I am working as a Class Advisor in the Dean of Studies office. I talk with many of the students who seek general advice about academic matters.
Many students, often who have taken AP courses in science in high school, say to me,
“Science is not for me.” “I’m not a sciency-type.” “I’m not interested in science.”
image from: http://gopscience.org/2011/11/the-anti-science-pledge/
Why not? These same students, to get into this liberal arts college, took science and math throughout high school, often advanced or honors classes and did well academically. Where do they get the idea that science is something to avoid?
1. Science is bigger than human-centered subjects like history, literature, language, music, art. Perhaps it’s overwhelming to think deeply about the implications of concepts like evolution, the big bang, subatomic particles. We can get out of our comfort zone pretty fast.
2. Science is a moving target, forever advancing and getting more complicated. It’s hard to keep up and really hard to catch up. What you learn in high school is often so different by the time you have kids of your own that you can’t easily help them with their science homework. Science changes faster than iPod models.
3. Science is like a foreign language but is not taught that way. The vocab is pretty rough. Words like “biogeochemical” or “neurotransmission” don’t work well in our texting, tweeting world. Why is it that the only writing that kids learn with regard to science is IMRAD?
4. Science is an extreme sport for the brain, and needs to be practiced like that. If we take some time off from science, which most people do, it’s hard work to get back in shape. Meanwhile, the vocabulary has changed.
image from: http://swissnexsanfrancisco.org/Ourwork/events/citizenscience
5. A lot of the time, what we’re learning about and discovering in science is not good news. It’s a bummer to learn about climate change. It’s a bummer to think about cancer. Ongoing human-caused mass extinctions are kind of depressing to think about, let alone acknowledge. This leads many of us to feel helpless, like what’s the point.
6. Many students come to us from families, school districts, neighborhoods where science is definitely not in the forefront, nor is it integrated into the social fabric of our communities.
Why is Science so important?
1. A basic human motivator is to try to understand WHY. Why did something happen? How does something work? Curiosity about the world around us, about what makes it and us TICK is at the foundation of invention, of creativity. Teaching science well can nurture that curiosity, can satisfy some of that yearning to understand WHY. Understanding why a year is what it is for us on planet Earth feels good. Understanding how organisms are all connected by the long thin thread of evolutionary change gives depth to our sense of stewardship of the Earth.
2. Having a methodology to turn our native curiosity into knowledge gives us the power and possibility of invention, of finding solutions to problems.
3. A knowledge and love of science is the ultimate equalizer, the pathway to human rights and a better quality of life. Countries with strongly supported science programs are better off economically, have greater numbers of people creating new technologies.
4. Our knowledge of how and why things are the way they are in the natural world is our greatest natural resource, second only to water. The way we acquire that knowledge and understanding, called the scientific method, is not difficult, nor does not require memorizing a list of words: observations, hypothesis, experimentation, interpretation. These are simply ways we go about learning.
image from: http://venspired.com/?p=3596
So, let’s try to figure out ways to make studying science as attractive as learning how to use that new smartphone!
Why is science education important in our schools? We are surrounded by technology and the products of science every day. Public policy decisions that affect every aspect of our lives are based in scientific evidence. And, of course, the immensely complex natural world that surrounds us illustrates infinite scientific concepts. As children grow up in an increasingly technologically and scientifically advanced world, they need to be scientifically literate to succeed.
Ideally, teaching the scientific method to students is teaching them how to think, learn, solve problems and make informed decisions. These skills are integral to every aspect of a student’s education and life, from school to career. With a graduate degree in science education such as the University of Texas at Arlington’s online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction in Science Education, teachers can use what they learn about science instruction techniques and curriculum design to advance science education and student learning as a whole.
Science is everywhere. A student rides to school on a bus, and in that instance alone, there are many examples of technology based on the scientific method. The school bus is a product of many areas of science and technology, including mechanical engineering and innovation. The systems of roads, lights, sidewalks and other infrastructure are carefully designed by civil engineers and planners. The smartphone in the student’s hand is a miracle of modern computer engineering.
Outside the window, trees turn sunlight into stored energy and create the oxygen we need to survive. Whether “natural” or human-derived, every aspect of a student’s life is filled with science — from their own internal biology to the flat-screen TV in the living room.
Perhaps even more important than specific examples of science in our lives are the ways we use scientific thought, method and inquiry to come to our decisions. This is not necessarily a conscious thing. The human need to solve problems can arise from curiosity or from necessity. The process of inquiry is how we find answers and substantiate those answers.
In the fields of hard science, the process of inquiry is more direct and finite: Take a question; use evidence to form an explanation; connect that explanation to existing knowledge; and communicate that evidence-based explanation. Experimentation based on the scientific method follows a similar course: Combine a scientific question with research to construct a hypothesis; conduct experiments to test that hypothesis; evaluate the results to draw conclusions; and communicate those conclusions.
Although inquiry and the scientific method are integral to science education and practice, every decision we make is based on these processes. Natural human curiosity and necessity lead to asking questions (What is the problem?), constructing a hypothesis (How do I solve it?), testing it with evidence and evaluating the result (Did the solution work?), and making future decisions based on that result.
This is problem-solving: using critical thinking and evidence to create solutions and make decisions. Problem-solving and critical thinking are two of the most important skills students learn in school. They are essential to making good decisions that lead to achievement and success during and after school.
Yet, although they are nearly synonymous, scientific inquiry in schools is not always explicitly tied to problem-solving and critical thinking. The process students learn when creating, executing, evaluating and communicating the results of an experiment can be applied to any challenge they face in school, from proving a point in a persuasive essay to developing a photo in the darkroom. In this way, science is one of the most important subjects students study, because it gives them the critical thinking skills they need in every subject.
Governmental guidelines and tests often focus on middle and high school-level STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. Yet, many educators believe science education should begin much earlier. Not only does science education teach young learners problem-solving skills that will help them throughout their schooling, it also engages them in science from the start.
Kids usually form a basic opinion about the sciences shortly after beginning school. If this is a negative opinion, it can be hard to engage those students in science as they grow older. Engaging young students with exciting material and experiences motivates them to learn and pursue the sciences throughout school.
Science education is one of the most important subjects in school due to its relevance to students’ lives and the universally applicable problem-solving and critical thinking skills it uses and develops. These are lifelong skills that allow students to generate ideas, weigh decisions intelligently and even understand the evidence behind public policy-making. Teaching technological literacy, critical thinking and problem-solving through science education gives students the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in school and beyond.
Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction — Science Education program.
Science Buddies: Steps of the Scientific Method
NSTA News: Defining Inquiry
Steve Spangler Science: Why Early Childhood Science Education Is Important
The National Academies Press: National Science Education Standards: An Overview
NSTA News: Professional Learning
Journal of Translational Medicine: Why Is Public Science Education Important?
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