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On Science Teaching

Science Manifesto

I came to high-school teaching after doing science at the graduate level. I usually have a good grasp of the material, but I have had to learn all the child psychology and pedagogy from scratch. As such, I’ve taken many education professional development classes.

I love science, but I sort of hate education classes. Something about the way a teacher is talked to riles me. Not only that, but sometimes other teachers get on my nerves. I suppose its not politic to say, but often listening to how high-school science teachers talk makes me mad.

I see teachers who are timid and afraid to teach; not simply because they don’t understand all the material, but because they don’t believe what they are saying. It doesn’t just make me sad, it disturbs me greatly.

When I went back to teach in high-school, I found out something that I should have known, but did not remember. That most teachers were the good students in school. The ones who knew what the teacher wanted them to do and say. They knew how to pass a class. How to take a test.
And as I sat in the room with the other teachers, I could imagine how some of them got there.  In college, they probably just learned what they had to say to get by. They learned to spout back the words of the teacher. They were never really convinced that science was true. They thought, and probably still think, that science is just a matter of opinion.

But I believe in the natural world. I believe that the world has rules and man can understand them. In fact, I believe that understanding the world is one of the great purposes of man.

Science should not be taught as a series of rules or facts. Science is a process. It is a technique for finding out about the world. Using the scientific process we come closer and closer to the truth. We whittle away at our beliefs until we find something close to what is.

And yet how do we teach science?

We dogmatically insist that there is only one way to solve a problem or describe the world.  We get students to memorize facts and don’t show them where those facts come from or how they could derive them themselves.  We use our position as teacher to demonstrate our power over the students rather than demonstrating to the students how science gives them power over the world. We bore students with inflexible curricula that does not reflect their needs or interests.
I lose heart when I am told that the stakes of testing are so high that we don’t have time to teach things that are relevant to our students lives, but are not on the test and therefore are not as important.

I lose heart when I am encouraged to teach certain theories poorly because some people object to the effect that these truths will have on their children.

The truth is the truth. The world is the world. Science works!
We won’t be successful as science teachers unless our students leave school believing that fact.

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