I highly suggest Science Education As a Call to Action; a very interesting read by Derek Hodson, retired Professor from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Below I reflect on his paper and it’s relevance to teaching and learning in today’s classrooms.
As an aspiring high school science teacher, Hodson’s reading has definitely made me reflect on what it is to provide a positive and fulfilling experience within the classroom. Dominantly, science is presented to students in secondary and post-secondary education in a very positivistic manner, through the application of textbook science. Textbook science embeds ideas of facts, formulas, equations and certainty in the minds of learners. This method of teaching severely diminishes the critical thinking abilities of students, resulting in a difficult transition from secondary to post-secondary education where student’s scientific worldview is strongly challenged. Instead of thinking in concrete, black and white, terms we are asked to view the world, scientifically, through the broader social institutions with which it is embedded; challenging our preconceived ideas with constructivist ideologies. The concepts within a civic orientation are not what makes this challenging, but rather it is the idea that the theories presented in the ‘soft sciences’ can actually be applied to the ‘natural or hard sciences’, two areas that are often presented as distinct from one another. Becoming less reliant on a purely practical orientation and acknowledging the significance of cultural and civic orientations is crucial to promote critical thinking, changing the lens in which we view the world.
Incorporating civic and cultural orientations into the secondary curriculum is vital. Currently students are graduating with a very one-dimensional view of the world and as a result their future choices are affected. My personal definition of scientific literacy incorporates practical, civic and cultural orientations. Although practical is unidirectional, with its roots in positivism, it is crucial to the understanding of the fundamentals of science. With these fundamentals of science in place, civic and cultural orientations can be used to critically analyze the origins and applications of the scientific method. Gaining an understanding that science is inextricably tied to broader social structures, although not always obvious, will develop more holistic members of society. This will change the worldview of individuals as they become in tune to the relationships that are evident between politics, culture and science. I think that Hodson’s proposed levels of sophistication should be implemented into our curriculum. This would allow our young minds to begin to critically think in preparation for latter years.
Once a learner has developed the fundamentals and reached a level of maturity, exposing them to civic and cultural orientations would be beneficial. This should be done through inquiry-based learning, which is extremely individualized, to create authentic learning for each student. My secondary and post secondary education has been very rigid, unidirectional and has not played a key role in developing the kinds of scientific literacy I deem to be important. Hodson’s argument for a shift to a more radical approach to scientific literacy is a positive shift to make in the classroom, recognizing the weaknesses within teaching and learning.
Textbook science often places the scientific method and knowledge on a shining podium. Through the study of civil societies and social movement groups, the motivation behind research agendas (and consequently what has been left undone) and the way in which everything within our culture is framed by the media and larger social institutions, students will become more proactive within their studies. They will develop the crucial analytic skills to effectively build their own opinions about the place and role of science, politics and culture in society. Students will have the critical analytic skills necessary to make educated inquisitions to determine fact from what has been effectively amplified and framed, rather than consistently taking a story at face value.
Both the secondary and post secondary scientific education needs to be reanalyzed. We will never be able to get away from practical definitions of scientific literacy, nor should we. Practical definitions are essential to science. This being said, the unidirectional nature of scientific literacy must be reassessed to incorporate both cultural and civic definitions. Only when this is done will students be provided with the proper tools to expand their worldview and recognize the various issues within society. Positivistic science takes social institutions for granted. A shift to a constructivist way of knowing, while not denying the role scientists play in society, will allow society to uncover and recognize roots as well as motivations and causes behind policy implementations, research and design. We are exposed to framing on a daily basis, however this goes unrecognized. Civil and cultural literacy will bring a spotlight to what has been present all along, but will no longer be taken for granted.
I think that this paper brings light to some extremely important shortfalls in the education we are providing our students. With this knowledge and the Alberta Program of Studies, I think we can work together, collectively as educators to provide our students with a far more holistic science education. In doing so, we will push our students to be come reflective, critical thinking members of society.
Until next time,