EDST 624 – Nature of Science

One of my major goals as a math and science educator is to increase the science literacy of my students. This means exposing students to multiple representations of science and supporting them in their efforts to make sense of these representations. For students who have had no exposure to science outside of the classroom, this will likely be challenging and will not fit with the narrow view of science they’ve encountered. In developing science literacy, students will also expand their understanding of the nature of science–what it means to engage in scientific study, to approach the world scientifically, what science is.

What follows are a collection of science and math resources and ideas for how to implement them and support students in engaging with them. This is also an exercise in quickly and efficiently processing content for use in my future classroom. The resources collected here fall into three categories: modelling, transhumanism, and modern discoveries. Summaries of each category are below. Within each category, I provide an overview of ways to engage with the materials in the classroom.

Modelling

Models are both a goal and a tool of science. Scientists often seek to produce a model of the phenomenon they are studying that makes predictions that match observations. Then those scientists or other scientists can use the model to engage in further study. Sometimes the model is good enough that non-scientists can use it as a tool to benefit or understand their own lives. Google Maps is one such example of a model that became a tool for everyday use. Personalized music or movie recommendations are another model we see applied in our everyday lives.

In this section, I discuss Vi Hart and Nicky Case’s Parable of the Polygons, an interactive post that models the effects of individual bias on society-wide segregation. I also discuss Matt Parker’s standup comedy set about spreadsheets, in which he uses spreadsheets to model for how images are created on computer screens. Based on these examples, students are challenged with investigating their own models.

Transhumanism

First conceptualized in the 1960s, then accelerated in the 90s, transhumanism is the desire to augment humans using technology (see Transhumanism|Wikipedia). This topic is fraught with ethical and moral contentions. Like any social and intellectual movement, there is no clear “right” and transhumanism offers an interesting and engaging way for students to view science through an ethical or moralistic lens.

In this section, I discuss three modern articles: “Russian billionaire Dmitry Itskov seeks ‘immortality’ by uploading his brain to a computer” by The Independent’s Doug Bolton, “‘Body Hacking’ Movement Rises Ahead Of Moral Answers” by NPR’s Eyder Peralta, and “Scientists discover how to ‘upload knowledge to your brain'” by The Telegraph’s Mark Molloy. Students are tasked with deciding what the limits of science and technology should be, and then defending their position. Students are left to sit with the likely uncomfortable reality that no one is right or wrong.

Modern Discoveries

Unless students are using a brand-new edition of a textbook, it’s likely that they will not be exposed to cutting-edge developments and discoveries in science. This section brings those modern discoveries into the classroom and provides students with an opportunity to explore them. Two specific discoveries are discussed: the verification of gravitational waves and the discovery of a pattern in the prime numbers. Students are then tasked with bringing in their own modern discoveries to share, for an ongoing show-and-tell.

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