Archive for the 'Professionalism' Category

“Irrational Fear” or “Irrational Complacency” Science and Health; Myth Busters

Topic: Professionalism | 0 | Tags: None

As an educator I would like to ask a question. What do the years 1918, 1957, 1968 and 2009 have in common? Many of you know that those dates the most recorded years of Pandemics in the US and world. In 2006 Dr. Gregory Poland the director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, a leading national and international expert in the field of vaccinology and clinical research, and a leading expert in the field of biodefense spoke in my non-majors biology class on the Avian Flu in which his daughter was a student. He and his talk were memorizing. As professor of medicine and infectious diseases and molecular pharmacology and experimental therapeutics, the associate chair for research for the department of medicine, the director of the Immunization Clinic and the Program in Translational Immunovirology and Biodefense at the Mayo Clinic (whew, what a long title) he carries a lot of authority when he talks on anything that deals with viruses. It was interesting that the local news media rushed to take video and questions after my class.

Dr. Poland lectured on the Avian Flu and kept the students on the edge of their seats as he weaved the current information about the virus and warned the class that a pandemic was emanate. NO! He did not say the Avian Flu was a pandemic. That would be in error. NO! He wasn’t saying the “Bird Flu” was going to be the next pandemic. That would be creating fear. What Dr. Poland was able to accomplish, and done very well, was make these non-majors aware of what efforts would have to be in place to combat the next pandemic. He challenged the class with this question, Is it “Irrational Fear” or “Irrational Complacency” as he laid the ground for what could and would happen in the future and the efforts that were needed to prepare the world for the next pandemic, when ever it came. He described how the government, industry, medical community and the populations would have to work together to be prepared. In 2007 Dr. Poland was working with the US government and World Health Organization to help influence a worldwide mechanism for dealing with pandemics; to move us out of ”Irrational Complacency.” His passion was evident in his talk that the world needed to coordinate its efforts to combat the next viral pandemic, whenever it came.

Who knew it would be so soon that a test of that system would take place this year. His words could not have been more prophetic as it was only two years later that the H1N1 virus emerged out of a town in Mexico and within a 5-month period reach pandemic levels. We are now in the midst of this latest pandemic and we do not know how it will fully play out in our country and the world. If we listen to come media reports or some of the political discussion of the H1N1 virus, we begin to see how much we need the scientific community and its educational wing to help the people of this country and the world to understand what is happening so we can combat the “Irrational fear” that may be taking place. My son and several of the students in my non-majors class this year have been listening to many of these discussions on talk radio and have heard them within the dorm discussions. They listen to news reporters and media personalities provide information to them, often it is meant to be sensational in nature. Because of this I am often asked, “would I get a flu shot this year? Should I stop eating pork?” Statements are made like, “it hasn’t been tested! I have a cousin, a friend, or someone that they heard of that got the H1N1 and it wasn’t bad at all.” Students strive to find information that they can count on as reliable but often only listen to anecdotal evidence that supports their biases and fears. Often it is from sources that they have heard their parents listen to or their teachers provide. They keep looking for individuals in whom they can trust to provide them with that understanding.

Science educators have much work to do in our society to help students like these and the general populace understand how Science and Health are very much related. This is a continual task for us as educators. We also need for us to encourage our students and those individuals we still have influence to go into those fields. It is still so important. If we examine the system for developing Vaccines w find out that it is an older system and has not changed much since the methods were first put in place. We have seen this year that this system has not been as effective (getting it to the population) in producing the vaccine. There needs to be an effort by the U.S government to direct efforts into this area of health care, the merge between the pharmaceutical community and the health system. We need new students going into science and health who will be working on these areas in the future. We need educators that can help to teach these students and prepare them for future problems coming before us.

We Need More Mr. Ps in Biology Education: Strong in Biology, Strong in Science, and in Science Education, Professionals!

Topic: Professionalism | 0 | Tags: None

The academic year is flying by and there are still things needing to be done before we can put the books to rest on this year’s classes.  For those in the midland of the USA, you have about 10 more weeks of classes while those in the East and Canada will be going to mid June.   Let me provide if I can a bit of encouragement for all of you as you head into these last few months.A teacher in NJ, a member of NABT during its early years, was known for being a hard teacher who loved his students.  Let me call him Mr. P.  Mr. P’s classes were full of activities, laboratories, and individual and group projects.  His class was always cluttered with so many things going on and always looked messy, but clean.  He was also the Jr. High and JV. Wrestling coach and had polio when he was young.  But his students loved him because he cared for them.  This was not just a job, but a profession.  Mr. P constantly strove to be a better teacher each year. He went to conferences and professional meetings to learn how to be a better teacher.  He put in much time before and after school with his students.  He often would end the year with little thanks from his students, parents or the administration.  Yet, Mr. P persisted as wanting to be a professional biology educator.  His passion for biology, his passion for his students and his desire to be a professional biology educator set him apart from many of his colleagues.  At least that is how it appeared to his students.Mr. P has long ago retired, but his influence continues on.  Many of his previous students are now biologists, physicians and others working in the public health arena, research and others have gone into teaching.  One interesting and previous student, who had attention deficit disorder before it was even recognized, was so highly influenced by Mr. P and his teaching that he followed his example and became a biology teacher and a wrestling coach.  Let’s call this new teacher Mr. M.  Mr. M has been awarded several awards at the school for excellence in teaching and service to the teaching profession.  In a sense, Mr. P’s impact continues today after years of retirement though M. M.  You may ask how I, as an Indiana University Professor, know about Mr. P; well I was that impressionable young student.  I can still remember his class and the impact he had on me to this day.  I remember the chewing out I received for not putting my full efforts into my work, my first science project and many of the laboratories I completed with him. My profession as a teacher was highly influenced by Mr. P but the impact on my teaching did not stop him but was influenced by my university professors and fellow colleagues.  Probably the most impact has been through my involvement with NABT.   I have been blessed to meet so many secondary and university teachers like Mr. P at NABT meetings and their impact on my teaching continues today.  Let me encourage you to keep up the work you are doing, even though you don’t hear it from your students.  Continue with a passion in the field you have chosen and give it your all; continue to influence the next generation.  In November this year, come to the conference in Denver to meet so many other teachers just like Mr. P.  Share in your experiences with them professionally and completely infuse your teaching with exciting new ideas.  And while this is going on, you will become personal friends and colleagues with Mr. P-like teachers from around the world.

Teaching Students Evolution with Patience, Respect and the Nature of Science

Topic: Professionalism | 0 | Tags: None

The Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science’s (COPUS) year of science has chosen February’ theme as “Evolution.” Darwin, born in February 1809, published the Origin of the Species launching the theory of Evolution; the foundational theory for all of biology.  Evolution, the National Academy of Sciences states, is “the central concept of biology.” Theodosius Dobzhansky (1973) once said about evolution, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.”

Evolution continues to be met, in the United States, with much public debate and public challenges in the education community to its veracity.  These debates often end in landmark court decisions like the Scopes trial in 1925, Epperson v. Arkansas in1968, Edwards v. Aguilar in 1987 in and of course the Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School in 2005.  From all the public debate one would think that the scientific community was in discord over evolution, yet under examination the scientific fields has no discord.  Evolution is consistently being tested and used, as all robust theories are, to develop future questions and predictions.  Yet if there is no discord within the science community, why is there effort after effort to alter or challenge the teaching of evolution in schools?  We have moved from Creationism as science to Intelligent Design as science, to teach the “Controversy” and now to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. Why single out evolution? 

According to Berkman et. al., (2008) found in a nationally representative survey of teachers concerning the teaching of evolution that one in eight high school biology teachers still present creationism as science and almost one in six believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years.  Teachers who hold creation science or intelligent design beliefs or teachers who have had little training in evolution spent substantially less time teaching evolution than teachers who had more training in evolution or hold evolution as scientifically valid theory.  James Williams (2008), in The Scientist, stated that graduates in science disciplines and universities in Britain and around the world have a poor grasp on the meaning simple scientific terminology.  If the graduates of our universities and the teachers of science themselves do not understand the nature of science (NOS), then how will they be able to teach it properly and how will our students learn it properly?

So what is the solution?  The answer may be contrary to what you expect, we need to teach for understanding of the NOS and address the students long held beliefs with patience and respect.  Some in the scientific community would have you avoid addressing non-science issues in science classrooms.  Michael Reiss, past director of education at the Royal Society, Britain’s academy of science was removed from his position for suggesting such an approach as reported by Daniel Cleary (2008) in Science.  After Science published, “Crossing the Divide” by Jennifer Couzin (2008) concerning Stephen Godfrey struggle at becoming a scientist from out of a strong faith-based childhood, Craig Stevens (2008) responded that Science magazine should never print anything on the struggle with learning evolution because it gives the non-science approaches credibility.  But the approach of avoidance does not work in education.  Eugene Scott of the National Center for Science Education, in “Creation and classrooms” (2008) advises that responses from the teacher with a shut-up-and-take-it-elsewhere approach will be perceived as a humiliating personal put-down therefore obstructing rather than encouraging enquiry and understanding.  This does not mean we are to bring all kinds of non-science ideas into the classroom; on the contrary we are not to bring any of them into the classroom.  However when we teach and our students struggle with their prior learning, that we must treat our student’s prior belief with respect and not just dismiss their beliefs or we will not be able to teach the student.  Andrew Whipple (2008), who has taught biology for 20 years at an evangelical university, responded to Couzin’s article about Stevens that he understands and agrees that we need to be willing to listen to the concerns of those holding contrary positions.   He calls us to move from our dogmatic pronouncements to a more humble approach.  This humble approach may provide what we as teachers desire the most, “teachable moments.”

Recent research at the university level supports this approach of engaging students’ beliefs rather than dismissing them as an effective way to teach evolution.  Steven Verhey (2005) study demonstrates that when students apply an understanding of the NOS to the study of evolution and to prior beliefs they begin to truly understand the NOS and the veracity of evolution as theory.  This technique may be especially needed for training those pre-service teachers who are going into biology and/or science education.  Craig Nelson (2005) of Indiana University supports these findings but is concerned that the technique described may not be appropriate for high school students who’s intellect may be insufficiently developed at an early age.  I agree, yet this technique may give us an understanding in how we all should approach the teaching of students in science with patience, respect for our students and a strong understanding of the NOS.

As we celebrate Darwin and Evolution during February, lets remember that when we teach this most important theory in biology to our students that we teach it using the NOS and we treat those students who struggle learning about evolution with the patience and respect they need and deserve.

Berkman MB, Pacheco JS, Plutzer E (2008) “Evolution and creationism in America’s classrooms: A national portrait.” PLoS Biol 6(5): e124. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060124

Clery, Daniel (2008): “Misjudged Talk Opens Creationist Rift at Royal Society” Science: September VOL 321 26

Couzin, Jennifer (2008): “Crossing the Divide” Science 22 February 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5866 pp. 1034-1036.

Creation and classrooms” Editorial (2008): Nature: September VOL 455, issue 7212, 25

Dobzhansky, Theodosius (1973) “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” The American Biology Teacher: March VOL 35:125-129)

Holden, Constance Editor (2005): “Two Views Better Than One?” Random Samples Science: November VOL 310 25

Nelson, Craig E. (2005): “How Can We Help Students Really Understand Evolution?” BioScience: November Vol 55, No. 11

Stevens, Craig W (2008):  Evolution and faith:  empathy is misplaced.”  Science: May 320, p. 745, 9

Verhey, Steven D. (2005), “The Effect of Engaging Prior Learning on Student Attitudes toward Creationism and Evolution.” BioScience: November Vol. 55, No 11

Whipple, Andy (2008), “Evolution and Faith: Empathy is Crucial” Science: May VOL 320 9 p. 745

Williams, James (2008) “What Makes Science ‘Science’” The Scientist: October VOL 2
2; Issue 10, Page 29

The Nature of Science

Topic: Professionalism, Teaching the Nature of Science | 0 | Tags: None

What is the NOS?  The scientific community, including its philosophers, educators and historians has not agreed on a single definition of the nature of science (Lederman & Niess, 1997).  However, the NOS as a concept is accepted as the values and assumptions inherent in the development and interpretation of scientific knowledge (Lederman, 1992).  Peter Machamer (1992), in his article on The Philosophy of Science: An Overview for Educators, describes science as “a method of inquiry about the things and structures in the world.  Conceived as a social human activity, science is an important institution or practice constitutive of the modern world.”  

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the premier science society in the United States, has defined NOS as, “Over the course of human history, people have developed many interconnected and validated ideas about the physical, biological, psychological, and social worlds. It is the union of science, mathematics, and technology. Those ideas have enabled successive generations to achieve an increasingly comprehensive and reliable understanding of the human species and its environment. The means used to develop these ideas are particular ways of observing, thinking, experimenting, and validating. These ways represent a fundamental aspect of the nature of science and reflect how science tends to differ from other modes of knowing.”  (Rutherford and Ahlgren, 1990)  It is this combined nature and its impact and implications to the world that makes it so successful.  AAAS (1993) identified thee principle parts of the NOS as: I) Science World View, II) Science Inquiry and III) Science Enterprise.