Fair Science Books is an idea that has its origin in an experience that I had way back in middle school:
I took algebra in middle school. At the end of the 1st semester, I was the best student in the class. I’m not saying that to brag. I’m saying that for context.
Because at the start of the 2nd semester, my algebra teacher announced that he was going to try something. All the students who got As or Bs in the 1st semester were going to start tutoring either one or two of their fellow students with a grade of a C or lower. These pairs or groups of 3 would work together in class for the rest of the semester.
Since I had the highest grade, my assignment was to tutor the 2 students in the class with the lowest grades. I don’t know what their grades were in the 1st semester, but, if I had to guess, I bet that they were failing, maybe even failing badly.
So we met in a group for the first time. We introduced ourselves. I don’t think that anyone was happy to be in that little group of 3.
I decided to be a good soldier. I briefly reviewed our math lesson. I summarized what I thought was important out of what our teacher had said.
They didn’t understand a lesson that I thought was painfully obvious. They peppered me with questions. Finally, I realized that all the questions were getting at the same thing. They wanted to know WHY the Pythagorean theory worked.
I tried to explain that you don’t need to know why to do the problems. All you need to know is that A squared + B squared= C squared. It’s not that complicated.
My mansplaining didn’t help. So I decided to finally answer their question. Why does the Pythagorean theory work? I told them something like try drawing a bunch of different sized right triangles. You’ll notice that even though they are different sizes, all the sides are proportional. A right triangle, no matter the size, has a definite shape, and the formula from the Pythagorean theory describes the relationships of the three sides of the triangle.
To my amazement, they then decided that the Pythagorean theory wasn’t that hard. We sat down and quickly finished our work.
That’s how it went from then on. The algebra teacher would introduce a lesson, we’d go into our group, I’d explain why the concept he introduced worked, and we’d fly through our homework.
By the end of the semester, my group had the 3 best grades in the class. We’re talking about 2 students who were probably failing and possibly would’ve failed and had to repeat algebra without the tutoring. Now they were at the top of the class.
The algebra teacher cornered me one day. He looked at me with the kind of awe I might look at someone with if I seriously believed that they were a witch. He basically told me that he thought that I was a miracle worker. I felt like telling him, “Yeah, when I first worked with them, I thought that they were probably idiots too, but it turns out we’re the idiots.”
You’ve probably figured out by now that the 2 students that I tutored were girls.
This experience made me wonder. Could a simple adjustment in teaching style lead to more girls succeeding in math and science? How much talent in math and science have we lost over the generations? How many cures, inventions, and theories have we lost by not teaching science and math in context? And what can we do to change the status quo?
Fair Science Books is an attempt to answer that last question.