:04


The school of child education I subscribe to is that you teach inherently dangerous subjects (like chemistry) with a combination of obvious danger plus ritual. The danger has to be obvious and the ritual has to be physically effective.

The experience of obvious danger trains kids for dealing with non-obvious danger. My favorite obvious danger is fire. It's easy to sense and straightforward to deal with.

"Always put on your protective google before entering the lab" is a ritual practice. "Always wear protective eyewear while in the lab" is a bureaucrat's rule. Teach the ritual and not the rule. First teach your kids to do the rituals and then later teach them why they do them. As they mature, their own rituals will condense down to psychological habits.

My recommended first real experiment is calcination of slaked lime, followed by slaking the resultant quicklime. Repeat, and the repetition is the first real lesson about atomic elements and the conservation of mass. It's an experiental lesson, not a theoretical one. The experience of seeing something undergo a cyclic transformation indicates that there something not-directly-seen going on. That kind of experience is what drives curiosity, and curiosity drives lifetimes of interest.
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 14:35


Quote:
Originally posted by blogfast25
Most people that know that hot stoves (or chemicals) can be dangerous know this from other people's experience, not from their own scars. It's a human trait that we can learn from another person's (and persons') experience. We don't need individually to experience the whole gamut or possible burns, cuts, bruises, accidents and incidents, to know what and what isn't dangerous or harmful.

I don't know whether or not you're a parent but if you're sooner or later to become one, I'd like to see how you would control your innately protective impulses towards your offspring.

... Tell it to the many experimenters that died while trying to isolate fluorine, to name but one example. What's more interesting: carrying out audacious but safe and controlled experiments with the king of non-metals or losing your life (or limb or eyesight) through ignorance, ill-advised passion or haste and the pursuit of fame and fortune?

Regards "holding someone's hand", good education strikes a (difficult) balance: just letting people muddle along is simply irresponsible and not even very effective either.

Yours is a rather extreme, somewhat theoretical, libertarian position, not really born out of realistic experience with education. That much is clear.


Don't put words into my mouth. I suppose if you take what I said completely out of context, you can arrive at that conclusion - however I never said for anyone to start giving children very dangerous chemicals, I said for them to be allowed to experiment freely with what they have. There is no need to give a child LiAlH4 and tell them: "Here figure out what this does." And especially not fluorine.

What I did say, was the children should have the freedom to explore science at they see fit, making observations for themselves. You don't have to start off by giving them KCN and HCl (together), but you can start by giving them a whole bunch of salts, acids and bases so they can see what happens when you _____. Obviously basic technique should be shown, as this merely assists in the learning process. But guiding children through everything merely impedes their progress - science is about making observations through reasoning and analysis. If everyone followed the same process, science wouldn't be what it is today.

I personally would have felt (and do feel) extremely restricted when I am told I *must* do some experiment in only one way. There is no such thing as a "right" way. And frankly, I don't think your basic child needs to be trained in how to handle diazomethane; teach basic safety (goggles, gloves), and then let them explore science for themselves (again, you are supplying the chemicals, and thereby controlling the danger).

A child with a real love for the subject will come to you with question, or perhaps requests for tips and hints. But guiding someone along without allowing them to develop an interest in the science is... not very effective. I don't know about you, but I'd rather solve a problem that I created, rather than solve a problem that's already been solved (like in simple experiments).

And just so you know, my "romantic" and theoretical point of view is actually based in reality, because this is exactly how I learned. I read about chemistry in books, started playing with chemicals in kits and household items, and was eventually (12-13) given free reign to order whatever I wanted. My interests spanned first toward pyrotechnics (as many young chemists), and eventually towards organic/physical chemistry.

So to reiterate: give children freedom in how they explore science - train them, but don't say "do this experiment." There's no need to give them fluorine or sodium, but there is reason to give enough chemicals that some interesting things can be done with them, enough to inspire interest in theory.

Do you think teaching a child physics by telling them to follow instructions on how a spring works would be more effective than letting them experiment themselves, and try and figure it out through reason and observation? If you want to develop a scientific mind, then let reason and observation flow naturally from the observer, don't just feed them information (as just about all simple experiments do). I think you don't give enough credit to just how curious children are.

And you *don't* need fluorine to do it.

PS: ScienceSquirrel, what's your point then? Are you saying if you do experiments you will be illiterate? That's certainly not the case. Experimenting and reading go hand in hand. An eight-year old will be hard-pressed to write a dissertation on their experiments. A well-educated 15-year-old wouldn't be (although, they may lack the motivation to do it). Naturally, science relies on language, but to say someone that does experimental science is going to turn out worse than someone who does only theoretical science is naive. There is a place for both, but the theory can often be less interesting at a young age than experiment... at least that's what my experience, and experience with other children has taught - which is why I'd rather have children develop interest at a young age, while concurrently developing skills in other subjects (rather than developing theory, without practical application of it)- by the time they deem themselves old enough to do research, their language skills will have quite developed.

As an aside, the approach you advocate is the approach used by most schools in America - lots of theory, without any sort of practice. So you get people uninterested in theory, and experiment even less (because they think the experiment will be as boring as the theory - or worse). And we can all see how well the system doesn't work in the US...

[Edited on 23-9-2008 by PainKilla]
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[*] posted on 23-9-2008 at 14:49


Logwood is readily available from various vendors on ebay.

A good dye and indicator.
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[*] posted on 24-9-2008 at 05:46


PainKilla:

No words are being put into your mouth and nothing is being pulled out of context either.

Nowhere did I say you suggested giving children fluorine or LiAlH4, read what I wrote again. The fluorine was in reference to the several adult, distinguished and qualified experimenters that died or got seriously injured while trying to isolate this most dangerous of non-metals. It shows that ignorance, even legitimate ignorance, can be very dangerous. And children are by definition the most ignorant of all human beings. Nowhere did I even mention LiAlH4. The context is here for all to see and read.

As regards <i>prescribing</i> experiments rather than <i>letting rip</i>, the latter may have worked for you but most people learn by example, whether that is in the arts, sciences, literature, sports or whatever (including woodwork - lol).

Most great artists, scientists etc etc became great by firstly copying the master and later putting in their own creativity, putting their own take on things and questioning the existing order of things. Even the many autodidacts didn't exactly learn everything from scratch; they too consulted and learned from what went before.

Still today (and I'm 47 and a fully qualified chemist) I prefer when experimenting, to seek for inspiration from those that went before me, to find starting points and to avoid reinventing the wheel all over again. It's a solid principle of scientific development.

Seems to me that you are willing, simply put, to throw away didactic principles that have been developed, honed and refined over most of Mankind's existence, for the sake of an imperfect principle, namely that unguided experimentation stimulates the imagination.

Tell me, what exactly would an 8 year old learn from mixing vinegar with dilute ammonia? Precious little, if you ask me, depending of course largely on prior knowledge.

[Edited on 24-9-2008 by blogfast25]
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[*] posted on 24-9-2008 at 06:42


Quote:
Originally posted by ScienceSquirrel
I think you would be hard pressed to find a fifteen year old that can write up a scientific experiment in a competent manner.
Free expression etc is OK in Creative English, sadly the benighted half wits in charge of scientific education have allowed it to creep into school science.


If you read my post you will see that I am bemoaning the loss of the teaching of formal grammar, spelling etc.
In Ulysses James Joyce breaks all the rules of written English, but he knew there were rules to break.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_(novel)

One of the most depresssing things about science teaching is that the English department thinks that it will stunt the poor things' creative growth if they teach them about paragraphs and capital letters.

[Edited on 24-9-2008 by ScienceSquirrel]
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