Science is a practical subject. It is also a literary subject. Reading science texts is important. It is the key to a scientific career and should have equal status to practical work in school’s curricula. It doesn’t. I have taught children about cells for twenty years, but until recently, I had never read Hooke’s account of his discovery. I also haven’t read Newton’s Principia and I’ve got a physics degree. There, I’ve said it. It’s as though I’ve only read the York Notes and not the novel.
My last blog was about adapting older texts for use in schools (here). I used a travel journal extract by Mary Kingsley, a Victorian scientific traveller. It is an engaging text full of adventure, charm and bravery. Children enjoy it. I have written about adapting Origin of Species (here): an ongoing project.
Today’s adaptation is also close to the heart of the science curriculum. It is from Micrographia, 17th century book by Robert Hooke which describes his discovery of the cell.
Original Text – from Micrographia
Robert Hooke 1665
I took a good clear piece of Cork and with a Pen-knife sharpen’d as keen as a Razor, I cut a piece of it off, and thereby left the surface of it exceeding smooth, then examining it very diligently with a Microscope, me thought I could perceive it to appear a little porous; but I could not so plainly distinguish them, as to be sure that they were pores, much less what Figure they were of: But judging from the lightness and yielding quality of the Cork, that certainly the texture could not be so curious, but that possibly, if I could use some further diligence, I might find it to be discernable with a Microscope, I with the same sharp Penknife, cut off from the former smooth surface an exceeding thin piece of it with a deep plano-convex Glass, I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb, but that the pores of it were not regular; yet it was not unlike a Honey-comb in these particulars.
First, in that it had a very little solid substance, in comparison of the empty cavity that was contain’d between, as does more manifestly appear by the Figure A and B of the XI. Scheme, for the Interstitia, or walls (as I may so call them) or partitions of those pores were neer as thin in proportion to their pores, as those thin films of Wax in a Honey-comb (which enclose and constitute the sexangular celts) are to theirs.
Next, in that these pores, or cells, were not very deep, but constituted of a great many little Boxes, separated out of one continued long pore, by certain Diaphragms…
I no sooner discerned these (which were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any Writer or Person, that had made any mention of them before this) but me thought I had with the discovery of them, presently hinted to me the true and intelligible reason of all the Phænomena of Cork.
Statistically, this text is suitable for 28 year olds (highlighting one of the problems with text analysers). Shakespearean spellings and grammar obscure a simple text. The challenge is not in keeping the meaning, but in keeping the flavour.
Therefore, I have kept some archaic spellings and unconventional punctuation. Keeping ‘me thought’ is fun too. So here it is, more read about than read: an adaption of Hooke’s discovery of cells in (mostly) his own words.
Adapted Text – from Micrographia
Robert Hooke 1665
I took a piece of Cork and with a Pen-knife as sharp as a Razor, cut a piece of it off, and left it smooth. Then examining it very carefully with a Microscope, me thought it looked a little porous; but I could not be sure. Judging from the lightness and yielding quality of the Cork, possibly I might discern the texture with a Microscope.
With the same sharp Penknife, I cut an exceeding thin piece of it and with a stronger lens, I could plainly see it was full of holes, like a Honey-comb.
First it was mostly empty space compared to the thickness of the walls, which were nearly as thin as the wax walls in Honey-comb. Next, these holes, or cells, were not very deep, but constituted of a great many little Boxes.
As soon as I saw these (which were indeed the first microscopical holes I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen) I thought I had the discovery of them. They hinted to me the true and understandable reason of all the Phænomena of Cork.
Now suitable, according to the analyser, for 14 year olds, although, with a bit of teaching, I’ve used it with 11 year olds too. Teaching literary science requires skills found far more in primary teachers than secondary science teachers. However, secondary science teachers are more likely to have the depth of subject knowledge to identify and adapt the texts. As always, we have much to learn from each other and too few opportunities.