Two basic things drive me to teach science: a seemingly unending fascination with science and a belief that teaching science will help enrich the lives of my students and help equalize opportunity for everyone in the world. My main aim as a physics teacher is therefore to impart the nature of science to my students in ways that help them become more enriched, critically thinking, and respectful global citizens.
For more about how I aim to help equalize opportunities, go here.
What is science and what does “doing science” mean?
In my journey through different scientific disciplines and applications, I have seen and participated in a wide array of science research, from the behavior of bacteria flagella to the behavior of galaxies, and from the abstract thermodynamics of ecosystems to the applied impacts of pollution on public health. The common components across these studies can be summarized by a set of concepts called the “Nature of Science” (NOS).
The Nature of Science encompasses an array of approaches and ideas, so I have summarized below the main ideas I want to impart to my students (based on Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990, Ch. 1; McComas, 2004; Chiappetta & Koballa, 2004):
(1) Science attempts to observe the natural world, explain the natural world based on these observations, and then make accurate predictions.
(2) Scientific knowledge is durable but subject to change.
(3) Conducting science involves creativity in choosing what to observe, how to observe it, how to explain observations, and in devising overarching theories and laws; there is no single unidirectional “scientific method”.
(4) Scientists attempt to minimize bias and thus require repeatability and critical review, but knowledge is still influenced by human subjectivity and societal influence.
As I describe below, I believe that teaching my students to understand and apply these NOS ideas will help enrich their lives and the societies they are a part of.
Equalizing opportunity by helping my students be more responsible global citizens
I am most driven to help reduce inequality of opportunities, particularly in ways that cultivate community and social interactions. I am particularly drawn to public secondary education because of the personal relationships with students and high potential to help equalize opportunities. Trained physicists have many other jobs to choose from, so only 34% of public school physics teachers majored in physics or physics education (http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/reports/hsteachers.pdf ). I aim to help increase educational equity by adding to the number of qualified science teachers and thereby enhancing public access to a good science education.
In a less direct but still very important approach, I also aim to equalize opportunities by helping my students develop skills that will make them more responsible global citizens. Based on the tenets of the Nature of Science and multicultural instruction, a science education would help foster more responsible citizens by helping my students be better critical thinkers and have a better understanding of what science can tell us.
Rather than rote memorization or superficial understanding of scientific methods and formulae, I will foster critical thinking skills in my students. This will involve emphasizing the second and fourth NOS ideas listed above, encouraging my students to personally and creatively engage in observations, explanations and predictions of the natural world. Cultivating the habits that help them better examine the different parameters of a problem will enhance their critical thinking, and hopefully will transfer to other aspects of their lives.
All four of the NOS ideas above will also help students better understand how science can inform and contribute to society, including the strengths and limitations of science. Students are less prone to believe misinformation if they are better versed in the NOS ideas that science aims to make evidence-based, peer-reviewed claims that can be subject to change but are generally durable due to the process of scientific inquiry.
A student-centered classroom
Coming from an academic background full of lectures and one-way presentations, it has been challenging to face the realities of education research and put the reins of learning back in the hands of the students. They don’t learn by having me explain how the world works – they learn by bringing up their individual misconceptions, and forming new schema based on new observations and information. I believe in constantly moving away from a teacher-centered classroom, and towards a student-centered classroom where students are guided toward discovering their own understanding rather than having it given to them.
Take-home points for my students
I want my students to walk away from my class understanding the basic tenets of the nature of science – scientific knowledge is durable but subject to change, it requires evidence based on observations, it involves creativity at all points, and it attempts to minimize bias and require critical review but is still influenced by human subjectivity and societal influence. I’d like to teach these ideas in such a way that they come into play in three different levels of my students’ lives.
First, I will teach science in ways that help my students understand and explain the world around them. I believe this understanding fosters respect, admiration and appreciation of this world and will therefore enrich the lives of my students.
On the societal scale, understanding science will help my students be more responsible global citizens as described above. It will help them think critically and skeptically about the multitude of information and messages coming their way.
Finally, I aim to teach the NOS ideas in ways that help my students find a rewarding job and excel at it. Every job requires people to interact with society, and a scientific approach can enhance and optimize these interactions. Some students will continue in science to contribute to technological and basic science research, and for some it will be an important basis upon which more specific technical knowledge is added (e.g., medicine and architecture). Even for artists though, understanding science and having the ability to observe, explain and predict patterns can help in the art itself, in the choice of materials, and in choosing appropriate prices for selling their work.
Therefore in every physics topic that I teach, I aim to explain the ways in which this topic helps us understand the world around us, explain how this understanding helps us be better citizens, and explain how the topic is directly linked to jobs my students may later go into.
For more details on the characteristics of my teaching, go here.
Chiappetta, E. L., & Koballa,Thomas R.,,Jr. (2004). Quizzing students on the myths of science. The Science Teacher, 71(9), 58-61. Retrieved from
McComas, W. F. (2004). Keys to teaching the nature of science. The Science Teacher, 71(9), 24-27. Retrieved from
Rutherford, F. J., & Ahlgren, A. (1990). Science for all Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.
I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.