Updated: Aug 26, 2021
When I ask my new students to draw a scientist, they usually end up with something like this: a crazy-haired man holding exploding beakers or wearing ill-fitting clothes; AKA a mad scientist.
Why is this the image our students come up with when they think of scientists?! By the end of our time together, I’m hoping that these students see themselves as scientists, even if their interests going forward lie in another area of study or a different profession, I believe it is important for them to acknowledge the presence and power that science holds in their lives.
At the start of every school year, I ALWAYS hear at least one student say something along the lines of “I’m no good at science” or “I’m never going to use science when I grow up so it doesn’t matter now”; etc. When I hear these words, I actually get excited to prove them wrong through our time together! We all use science EVERY day for so many things!
Science is the study of the physical and natural world done using observation and experiment. Every time we develop and ask a question, we use some version of the scientific method to answer it. “Where did I leave my keys?” “How do I do this?” Every time we wonder “What would happen if…” we are using science! When we make observations and learn from them, we are using science!
I think it is impossible to find someone who truly hates “Science”. There are so many different fields of science and different applications and approaches. There are some types of science that I’ll admit are really difficult for me to grasp and/or get interested in, while others come easily and fascinate me. You may not like physics, but maybe you find microbiology fascinating. Maybe anatomy and learning how the body works makes you feel sick, but geology and learning about the Earth is actually fun. I hope students find some area of science that piques their interest and sparks their curiosity and desire to learn more. Living without pursuing science and chasing our curiosities would be a stagnant life.
Another goal of mine is to help students appreciate the intricate and beautiful universe we live in based on the current scientific theories. We should all be motivated to learn more and build on our understanding of how the world works and our place in existence. Whether we are learning about huge topics like the universe itself and outer space or if we are focusing on tiny atoms or microscopic critters, I hope that students learn to appreciate the magnificence of our existence and the amazing ability we have to learn together.
I think we all agree that there are some areas of science that are considered “sticky topics”. I believe it is absolutely crucial to help students develop their own opinions and understanding on these topics. I teach these topics (such as vaccines, evolution, pollution, global warming, genetic engineering, etc.) from a scientific standpoint (giving the understanding we know based on scientific theories and the way they were obtained). After learning the science, I like to bring up some of the ethical aspects. Why is this a “sticky topic”? I let students do some of their own research, and let them have a respectful debate. It is important that we learn to communicate different viewpoints and opinions while listening to others respectfully.
My students come to learn that they are scientists. When they are researching something to form an opinion or idea, they are using science. When they are observing the world around them and making conclusions based on these observations, they are using science. What WE need to be doing, is teaching these students how to formulate their own ethical foundations to build their educated ideas and opinions upon. “Science” is not a mysterious, dangerous entity trying to take over the planet. It is a process of observing, studying, experimenting, challenging, and building our understanding of the Universe. There may be some of those dangerous “mad scientists” out there, but we certainly do not all need to be crazy to use science!
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