First a philosophical statement. The function of science education is to maximize the production of citizens who:
1. Are productive. Teach them:a. Skills and knowledge they need to do the work that is needed by the society.
- 2. Are rational and effective in self-government. Teach them sufficient knowledge and develop understanding to be effective in the process of running the political and bureaucratic aspects of the nation, both as a voter and working in the institutions of government.
- 3. Can be happy. This requires that they not be constantly fearful that "The sky is falling!"
- 4. Develop critical thinking. This is a teachable skill and is probably a major key to the other goals of education.
The Role of Teaching Science
In the past, science education focused on teaching students scientific facts, observation, and experimentation. The practical goal, and benefit to society, was to help students discover if they have an interest and aptitude in one or more of the sciences. Thus it could steer those so inclined into one of the sciences.
For those not gifted or interested in the sciences, the classes are a marginal use of time and resources. They will learn very little that they will ever use. They will forget nearly all of what they were taught.
The writer believes we need to continue to expose children to science (to stimulate interest and illuminate talent), but should modify the curriculum to better serve the non-science inclined.
The writer presents the question: What might be taught that could possibly be useful for someone who is not going to go into science? These answers are suggested:
1. Teach students how to recognize junk science.
2. Explicitly teach critical and logical thinking skills.
3. Teach students how to analyze Risk / Benefit tradeoffs.
4. Teach basic knowledge of possibility, probability, and statistics.
5. Teach science knowledge that would likely be useful to the average citizen in his daily life, and in understanding political issues that have a science component.
All of these would be of great benefit to every
individual in his everyday life, and in his role in our (political)
PROPOSAL Continue to expose students to the various sciences, but with less time spent doing this. Those so inclined will still discover their interest. (Make "Advanced Science" an elective!) The saved time would instead be spent in modules to look at junk science, critical thinking, and another to look at Risk / Benefit questions. These may well be added to as a class is developed.
Actual content could be spread out over the 3
IDEAS ON JUNK SCIENCE MODULE
After some lecture and examples of junk science found in the news media, give the students the assignment of collecting similar examples from newspapers, magazines, the Internet, TV, or radio news. This lecture / homework assignment could deal with one or several aspects of junk science.
Repeat for other aspects.
Make assignments to find advertisements or media commercials that rely on junk science. Report what is wrong with the ad, and why.
Assign to identify junk science in politics. Write short report on what is wrong and why. Encourage parental help!
IDEAS ON CRITICAL THINKING MODULE
Lecture on the elements of critical thinking. Focus on the practical; whats going on inside the head. Present examples of a flawed logical argument. (Remember: Science is based on both critical and logical thinking!) Ask what is wrong with it? Get a discussion going. Ask for students to bring in print materials containing poor thinking, and explain what is wrong with it. Jr. High kids should really like this module, as they are naturally beginning to think critically about those around them. Let's HELP them to do it right! Encourage parental help!
Special focus should be placed on the flawed thinking of the egocentric thinker (the thinker who believes his view of things is the only true view possible). This is a likely stage at which arrested development can occur in children.
Special care should be taken in this module to try
to detect which children are inappropriately fixed at the egocentric
level, and to help them advance. A short In-Service Training session
on how to identify these at-risk children, and how to help
them would be good!
IDEAS ON RISK / BENEFIT MODULE
Generally any activity has certain risks and has certain benefits associated with it. Citizens need the ability to rationally evaluate these, so that rational choices can be made. These skills can be taught.
Module focus. What is probability? How is it different from possibility? What is the probability of something bad happening if you do this thing: how do you figure it out. How to assess the risk, either in general terms or mathematical terms. How to assess the benefits. How to make a decision on these three pieces of information. How does the risk / benefit of this decision compare to other risk / benefits we choose every day or often? (Such as driving in a car.)
True Story. My wife and I and our three granddaughters were waiting in the airport in San Jose to board a plane to come home. Kelly, then 7, came up to me and said,
Kelly: "On the TV news just now they said a plane crashed on takeoff someplace and all but 6 people were killed!
Grampa: "Does that make you nervous about flying in just a few minute?
Kelly: "No, because there are so very many planes taking off all the time, and it almost never happens.
(At that point Grampa inwardly melts into a pool of admiration for this wonderful girl!)
Grampa: "Kelly, you are absolutely right. You are able to think better than a lot of adults!"
In other words, Kelly knew that the risk was so
small, and the benefits of flying so great, that she wasnt
going to worry about it.
For other science topics, see "A Start on a New Science Curriculum"
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