Chronology Current Month Current Thread Current Date
[Year List] [Month List (current year)] [Date Index] [Thread Index] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Prev] [Date Next]

Re: envir. topics for science m

Marc Kossover wrote:

Largely because most environmentaly issues rely on science that is not
yet enshrined in the field as being correct.

Even apparently obvious bits like the greenhouse effect can cause
significant debate. If the topic is controversial but directly related
physics, I will deal with it. On the other hand, topics that only
tangentially relate, but are open to considerable debate, it seems to me
should be left out of a physics class.

Further, most enviromental debate eventually comes to policy decisions.
Having been a debate coach, I find that science classrooms are clearly
the place for this -- social science classes are.

For example, the text _Chemistry and the Community_ simply spends too
little time on chemistry and too much on the social policy. If I wanted
to teach social science, I would go get certified in it.

It's good to see that you deal with some environmental issues that
directly relate to physics. I think most of us will agree that physics
principles should at some point be put into a context beyond dynamics
carts and calorimeter cups, and that the environment is in some cases at
least as appropriate as sports or space travel or science fiction movies.

I'm concerned that some of us shy away from contoversial issues in the
physics classroom. I think we should seek them out, and to the extent
that they help breathe life into a physics principle or the practice of
science, we should try to incorporate them in our courses for science
majors. I acknowledge that we can go wrong by presenting conjecture, or
even informed consensus, as "correct". But we can try to help students
develop tools to arrive at their own reasoned judgments. There's no
reason we can't hold students to specific and rigorous standards in
formulating judgments...even if in the end there's no "correct"
conclusion that all students must arrive at.

I would be sorry to see our science majors graduate having never
participated in scientifically-informed debate about environmental and
other societal issues. I don't want to leave that to the social
scientists. Our graduates would leave with at best an incomplete picture
of the nature of science, and at worst, a dangerous one: science as
absolute knowledge enclosed by impenetrable walls.

I teach a short course on ozone depletion and global climate change that
culminates in a mock congressional hearing. I think students gain some
appreciation of the nature of science as they become aware of how
scientists struggle to arrive at consensus, how science speaks to
societal problems, and how the assumptions and methods of science differ
from those of political, economic, and social perspectives. The trouble
is, not all of our science majors take the course.

I'm convinced it's possible to meet and actually improve attainment of
the usual process and content course objectives for a majors course by
including environmental issues - especially controversial ones. But it
clearly will require a lot of creativity and hard work on the part of
many people.

Eric Anderson
Avila College
11901 Wornall Rd.
Kansas City, MO 64145
(816)942-8400 x2222