July 18, 2010

Quote of the Day: Science and Education

This comes from "Why I am Not a Scientist," by Jonathan Marks:

"If science is a process of knowledge production, then is science education best expressed as teaching students the process or as teaching them the knowledge itself? If we focus on teaching students the accumulated knowledge, the facts of science, then we are not actually teaching them science. Rather, we are teaching them science's products, and indeed we are misleading them by substituting the teaching of scientific facts, as if it were the teaching of science itself."*

Marks' statement about teaching science applies to all kinds of teaching, if you ask me. The facts (dates, times, results) are less important than knowing how to get to the facts. Knowing how to solve problems, find information, and challenge assumptions is more important than knowing superficial content. There is a substantial difference between jamming information into students heads and teaching them how to go about finding information according to particular scientific (or other) methodologies. I think that part of the reason why I was continually bored in high school was because it was more about making me memorize information (and subsequently get a good score on the SATs) than anything else.

How about a little more from Marks, hmmm? Here you go:

"[L]et us focus on science as a method of knowledge production. Then learning science in not principally about learning what scientists think but how scientists think."

Yep, I like that. This means that if a student happens to not know a thing about a particular foundational text, or a particular experiment, all is not lost. Information can always be located, as long as people know how to find it. So when a student comes up to me in class and hasn't heard anything about Homo erectus, I can either lament the general knowledge of students these days or I can work on teaching them how to go about filling in the gaps of knowledge. The overall goal, I think, is teaching and inspiring people to learn how to go about answering particular questions.

*That's on page 22 for those of you following along at home. The second quote is on the next page.

No comments: