Thursday, December 23, 2010

Leaving Religious People Out of Science

Thus far, Elaine Howard Ecklund's Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think is a really good read. I appreciate most of all how she is using research to lay out the range of scientists' views about religion. She's clearing up the myths and assumptions that often turn debate into shouting.

The first few chapters have me thinking about social reproduction and how the culture of university science departments keep religious people out of science. She shows how many religious scientists feel that their faith beliefs would not be accepted by their colleagues, and they therefore keep their religion as a private matter. So, to the public or to students in classes taught by that group of scientists, science has an unreligious or even anti-religious face.

Dr. Ecklund's research shows that this is not some sinister plot of Some Evil Group of Scientists who are out to destroy religion in America. Instead, her research is making me think of how social cultures reproduce themselves. Until Title IX mandated change, American girls so often heard the message, "Sports are for boys" mainly because boys were the only ones in sports. The male-dominated American sports culture reproduced itself until the sports culture was forced to change and now we see how great athletes girls can be. In the same way, I'm wondering if religious people don't feel welcomed in science simply because they aren't already welcome in science. Isn't it that the non-religious culture of American science is simply reproducing itself and blocking many religious people from going into science because they don't feel that they're welcomed?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Inquiry is the missing link

(A little caffeine can be too much!)
When I presenting on teaching evolution in Nashville, I was on a huge caffeine buzz. (When the sign on the gas station coffee says, "extra caffeine," they mean it!) I realize now that I might have left out my most important point in my presentation: Inquiry is the missing link in evolution education. Inquiry is what best allows students who resist learning about evolution to engage in looking at the evidence and how scientists explain the evidence because inquiry doesn't rely on authoritative pressure.

In typical evolution education, conflict can easily boil down to, "I'm the teacher. That settles it." Or to, "That's what scientists say. Case closed." That may not be what the teacher is saying, but it's too often what resistant students are hearing. They hear an appeal to authority, and they are ready to counter with the authorities they trust more, whether those be God, the Bible, or what their preacher or parents say. Inquiry turns the discussion away from conflicting authorities to the evidence at hand. Inquiry frees the teacher to say to resistant students, "What do you think?" about the evidence at hand or how to explain it sticking to the rules of science.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Authentic Work for Authentic Audiences

I've been teaching Classroom Management at UAB for about a year now, and I just received from that class what is probably the most authentic set of student work I've ever received. I've been working on implementing authentic work for authentic audience for about a year now, and with this set, I see that the work really paying off.

I gave my students this as their final course question, "How will I solve the authentic problem I face of having no opportunity now for practicing the skills necessary for effectively managing student misbehavior?" As any experienced teacher knows, it's impossible to learn how to manage secondary students' misbehavior while sitting in a university classroom. So, I basically told my classroom management students, "Go find a misbehaving group of secondary students and figure how what to do with them?"

I'm so impressed with what they came up with, and what really struck me was the range of their products. Here's a list of the kind of products they used to show what they've learned:

  • A brochure for future art teachers
  • An image gallery of students taught and lesson learned presented in PowerPoint
  • Blogs of lesson learned
  • A hand-written journal of reflections
  • A technical paper for future English teachers
  • Memos from school officials stating their abilities
  • A compelling narrative of growth based on the stories of prior experience
  • A revision of prior work submitted, revised based on new lessons learned
I think it's the most authentic set of student work I've ever received, and I'm really excited about the power of this kind of work.