As high school students, we both loved science. We were intrigued by the impressive body of content that existed in courses titled Chemistry, Biology, and Physics. There was an excitement to taking these classes–like getting ready to run a race or climb a mountain kind of excitement–because the way science was viewed was as an external body of knowledge that we were setting off to get. We spent countless hours studying textbooks–working to absorb as much information as possible in order to pass tests–and prove that we had, in fact, gained the knowledge. We were curious and eager, and we were proud to show what we had learned.
But what was missing in our high school science experience is critical to surface. We’ll make it stand out here with some bullet points:
Science was viewed as a pre-determined, discrete body of knowledge to acquire.
The body of knowledge was static; we studied textbooks and we conducted labs that replicated what scientists had discovered; we were not scientists and we were not engaged in discovery.
The purpose of questions was to check whether or not we had learned from the class materials, checking that we were representing it correctly.
The purpose of tests was the transfer of knowledge; we demonstrated our memorization of material by representing it back on the test.
At LREI, our students have a fundamentally different experience in our science classes, which we believe is critical to their lives as thinkers and learners, far beyond the science classroom. Our pedagogical stance takes the position that:
Students ARE scientists who are developing the ability to encounter an unknown phenomenon and develop their understanding of it by constructing and testing models. Eventually, our student scientists come to understand that what they have discovered is a match with what other scientists have discovered–which is what leads them to the formalized knowledge of the scientific community (wow)!
The study of science is about engaging in an ever expanding, dynamic field that helps us understand our world, and to solve problems within it.
Through the study of scientific phenomena, we develop the ability to think critically, working collaboratively to build consensus and models by asking questions, and ultimately making sense of whatever is under study.
Modeling plasma membranes in Microbiology.
Testing and trying is central, and thus “failure” is central too. And this experience might just bring our students closest to the work of professional scientists across the world, as they engage together in the experimental cycles of testing and failing in order to discover more and more in our infinitely fascinating world.
Physics 10 students gathering data.
Constructing understanding together.