“What we see is not nature itself but nature revealed through
our method of questioning.” – Werner Heisenburg
You have heard it said that it isn’t so much about the destination as it is about the journey. My own journey was graced by a Catholic liberal arts education that required four years of courses in philosophy; years of teaching in both rural and urban elementary and high schools; a graduate education that submerged me in the work of progressive education proponent John Dewey; and years in science teacher education pondering the scholarship of Vygotsky, Friere, von Foerster, and many other prominent scholars. My views have also been shaped by being a parent of a daughter and two sons and being married for 30 years to an Episcopal priest.
So what have I learned over the years? Along with a number of colleagues and scholars I have concluded that: (a) teaching is an ethical act; (b) education should be about building a more just world; and (c) science holds a uniquely powerful place in society.
It is these beliefs that led me to become a VISTA coach, working with teachers to help them integrate the Nature of Science (NOS) into their science content instruction. NOS is important because it is perhaps the only opportunity in modern curricula to directly address students’ rapport au savoir, that is, their relationship to knowledge - their epistemology. Epistemology, one of five branches of philosophy, asks the question, "How do we know?" It addresses the means of production of knowledge and gives guidance in judging the validity of different knowledge claims.
When I signed on to be a VISTA coach, it was important to me that VISTA was promoting changes in classroom practice that would lead students to a more sophisticated and realistic understanding of NOS. Over the last two years as a coach, I have been pleased to see that many teachers, like Kim Luckett, have incorporated NOS into their daily instruction.
Today, we are witnessing the impact of this shift in approach as schools make an increased effort to incorporate NOS into K-12 science programs. We are seeing NOS embedded in many national curriculum projects such as the Next Generation Science Standards, and even in our Virginia SOLs.
Sadly, this has not always been the case. For many years science teachers ignored the underlying issues regarding scientific knowledge by having students memorize a list of steps called “the scientific method,” as if this formula applied universally to all science and was a sure pathway to the truth. This naivety was abandoned, however, when science educators came to discover the scholarship of philosophers, historians, and sociologists of science.
So, how is a keener understanding of NOS supposed to affect our students’ relationship to knowledge? And how does our pedagogy figure into this? My own perspective (my rapport au savoir) certainly has evolved because of this scholarship. I now recognize that scientific knowledge is contingent, having cultural and political underpinnings, and that, applied to education, all knowledge is socially constructed.
I have an appreciation for the context of knowledge production, of the role of skepticism as a scientific value, and of just how critical peer review is to sound science. So, while I regard scientific knowledge as durable, I know it is always subject to change and advances both incrementally and with revolutionary paradigm shifts.
It is clear to me that our students’ relationship to knowledge will continue to advance if teachers implement VISTA’s pedagogy of inquiry-driven, problem-based learning (PBL) that incorporates student-to-student discourse. These methods (based in NOS) let students in on the knowledge game – the dialectic between the critical and creative. In turn, students learn that there is more than one solution to the interaction between the knower and the known.
During this critical time in our evolving education system, being a VISTA coach has enabled me to support teachers in incorporating NOS tenets into their classroom science programs. It has been very rewarding to me as an educator seeing students develop their rapport au savoir as they engage in a long-term investigation in science class, exploring a problem in depth over more than one or two class periods.
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