Teaching Science, Mathematics, and Technology

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TEACHING SCIENCE, MATHEMATICS, AND TECHNOLOGY

Teaching Should Be Consistent With the Nature of Scientific Inquiry

Science, mathematics, and technology are defined as much by what they do and how they do it as they are by the results they achieve. To understand them as ways of thinking and doing, as well as bodies of knowledge, requires that students have some experience with the kinds of thought and action that are typical of those fields. Teachers, therefore, should do the following:

Start With Questions About Nature

Sound teaching usually begins with questions and phenomena that are interesting and familiar to students, not with abstractions or phenomena outside their range of perception, understanding, or knowledge. Students need to get acquainted with the things around them—including devices, organisms, materials, shapes, and numbers—and to observe them, collect them, handle them, describe them, become puzzled by them, ask questions about them, argue about them, and then to try to find answers to their questions.

Engage Students Actively

Students need to have many and varied opportunities for collecting, sorting and cataloging; observing, note taking and sketching; interviewing, polling, and surveying; and using hand lenses, microscopes, thermometers, cameras, and other common instruments. They should dissect; measure, count, graph, and compute; explore the chemical properties of common substances; plant and cultivate; and systematically observe the social behavior of humans and other animals. Among these activities, none is more important than measurement, in that figuring out what to measure, what instruments to use, how to check the correctness of measurements, and how to configure and make sense out of the results are at the heart of much of science and engineering.

Concentrate on the Collection and Use of Evidence

Students should be given problems—at levels appropriate to their maturity—that require them to decide what evidence is relevant and to offer their own interpretations of what the evidence means. This puts a premium, just as science does, on careful observation and thoughtful analysis. Students need guidance, encouragement, and practice in collecting, sorting, and analyzing evidence, and in building arguments based on it. However, if such activities are not to be destructively boring, they must lead to some intellectually satisfying payoff that students care about.

Provide Historical Perspectives

During their school years, students should encounter many scientific ideas presented in historical context. It matters less which particular episodes teachers select (in addition to the few key episodes presented in Chapter 10) than that the selection represent the scope and diversity of the scientific enterprise. Students can develop a sense of how science really happens by learning something of the growth of scientific ideas, of the twists and turns on the way to our current understanding of such ideas, of the roles played by different investigators and commentators, and of the interplay between evidence and theory over time.

History is important for the effective teaching of science, mathematics, and technology also because it can lead to social perspectives—the influence of society on the development of science and technology, and the impact of science and technology on society. It is important, for example, for students to become aware that women and minorities have made significant contributions in spite of the barriers put in their way by society; that the roots of science, mathematics, and technology go back to the early Egyptian, Greek, Arabic, and Chinese cultures; and that scientists bring to their work the values and prejudices of the cultures in which they live.

Insist on Clear Expression

Effective oral and written communication is so important in every facet of life that teachers of every subject and at every level should place a high priority on it for all...
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