GISHWHES: How a Scavenger Hunt Can Promote Kindness and Why We Should Do It In Schools

GISHWHES, or The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen, is a scavenger hunt run by Random Acts and headed by “Supernatural” star Misha Collins. Each year around the first week of August, groups of 13 all around the world log in online to check the scavenger hunt list to find out what crazy, weird, and kind things they’ll be tasked with accomplishing throughout the week. Whoever turns in the most well-done stuff wins a trip with Misha to an interesting location around the world. It’s difficult, it’s exhausting, and it’s amazing.

One of the many GISHList items

Each year, Misha Collins does his best to come up with the weirdest, the most helpful, and most spectacular items on the GISHList. We’ve made portraits out of skittles, held business conferences underwater, gotten Christmas trees to float up into the atmosphere, and made kale clothing. We’ve also left coupons around stores as coupon fairies, gotten people to raise enough money to put refugee families into homes and schools, went out to entertain children in hospitals, and even built a fully-functioning school in Nicaragua aimed at helping women who otherwise would never get an education. We do fun wacky things and fun kind things, and everyone who does it has the best time of their lives.

Another item: “Scuba Ballet”

The best thing about GISHWHES is that it makes kindness fun and easy. It shows you that you can do good things and enjoy doing them. Some schools require students to do a certain amount of community service hours, but that isn’t always seen as a fun thing. Sometimes it feels like a chore or work. Once you’ve experienced it as a game, you want to continue to do it all the time. Sometimes I go back to certain list items and think about doing them on random days just because they’re fun and it’s nice to see kind things being done.

Item: “Hug a uniformed veteran”

I would like to see something like GISHWHES implemented in all schools. It’s never too early to get kids used to being kind. In fact, Beer & Probst’s (2017) studies show that students who better understand compassion and kindness do better with literacy because they can sympathize and understand characters better. They learn that being weird can be great. Not only that, students will learn how to autonomously divide up work, work as a team, problem solve and plan, innovate, and discover that they’re capable of doing amazing things if they actually try.

Item: “Your advice to the world”

I imagine that schools could either make GISHWHES into a seasonal after-school program like sports are, or could do a week or so where half of the day or a period is spent doing GISHWHES stuff maybe right before the holidays, at the end of the school year, or at the start of the school year. A few modifications would have to be made–you might not ask students to pay the small fee to participate (in GISHWHES this fee goes into the winner’s trip and RandomActs charity work) and supplies would have to be provided. I hope someday this can happen in all schools.

Syrian family after being moved to France and given a new home and school paid for. While in Syria the mother had been shot and paralyzed and one of the daughters attempted suicide so that her family would have more food.

Reference:

Beers, K. & Probst, R. (2017). The Compassionate Reader. Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters (pp. 44-51). New York, NY: Scholastic.

Ambitious Science Teaching: Modeling

The 4 main parts of AST.

Ambitious science teaching is a program developed by the NSA to better science teaching. According to their website, their goal is to “support students of all backgrounds to deeply understand science ideas, participate in the activities of the discipline, and solve authentic problems”. Our cohort has talked about AST throughout the year; but more recently we’ve decided to delve deeper into their toolkit. My focus for this week is modeling.

Modeling is used in science all the time. We can use them to explain, visualize, and predict phenomena. We see it in everything from a model of the solar system to mathematical predictions of population trends.Modeling in the classroom can be used in a number of ways. Following what AST has to say, they’re usually used in the following manner…

Step 1: The model gets introduced at the start of a new concept or unit, usually given to students as a model scaffold. Students write down their initial ideas about how they believe the concept should work. This part of the model is used to initiate student thinking and to gauge prior knowledge.

Step 2: Around halfway through the unit, students return to their initial models. They add what they’ve learned and modify it accordingly. This visualizes student thinking and shows them how much more they’ve learned. The “building” onto prior knowledge also follows Vygotsky’s theory of constructivist learning (people make meaning by building onto previous ideas and knowledge). The teacher can also use these models to see what still needs to be taught and plan accordingly. And, of course, students can compare with each other to find improvements that can be made to their models and learn through each other.

Step 3: At the end of the unit, students revisit their models once again, and modify based on what they’ve learned. Again, students can compare with each other and see how much their knowledge has increased over time. The final model can also be used as an assessment.

Earlier on in the Warner program, we used models more frequently to help us visualize what we already know and use that to generate questions and create experiments. For example, in order to investigate something about water quality in Lake Ontario, we first made a model of the things that affect water quality (the “need to knows”). We were then able to make a list of questions that we still had and needed to answer. Experimental designs were then produced from those. Similar model uses were implemented when we did the science camp at Sodus. We’ve also made models to visualize what students should be able to understand by the end of the unit to help with our planning.

In observing schools, so far I’ve mostly seen teachers utilize models for assessing prior knowledge and for visualizing concepts. For example, my CT has had students make a model of an atom before deciding how she was going to start teaching the biochemistry unit. She wanted to know what misconceptions she needed to correct, where she needed to start from, and how much time she would need to spend on the topic. In visualizing concepts, she has had students make models of connecting concepts, such as the energy transfer in food webs and the relations of various types of human impact. I have yet to see another teacher do steps 2 or 3 of the AST model process or use them for inquiry, and I’d like to see much more of that.

Example of a model scaffold filled in.

As for what we will be required to do in our teaching, the NGSS expects students to develop and use models. They warn against making models just to make models or use them as sort of faux art projects. Many of the classrooms past have too often used modeling as an excuse to make things like pretty clay cells without actually using them to really make meaning or engage thinking. Since they state it much clearer than I could, take a look at how they’ve described modeling:

The modeling process should be emphasized, rather than the model itself. Students should be able to develop the model, evaluate the effectiveness of their model in explaining the phenomenon, use the model to help explain relationships and develop further questions, then go back to revise their model after further investigation. The concept that models are dynamic—they change depending on the variables and parts with the system, in addition to being revised as a result of further observation and investigation—is critical. Models are not static, isolated diagrams!

Data and evidence should be used consistently to support the development of student models and the claims students make as a result of their analysis. The social nature of models should also be emphasized. Discussion, sharing, presenting, and argumentation should all be included in the modeling process. Not only should students examine how their model works, but it’s important to also ask students to consider the limitations of their model.

If anyone out there wants to share how they’ve seen or used models in the classroom, feel free to comment below!

Instructional Rounds: Improving Classroom Environment Observation

Medical rounds from the TV show “Scrubs”

This week, I attended an after-school meeting briefing several teachers who agreed to participate in a trial run of a new teaching practice. There was a diversity of content teachers, some English, some science, social studies, math, etc. The new practice was called “Instructional Rounds” which is very much like how it sounds. Half of the group of teachers would put in for a sub for a day and spend the morning observing the other half of the teachers. The afternoon would be spent analyzing the data they collected. Another day, they would switch groups.

The data collected would not be judgmental. Names of teachers and students aren’t used. It would simply be a collection of anonymous noticings of what went on in the classroom. Teachers could observe how students interacted with texts, what the observed teacher did to increase engagement, whatever. It just had to be a clear record of what occurred without any statements that leaned in a direction of judging good or bad. The idea, at the end of the day, is to recognize practices that you would like to incorporate and realize not-so-good practices in your own teaching, which is done by looking at the objective transcripts the other teachers provide. A teacher might be doing something they don’t even realize they’re doing.

Another part of the practice is choosing a focus for observation. We first talked about so-and-so’s research about the core, how we need to balance an increase in professional skill with an increase in content level and student engagement. Otherwise, the “improvements” don’t actually better the class. For example, if you increase the level of content and professional knowledge, you can end up teaching at the students. The volunteer teachers were told to keep this core research in mind as they observe. In the end, the focus, or topic, the teachers decided on  was engaging student thinking.

As a preservice teacher, I can’t help but think that observational rounds are a good idea. We already have to go around and observe multiple teachers to find what we would like and wouldn’t like to incorporate into our practices. It also gives the teachers a chance to get to see their teaching from a different angle. It will be interesting to see how it turns out, especially since there’s a big chance they might end up observing me.

Reference:

City, E. et al. (2009). Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Education Publishing Group.

 

STANYS: A First-Timer’s Review

My visit to STANYS last weekend marked a first for me in conference attending. I was looking forward to going, despite the large pile of homework I was putting off in order to go. The previous week I’d gone through the list of workshops available, circled which ones I wanted to attend. I packed a backpack for all of the swag I was sure to receive, and I picked out a professional outfit to wear since I was told that this was to be a networking opportunity.

When I arrived in the lobby of the hotel, I immediately noticed a number of others there for the conference. There was one problem–none of them were dressed professionally. Instead, an assortment of science t-shirts paired with jeans were on parade. I realized that there would be no hiding the fact that me and my cohort were newbies.

After the rest of the cohort arrived, we rushed off to find our first workshops. James and Sydney took off for the chemistry ones. Olivia and I quickly ducked into an online medical resource lecture. I’ve never gained so many resources in a single class, and I never knew so many medically-related online resources there were for students. A few that were mentioned were MedlinePlus, Nobel Science Games, and Teen Health.  Overall, I felt that it was a great lecture because it gave me many resources I could using in my own classroom.

The second workshop was not as good as I expected it to be (and thus I will avoid naming it). It felt like they were just trying to sell their materials, versus providing a good lesson like I had expected. There were many problems with their lesson plan, so the only benefit I got from this workshop was listening to the other teachers at my table critique it and offer how they would make it better.

The last two workshops were fantastic. The Decomposition of a Chicken workshop showed us how we could use a single topic–forensics of decomposition– and use it to explore multiple facets of biology: animal behavior, evolution, ecology, development, etc. The other workshop (Just Change One Thing) provided us with a lesson on workshopping questions and how to get students generating good questions. Both workshops gave me a lot to think about in regards to my future lessons.

The final component of the conference, vendor booths, was not as helpful as I had hoped. The majority of the booths were selling textbooks, subscriptions, and science equipment. I am a preservice teacher, therefore I could only admire the pretty textbooks for sale and try to avoid the salespeople trying to get me to buy things. Only one booth was useful because it provided access to free lesson plans. All in all, I decided that the vendors room was just not very useful for those not in the position to be looking to buy school supplies. I did, however, buy a rather adorable stuffed ammonite.

Final impression: the workshops were mostly good. The vendor’s room might be good if I were actually a teacher. Networking is still not my strong suit, and I learned that they provide a swag bag.  I imagine my experience will be much improved for next time.

 

 

 

 

Assessment: What Is It Good For?

As a student, I hated tests. Even when I knew the content, it didn’t stop me from getting nervous about them, and it always meant a night of cramming in extra studying. As an upcoming teacher, I’ve started to understand why they’re necessary. There needs to be something to let me know whether I’m doing a good job, whether we’re moving too fast, and if the students are understanding what I’m teaching. It’s more a tool to assess the teacher’s work than a harsh tool for judging the students.

This year, I’ve learned that there are multiple forms of assessment. There’s formal and informal, and formative and summative. Formal assessment is assessment based in standards and statistics. You’re comparing a student’s knowledge against other students’ and what is expected to be learned for their grade as stated in the standards. Informal assessments are performance and content driven. It’s not all statistical, like formal is. Think running reading records and detailed notes about students’ performance. In a perfect world where I teach the same small group of students over their entire schooling, I would only use informal assessments and let students learn at a pace that is good for them, and not worry too much about whether their age matches what some standards say they should. Unfortunately, we have to teach with a large amount of students that will get passed on to the next teacher next year, so the sort of flexibility we’d need to  completely get rid of formal assessment is not really attainable.

Formative assessments are assessments that are done throughout a large chunk of content material. They are done daily, and often without students noticing. They are meant to keep track of student understanding throughout the day. They let the teacher know whether to move on to the next idea, or whether they need to spend a little more time on it. They let the teacher know the strengths and weaknesses of each child per subject. They let the teacher know what is working for their students and what isn’t. It’s extremely helpful for day-to-day planning, and it is easy on the students because this type of assessment doesn’t require a grade.

Summative assessments are those assessments that students stress over. The big unit tests. The quizzes. The finals. The portfolios. They test what a students has learned over a longer period of time. Until recently, I struggled with even coming up with a reason for needing them. In my younger days, they were often  basically memorization tests. It never really felt like they helped me as a student because I’d forget whatever it was I memorized later on. I didn’t see any point in it for helping teachers. Why would they need a summative assessment if they were doing formative ones every day? They knew what we knew.  It honestly wasn’t until today that the answer finally hit me. Application. Summative assessments are great for testing application. They can’t be done until all the little concepts are learned anyway. But if these are done at the end of a unit, and they aren’t revisited, how will we ever address what we learned from those assessments?

What we really need is not a debate of whether each kind of assessment is necessary, but how they should be done. I have had exactly three classes where I felt assessments were being done well. Those classes were Band, First Aid, and Fundamentals of Biology (in college). I felt that these classes were fantastic because the assessments that were used in these classes actually helped me as a student, instead of just producing a grade. I’ll address each individually:

Band

In band, it was easy to tell when you were doing something wrong and what that was. You can literally hear when a mistake is being made, so you know exactly what needs to be improved while you are performing. If there’s something you didn’t hear, the conductor did. They’ll immediately address what it was and stop the class so that the section that made the mistake can work on fixing whatever that was with their guidance. There were, of course, written exams as well, but what was on the test were things that were talked about and applied every day. FFF? That means super loud. I remember seeing it on that piece we played yesterday. In band, feedback is immediate, it is clear, and it is authentic.

First Aid

In first aid you practice what you will be informally tested every day. It is practical and authentic. Teachers are able to tell you how to improve each day because you are tested each day. The final test is an authentic summative assessment. You are given a situation in which first aid needs to be applied, and you have to do it correctly or the “person” you’re helping will be injured worse or even “die”. The best part of this is that there is a chance to be tested again if for whatever reason (nerves, unaddressed misconceptions, etc.) messes you up. It is very bad if you mess up first aid in the real world, so teachers want to make sure you can apply first aid without even thinking about it. The constant informal testing really helped me: both in getting rid of nerves and fear of asking questions, and in keeping me in the know of what I need to improve on.

Fundamentals of Biology

I was very sad that I never got another class in college that used assessment in the same way that Fundamentals of  Biology did. To start, we had to do online modules every week. You had to do them until you got a high enough percentage correct. So, you had to do them until you showed that you understood the concept. Secondly, there was a short quiz every other week. This kept students studying every day like they were supposed to. When the midterms and finals eventually came around, we felt much more prepared for them and less cramming was needed to be done. In other lecture classes, midterms and finals were all we got to keep track of how we were doing. It was much harder to regulate studying and to really understand how well you were doing every week with only a few tests per entire semester.

I hope to use some of these techniques in planning my own assessments in my future. Please take what you like.

 

 

 

Equity, Concept Mapping, and Placements

 

Equity*

This week, our cohort started off by discussing equity in schools, more specifically, equity in science education. We talked about how rural and urban schools don’t always receive a lot of resources or good teachers. We talked about how some teachers hold low expectations for these kids. There’s an unspoken agreement in the community that to succeed in a rural area you have to leave it. In urban schools, science is often seen as a “white subject”, and to do well and be interested in that is to abandon minority culture.

I find all this to be very sad because I find that science is unique in the fact that everyone, no matter their background and experience, has something that they can bring to the table. Every human, at some point in their life, has wondered about something. What are stars made of? How do cars work? Why do people fart? And this is why science has the potential to be a great equalizer. Rural kids might bring their interest and background in hunting. Urban kids might want to create a community garden. And suburban kids…well I’m sure there’s plenty of stuff they’re interested in. Point is, there is value in the background kids have and the things they are interested in, and it is worth it to bring those interests into science education.

Concept Mapping

After our passionate discussion about equity, we moved on to concept mapping. To be able to map out a subject or concept is to know it intimately. You must be able to pull out the “big ideas” and find their natural flow. You must be able to describe how each idea relates to each other and find those mechanisms. The reason we were practicing this was because concept mapping is an excellent way to begin planning out units. We practiced first with a geology unit and found that each of us had different ways of looking at connections. We also found that in working out connections, there’s often a topic that lingers in the background of lessons that turns out to be integral to holding the unit together. We also found that concept mapping is great for planning essays. Try it!

Placements

This week was very special in that the majority of us started our high school placements. I am sure that these will be the topic of many blogs in the future, so I won’t spend too much time talking about them, but I did compile a few blurbs from the cohort:

“So far I have been observing my students and writing down a seating chart for each class to start remembering names. I have helped answer questions and assist in lab. I’m nervous I’m not going to remember anyone’s name and I’m a little nervous to have full control of the classroom, but by the time the time comes, I will hopefully be comfortable.” -Sydney

“I’ve been circulating around the room to help students through class activities and worksheets. I’ve also been grading (exit tickets, specifically). Today was real funny because my CT wanted me to test the conductivity lab they’re doing next week and it didn’t work, so my new task is to get it to work tomorrow when I get there! He let me see 3 other science teachers (2 chem, 1 physics) to see how other teachers run their warm-ups, lessons, etc. I’m also nervous to take over the class fully, but I think once I get to know the kids a little bit better I’ll feel more comfortable. I’m also conflicted about my role as a student teacher – there are times when things happen (students resisting to leave when being called out of class by the VP, for example) and I have to deal with these situations in ways that are incongruent with what I would do, but that will come with having my own classroom I guess.” -James

“I’ve been observing, helping students, and grading labs. On Thursday, I got to run the afternoon classes while my CT was out, which was fun (and scary). I’ve learned the names of everyone in one period, and working on names in the others. My CT has been great about asking for my input during class and while planning, which I appreciate. Next week, I’ll be proctoring a test on a day when my CT can’t be there. I’ve also been told that I can run the Regent class’s acid rain labs when the time comes. Exciting!” -Kaitlin

Olivia wrote a lot about her first week on her blog already, so check that out.  She had a very interesting field trip.

Good luck to everyone in their continued placements!


*References from our equity discussion if you’re interested:

Avery, L. M. (2013). Rural science education: Valuing local knowledge. Theory Into Practice52(1), 28-35.

Barton, A. C., & Yang, K. (2000). The culture of power and science education: Learning from Miguel. Journal of Research in Science Teaching37(8), 871-889.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2012). I used to love science… and then I went to science: The challenge of school science in urban schools. In J. Settlage, & S. Southerland (Eds.), Teaching science to every child: Using culture as a starting point (pp. 13-19). New York, NY: Routledge.

New Teacher Help: From Nerves to Assessment

This week marks the first real week of student teaching placements for most of us. I’m feeling a little nervous about teaching all these new high schoolers, so I assumed that other preservice teachers might be feeling the same. As such, I have decided to compile a list of articles that are geared toward helping new teachers. You can go through all of them or just pick and choose whichever article you feel you need the most.

NervesThis article gives tips on how to deal with stage fright before and during teaching. A lot of these are new to me, but I can definitely see myself using them.

Planning Around StandardsHow to organize and plan a unit while keeping the standards. Most of this we already know, but parts of it might clarify for our unit planning.

Open Educational ResourceOpen educational resource is the sharing of apps, ideas, lesson plans, etc. between educators. This article explores a few different sites for this and how to integrate them into your own lessons.

Case Study TeachingThis is an open educational resource that my cooperating teacher introduced me to that contains case study-centered lesson plans. You can search by topic, type of activities, and grade level. They have some pretty cool ideas.

Assessing Understanding: Unsure how to gauge whether it is appropriate to move on in your lesson or review the material a little longer? This article might help. Contains quick and easy informal assessments that don’t rely on taking the students’ word for it.

 

 

Engaging the Unengageable

This past week I met with my cooperating teacher to discuss my upcoming placement. She began by informing me that her class was filled with students who weren’t interested in science. I had no problem with that. There’s always one subject that students don’t like; I could still make it interesting for them. Then she told me that the reason they weren’t interested in science was because they were interested in things that were far more important. Food. Shelter. Sleep. How do you engage students that are up all night working to provide for their family? How do you entice someone with cells when they’ve got tunnel vision on food? I began my research.

I started by searching bluntly: “engaging trauma students”. I found a lot, but not on engagement. Most articles just explained what sort of trauma students might be going through and what to look for and how to provide support. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but I’ll include the links since they are still helpful:

  • https://www.edutopia.org/blog/brains-in-pain-cannot-learn-lori-desautels
  • https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/8-ways-support-students-who-experience-trauma
  • https://www.edutopia.org/article/when-students-are-traumatized-teachers-are-too?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow
  • https://wmich.edu/sites/default/files/attachments/u57/2013/child-trauma-toolkit.pdf

I asked my mom for advice (she’s a professor). She encouraged me to ask the students what they were interested in. I also remembered that students tend to be more engaged when it involves something major in their lives or communities–something involving social justice. I thought that this was a good starting point, but what do I do when I can’t control the curriculum? What do I do when I’m still working as a student teacher?

I finally turned to someone I’d been introduced (not personally) to in my Race, Class, Gender, and Disability class: Christopher Emdin. I remembered reading a bit from his book, For White Folks Who Teach In The Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too. I remembered how nervous he was about teaching and how he wasn’t sure if he’d connect with his students either, and he shared the exact same neighborhood, race, and musical culture as his students. I found a few of his talks, and I think it was more of what I was looking for–the “magic” he says that the most engaging teachers have. He says it can be taught. Take a look.

Also check out his website and blog. 

 

Teaching Science to Students with Low Literacy Levels

When I think back to my years of learning science I remember having long chapters of text to read. I remember having to write pages and pages of lab reports. In short, I have trouble remembering a time in school in which I didn’t need to be able to read and write well for science class.

It was therefore very difficult for me to imagine trying to teach high school biology to a group of students that have the literacy skills of elementary students. There were a number of problems I could see with this conundrum. They would have a terrible time trying to read scientific papers and research. It would take an inordinate amount of time to type up a paper or a lab report. Also, how on earth would I be able to prepare them for state assessments?

As I began to brainstorm, I realized that I could take bits and pieces of methods from different classes to help me with this problem. Special education, elementary education, literacy education, and my field experiences all dealt with aspects of teaching to students who did not yet read or write well. Here are some aspects that I’ve taken from each that I think will help.

Elementary Science and Project-Based Learning. 

  • Project and activity-based
  • Activities require a low level of reading/writing.
  • Much of the explanation and interaction is done verbally
  • Teacher keeps large lists of new vocabulary words around the room as they are encountered for reference
  • Products are usually in the form of something physical or visual with very little writing

Literacy 

  • Recommends literacy lessons to be embedded within interesting authentic contexts, so a literacy lesson involving science text would be completely appropriate
  • products can be done in the form of word sorts, which also allows students to conceptually organize scientific vocabulary words
  • there are multiple literacy tests to help teacher predict which words will be the most challenging for students to learn
  • recommends doing short literacy activities like word sorts once a day, only takes 5-10 min out of core teaching time, can also do these with words/phrases that are commonly used on Regents.
  • recommends sending home “book bags” to work on with family, which includes some sort of text, instructions, and an audio version for families who have different primary languages so they can read along

Special Education

  • provide extra time for activities involving reading/writing
  • let students have oral exams
  • read instructions out loud while having students read along
  • verbally and visually give content at the same time
  • verbal discussions of content as class or small group instead of written activities
  • “think aloud” models
  • repetition of directions
  • have students take a literacy test to better understand what parts of literacy they are struggling with and develop a plan from that

Field Experiences

  • Instead of textbooks, use excerpts that come with diagrams as well
  • help students read or reread questions and excerpts when students are working individually or in small groups
  • model for students how to pull information from the text and find main ideas
  • when doing station work, include simplified diagrams and instructions for tools at each station to help students
  • allow students to use short answers instead of complete sentences
  • use science raps/songs to help remember content
  • Move the classroom into the environment you’re teaching about, like the great outdoors.

I hope to learn more as I continue with these classes and field experiences, and will continue to update my helpful tips lists. I also invite others that have different specialties to add their tips as well.

 

Nature of Science: Why We Care About It

The nature of science (NOS)  is an odd phrase, one I’d never heard of before until this year. That fact is only odd because I, myself, am a scientist. It turns out that the NOS is something I’ve known and embedded within my practice. It’s just not something I’ve ever put words to. The nature of science is basically how science is done and how it is supposed to be done.

Right now you might be thinking, but I’m not a scientist, why should I need to know about this? Great question. The answer is because science is important. It is what brings us new treatments that cure disease. It gives us vital information about upcoming natural disasters. It lets you know that it might just be a good idea to wash your hands after touching something gross. Since science tells us so many important things, it is equally important that we understand it correctly.

Misconceptions about the NOS can be extremely costly. It has led to disbelief of climate change and children not getting the medical treatment they need to survive. If we want people to make good, educated choices about their lives and the future of humanity and earth, it is a good idea to educate them about how science actually works so misconceptions don’t cause any more problems. To help, I’ve compiled a short list of what I believe are some of the more important aspects of the NOS that everyone should know and the dangerous misconceptions about them.

Science is tentative. Science is a way of knowing. As scientists learn more, knowledge may be added or changed. The misconception that arises from this is that people think scientists know nothing. That is not true. Scientists base their knowledge on empirical data of what they have observed. This data is tested many, many times in order to verify that it is correct. So, you could decide to believe that their findings are being explained the wrong way, but the observations aren’t fake, and the work is always there for you to check for yourself.  That is how the autism-vaccine link study was debunked. Other scientists checked their work.

Theory. It doesn’t mean what you think it means. In common english, a theory usually means an idea or guess, which is why many people tend to disregard scientific theories. However, in science, a theory is well-tested and scrutinized explanation for a phenomenon. A theory was not only tested multiple times by the original group of scientists, but also other scientists possibly over a long period of time. To go further, a law in science is an observation that describes some aspect of the universe that has also been repeated many times. A theory cannot become a law because a theory explains why something happens and a law simply describes what happens.

I can’t believe in science because I’m religious. Religion and science are two different ways of knowing. One is based on faith, the other on empirical research. Science describes what humans can observe, and the other does not. There’s no reason to not believe in both. I can believe that there is evidence that creatures evolve through natural selection and adaptation and also believe that a divine being started it all.

Science is completely objective. Scientists try to be completely objective, but there is no escaping some subjectivity. We are all influenced by past experiences and what we already know and feel. Some subjectivity can be good. It allows us to approach things from different perspectives and find things others might not. It might keep us driven down a path that needs to be further explored. However, the method and explanation should not be skewed by subjectivity. Thankfully, scientific inquiries are checked by other scientists which helps to keep any harmful bias and subjectivity out.

I hope that this explanation helped and that more people will be able to make good decisions because of it. Unfortunately, this part of science is rarely taught well to younger science students. It is important that NOS is taught earlier on. A good portion of school students won’t go into a science field or get secondary education in science which is when NOS is more thoroughly discussed. If people miss out on this crucial part of their education, the way they live, vote, and act may not be in their own favor.

References to learn more: 

Lederman, N.G. (1998). Teacher’s Understanding of the Nature of Science and Classroom Practice: Factors that Facilitate or Impede the Relationship. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36(8), 916-929.

Schwartz. (2007). What’s in a Word?: How Word Choice Can Create (Mis)conceptions About the Nature of Science. Science Scope. 42-47.

Settlage, J. & Southerland, S. (2012). Teaching science to every child: Using culture as a starting point. New York, NY:Routledge. (chapter 2)