What do you remember?

Last week, when I was at the annual conference of the Science Teachers Association of Ontario, I attended a luncheon sponsored by Smarter Science. I was joined at the table by a few pre-service teachers. STAO does a nice job of getting pre-service teachers out to their conference, by providing reasonable rates for them to attend.  We had a few speakers give short talks about the importance of science education, and how it’s changing in profound ways. The move from memorizing content, content, content to a more balanced approach that also emphasizes skills, critical thinking and the processes of science.

During our conversation, one of the young teachers asked me how we could balance that load of content v.s. process in a working classroom.  Being one to never miss an opportunity, I turned to her and asked her a question.

Me: "Let me ask you something. Tell me what you remember from your high school science classes."

Her: "I remember memorizing lots of things, and having tests on them."

Me: "Tell me one thing you memorized."

Her: "I can’t, I don’t remember them now."

Me: "Ok, then tell me what you do remember doing in science class."

Her: "I remember this field trip we took to a local forest. I remember doing this project with my friend. I remember some of the labs and things we did in class."

Me: "You’ve just answered your own question. Do that. Teach that way. Do what your students will remember, and don’t get hung up on the things that are forgettable."

I think she understood what I was getting at, but the hard part is yet to come. She has to learn to make that leap and let go of the fear of ‘not covering something’ in her class.  I hope she succeeds, and I wish her the best of luck.

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SCCAO Mini-Conference

I’ve been a member of the Science Co-ordinators and Consultants Association of Ontario for about 3 years. Up until last year, I could say that I was a science and technology consultant. Now I’m officially known as a curriculum consultant, with all the ambiguity that is contained therein.  I think that its fair to say that the subject specific consultant is a disappearing job title in Ontario school boards. Not that this is all bad, as the boards have to focus on some things more than others, given the realities of funding and Ministry priorities.  However, at least some of the time, it’s important to give a voice to the subject specialties.

SCCAO works hard to try and bring that Science and Technology voice to different areas. At least twice a year, they bring together science focused people to discuss the burning educational issues of the day through the lens of the science curriculum.  We’ve tackled all sorts of topics this way. Tomorrow, we have our annual one-day mini-conference as a lead up to the much larger STAO conference in Toronto.  Our day is divided up into a few different sections, but the two mains ones have to do with Assessment of the Inquiry process, and Safety in Science and Technology.  Both topics are very important.  The assessment topic is one that will focus on science as a vehicle, but will have implications to many educators who have an inquiry focus in their classrooms.  The safety discussion will look at the recently published Safe ON Science document by STAO and we’ll be looking at issues around the province in relation to that.

We hope to have a Livestream running through the day, so if you want to drop in and listen in, feel free. You can visit the SCCAO website, or the Livesteam.com/SCCAO feed to catch up.

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Thinking critically about critical thinking

After the first successful Critical Thinking Chat last Wednesday on Twitter (#CTchat) I  got pondering the nature of my ideas around thinking, and in particular critical thinking.  As we went through the hour long chat, I kept seeing that many folks had a different idea about what the definition of critical thinking than me. So in order to try and help organize my thoughts, I thought that I’d attempt to ouline some of my ideas here.

The Wikipedia article on critical thinking gives one definition as ‘reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do’. This is a good starting point, but it has one glaring issue that I see, and one that I think I kept seeing in the various definitions tossed out by people on Twitter.  What constitutes ‘reasonable’ for one person, might not be the same for me.  I think that’s what I was seeing the other night, and it occured to me that I have a different take on it.

I’m a fan of critical thinking as criterial thinking, and that in order to make judgements or decisions, that you have a set of criteria against which you judge evidence or situations.  The establishing of these criteria form the basis of your criticisms.  The Critical Thinking Consortium has decent workshops and training materials that might be helpful in your exploration of this.

Deeper than this, in my thinking, is my background in the skepticism movement. This is a way of thinking about the world that revolves around a questioning, or doubting of knowledge without an established body of evidence behind it. Even more so, I’ve realized that my own personal philosphy is deeply rooted in scientific skepticism. This is the stance that in order to make claims of truth, you need to have acceptable and tested empirical evidence.  I know that many people will argue that there are many things that are not subject to the test of empirical evidence, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I would argue that for everything we experience in our day to day lives, there is a reasonable expectation that we have some good quality evidence to back up any claim, stance or decision that we make.  I think that we live in an objective universe that is not subject to the whims of human desires. If we mis-interpret the evidence, it’s our mistakes, not the universe being subjective.

I don’t see the skills of critical thinking being only something we need to employ when we are watching advertising on television, but rather that we need to apply those skills to everything we encounter on a daily basis. This is not to say that we simply doubt everything, but rather, when a new idea is presented that is counter to the established body of knowledge, we require a quantity of good evidence, that is proportional to the claims being made.

As one of my heros Carl Sagan wrote in Cosmos, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Sagan’s books, especially Cosmon, Demon Haunted World, and Pale Blue Dot have shaped my thinking about critical thinking to an extraordinary degree.

I’m looking forward to other #ctchat evenings on Twitter to further delve into this topic.

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