The study of science must be well
positioned in a broader, humanistic context. I like to call it the "big
picture." The big picture should illustrate that science is a basic human endeavor
that has left a trail of historical change. Science is full of names, faces, and
interesting stories that have affected the growth of civilization. The social and economic
ramifications of science are ever present; from miracle drugs to the weapons of war, no
life has gone unaffected.
The big picture should also include an understanding of the insights and thought processes that unite scientists in every discipline. All scientists are involved in an organized pursuit of answers to questions about our world. A biologist's questions explore the world from a different angle than a physicist. The differences between biology and physics should be made clear. However, students must absorb that all scientists are compelled by an innate curiosity and desire to comprehend and appreciate their world. This curiosity is present in us all and can "catch fire" with the proper inspiration.
Students enjoy science when they are given the opportunity to experience it and the guidance to enjoy it. Science is a participatory sport. With the proper framework and coaching, a student can embark on a lifetime of independent thinking and learning.
Technology can have the same effect on the teaching of science. Technology has made the secrets of the universe increasingly vulnerable. Scientists have more sensitive tools for data collection, more efficient means of communicating, and access to more information than ever before. These same technologies can provide teachers with exciting opportunities for innovation. These technologies also offer students incredible opportunities for exploration. Exposure to these tools will enhance all facets of the education process.
The best resources available to children will remain effective teachers, both in the classroom and the parents at home. Good teachers transcend textbooks, laserdiscs, and computers. Their knowledge, enthusiasm, and interest in helping children will always shine through any threatening clouds of mediocrity.
The highest goal for science educators should not be to create scientists, but to create scientific thought. Most of our students will not become career scientists. However, all of our students can improve their lives by using a logical reasoning process to help them face the myriad of problems and decisions that we call life.
I am not obsessed with content. My goal
will never be to cover the first 20 chapters in a textbook. Unfortunately, standardized
testing has encouraged science teachers to race through a sea of "facts" and
problems without achieving the depth required for true student learning. Students are left
exhausted from an experience that has little long-term value because much of their
"achievement" was due to rote memorization of information and problem-solving
methods. The emphasis becomes "what" with little time for the "why"
and "how". As a teacher, I feel that it is important to focus on learning much
more and on content much less. There are certainly important themes which represent
essential content, but much of the content in a textbook is nonessential to getting the
flavor of chemistry and is particularly nonessential to making it taste good. I believe
the focus should be on the "why" and "how". The "what" is of
secondary importance because if we accomplish the first two than students will have
learned how to learn. Students who become independent thinkers and learners will always be
able to find the "what" on their own.
In a good classroom setting, both teacher and student should be seen as learners. A teacher should be an individual who has spent all of their life learning and a good portion of it sharing the joy of learning with others. In the classroom, the teacher represents the experienced learner and the student represents the apprentice learner. All of our subjects and courses promote learning by focusing on different components of our world and studying them. These studies should allow a student to construct a world view that includes knowledge and perspectives relevant to that subject. A teacher has found a way of learning about their world that has particularly fascinated them and inspired them to share this experience with others. I have enjoyed learning about the world by looking through many different lenses, but I particularly enjoy the lens employed by chemists. The lens I want to share with my students views the world in its finest detail. My lens seeks to understand the world by examining its material makeup. Everything around us, living and non-living, is composed of the basic building blocks we call atoms. By taking a journey into the atomic world, students can gain a new understanding and appreciation for the world and their role in it. The same can be said for courses in history, language, mathematics, etc. It is my hope that students will find my lens an interesting one and will leave my course as more seasoned learners with fresh knowledge and perspectives that will motivate and enhance a lifetime of learning.