In my freshman-year biology class in college, my professor asked the 120 students in the room to think about how a tree acquires mass as it grows. I was puzzled, having never been asked this question in previous biology classes, and other students felt the same way and didn't know the answer. After allowing us to deliberate for a little while, the professor proceeded to show us a video of Harvard and MIT graduates coming up with the wrong answer to this fundamental question about photosynthesis.
During our annual National Science Education Leadership Development Forum in Alexandria, VA, Professor Lisa Kenyon talked about creating a culture of argumentation in a science classroom. We talked about why you might want a culture of argumentation in your classroom in our previous post. This week, we will discuss what teachers can do to create this culture in their classrooms.
"In order to understand Earth, you have to understand rocks and minerals." Dr. Michael Wise took science teachers from around the nation behind the scenes to learn about some unusual rocks and minerals. His specialty is with pegmatite a mineral found in a variety of critical electronics (such as video game consoles).
A culture of argumentation... at first it doesn't sound like the sort of thing you would want to encourage in the classroom. But especially in science class, it is exactly what our students need. "Argumentation" is the backbone of how scientists talk to one another. Similar to building a court case, scientific arguments are a way to explain what you think, and why you think that way. Unfortunately, despite argumentation's critical role in science, it is seldom used in teaching the subject.
Why should we support education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)? The answer is simple yet profound. We must all recognize that we live in an era of constant scientific discovery and technological change, which directly affects our lives and requires our input as citizens. And we must recognize that as our economy increasingly depends on these revolutionary new advances, many new jobs will be created in STEM fields.