The Dilemma with Teaching Science

An engineering student explores the intricacies of teaching science.

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Walter Lewin’s Lectures on Physics, available on YouTube, have gathered applause for his maverick teaching style.

the origin of science is as old as the origin of human race itself. The foundation of science lies primarily in human curiosity and interest. Basically, its growth also depends on how greatly curious and interested its students are in its research. High schools serve as the breeding nurseries for future scientists and engineers and, with proper teaching, can not only build the vital curiosity in their students but also help them find their true interests. I believe this can be achieved if a good deal of focus is made on inculcating the essence of science whilst teaching its regular contents.

Very often in schools, one may or may have come across comments which suggest how complex and scientifically involved things are. Whether it is the general discussion on the transition of physics from classical to quantum concepts or new theory or even a new discovery (like the Higgs Boson) made anywhere in the world, many people, after having some discourse with their colleagues, start believing in the idea that science is not meant for the common folk. As a matter of fact, I tend to take a strong immunity to this general and somehow biased perception.

In recent years, particularly the last two years of my undergraduate study, I have come to the conclusion that such beliefs and comments persist only due to either limited understanding of the subject or the use of wrong analogies which further complicate the process of understanding. Being a student of science and engineering, I myself like to analyze the methods of teaching during attending the lectures. Trying to know how the analogies are made and whether they are made on a scientific and rational basis can also be one rare experience at times. From my experience, I am now more inclined to see teaching as an art than a profession; for it makes me curious why many people with claimed understanding of a subject cannot teach it in its right manner. An essential aspect which is widely ignored whilst teaching science is that it has history in itself; it is an evolution of the human understanding of nature stirred by curiosity and therefore a search for answers. Surely, ignoring this aspect of science teaching destroys the interest and curiosity which science offers in itself, and it is indeed agonizing to see science subjects taught more like an industrial or commercial process with success or failure results already at hand (in case of laws) or believed to be so (in case of theories). One must keep in mind science does not journey on a straight road; rather sometimes it takes u-turns. However, the overall effect is that it advances, but not always in an aesthetically linear way. I believe the meaning of science should serve as the main frontier in its teaching. I would like to summarize my experience and understanding in three focal points:

  1. Science is not only a conceptual matter; it is a history itself. Therefore, each law or theory contains some premise which is fundamental to its understanding. With no or little background knowledge at hand, it is enormously difficult to convince the students to believe in the rationality of the subject.
  2. Science has evolved through human curiosity; it is therefore fundamental to prompt the students by asking them those very same questions that once intrigued the scientists to work on the subject.
  3. Science theories travel more in an uncertain way rather than in a straight fashion (the overall effect, however, is that science does expand with time in its content and firmness); therefore, the present theories can be questioned in all rational ways.

I cannot stress but only put that I strongly believe in these three fundamental connotations of science. Much is spoken and written about science-teaching methodologies; but as far as science enthusiasts realize, the course of action can only augment an already effective teaching. As long as the teacher himself does not truly believe in the essence of science, we can hardly make any promise of providing a good science education in our schools.

 

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