I wrote the following, my philosophy of science education, a couple of years ago. I recently came across it. It’s good to know that I still feel the way I do, if not even more strongly.
I believe that science, mathematics, engineering, and technology are the backbone of our nation’s strength. Science teachers are therefore some of the most critical people in guiding our nation into the future.
I believe that teachers must have exceptional knowledge of their subject matter. Students need to be “sold” on science, and a science teacher that does not love their subject to its core probably should not be teaching. I believe that science teachers must stay current with knowledge from within their field. Science is an ever-changing discipline, and teachers who are not up-to-date on recent developments in their field cannot be effective teachers.
I believe that inquiry learning, when used properly, can produce the question-asking, critical thinking, and problem solving skills required for success in the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, in this era of content-based accountability in education, the body of knowledge required is so broad as to leave little time for inquiry-based lessons. However, I believe that at least 5% of the curriculum should be structured to be inquiry-based. This is a small sacrifice in time with a large potential payback in student performance and attitude.
I believe in “24/7 involvement.” Students should be thinking of science and math constantly. As a physics student, much of my insight as to the physical nature of the world did not occur during lecture, but in the evenings as I drifted asleep, or in discussions of natural philosophy with classmates. As a teacher, I am committed to making myself available to my students through e-mail and instant messaging, so that I can answer students’ questions at any time of day or night. I encourage discussion amongst classmates, so that they may synthesize physical thoughts on their own. Finally, I encourage my students to keep an eye on the natural phenomena around them, to build curiosity and to develop “physical intuition.”
I believe that science isn’t easy. Standards should be constructed in a way that all learners are challenged to an appropriate level for them. However, a difficult course needn’t have a difficult instructor. My philosophy is to create a framework of high expectations, while simultaneously offering support for students to meet those demands.
I believe that science courses should be taught in an interdisciplinary fashion. Too often, science is taught within the “silo model” — distinct categories of earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics — without anything to connect content from one field with that of another. In the twenty-first century, so-called “hyphenated sciences” are the norm (e.g., biochemistry, biophysics, chemical physics, nanotechnology, astrobiology). Teachers, even at the high-school level, must prepare their lectures with an eye toward connecting all disciplines within science. Teachers must work to break down the silos and convince students that science is one great field, not many smaller independent sub-fields.
Most of all, I believe that the most important trait science teachers can instill in their students is curiosity. Science is a process, not a body of knowledge. The most successful scientists ask more questions than they answer. I ask my students to ask questions about what they see, and encourage them to use their knowledge and physical intuition to develop physical explanations.
Finally, I believe that students work harder than ever in their academic and extracurricular activities. I have the utmost respect for students, and I try to demonstrate that respect in every interaction with students, parents, fellow teachers, and supervisors.
I believe in science, I believe in education, I believe in students, and I believe in the responsibility of humankind to control its own destiny through science and engineering. I wish to do my small part.
James S. Cronen; April, 2006