National Academies Press: OpenBook

Agriculture and the Undergraduate (1992)

Chapter: 24 Teaching Science as Inquiry

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Suggested Citation:"24 Teaching Science as Inquiry." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 204
Suggested Citation:"24 Teaching Science as Inquiry." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 205
Suggested Citation:"24 Teaching Science as Inquiry." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 206
Suggested Citation:"24 Teaching Science as Inquiry." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 207

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CH`9PrER 24 Teaching Science as inquiry Paul H. Williams Alvin L'. Young, Rapporteur Science and ~ sense, I wonder; What if 1 . . . ? How can I . . . ? I'm doing Ill I did ill Wowl How do I Inflow . . . ? How can I tel.] you I know? Since the turn of the century, science and agriscience education across the United States has been reinforcing a dilemma of increas- ing magnitude and of its own making. Put simply, scientists and educators have preempted science from the public domain by sub- stituting the knowledge created by scientific inquiry for the process of creative inquiry. Today, the domain of scientific inquiry largely resides within the increasingly remote arenas of the specialized disciplines, which are protected by academic rights of passage and secret languages. in late-twentieth-century schools and colleges, science has be- come a "spectator activity" fueled by more sophisticated communi- cations technology, in which knowledge has become a collectible and a commodity, where textbooks are like baseball cards, where somehow if you "bone up" on all the stats and facts you will pass through the portals of academe and find yourself on the playing field in the big league of science. Nova and National Geographic specials are equivalent to the most enticing hamburger and whole 204

TEACtfING SCIENCE AS INQUIRY grain cereal ads: Somehow they are supposed to be good for you, yet all they provide is a momentary sense of satisfaction, awe, or indignation. With the very latest innovations in interactive video communication technology, information vendors are poised to "Nin- tendo" our children and our teachers into even deeper and more subtle diversions from what the real game of science is all about. Science begins when any human of any age who is curious about some phenomenon in the natural world around them begins to question and explore the relationships of the phenomenon to their understanding of their world. Science begins with an observa- tion and a question and proceeds through a process of inquiry involving exploration and investigation, experimentation and analy- sis, and exposition and persuasion. That process engages the cre- ative energy of the individual and leads to a deeper understanding, a sense of pleasure, and increased self-worth. Young children do science quite naturally: "Look what I found, Moml" Science, as it is taught in most schools across the United States, preempts teachers and students of the pleasures of creative inquiry by substituting the disciplinary content of knowledge for pleasureful and sometimes painful opportunities to discover for themselves why their world is the way it is. To provide a basis for discussion on teaching science as inquiry, I prepared a few brief assertions and questions. 1. The process of inquiry is truncated when a correct answer is taught, given, or required. 2. Is there a general paradigm that characterizes the process of scientific inquiry as opposed to other forms of human inquiry? 3. Technological innovation can be a useful partner in the pro- cess of scientific inquiry. 4. Science should be a participatory activity, with both the teacher and the student engaging in the game. 5. How can scientific inquiry best be taught? 6. What is the appropriate balance between knowledge content and the inquiry process? 7. What are the constraints to participating in inquirybased teachings RAPPORTEUR'S SUMMARY Most of us who participated in the conference had someone, likely a teacher, who gave us a sense of excitement about the field of science. From that initial spark of excitement we developed careers in science, and for most of us, many areas of science are even more exciting today, as we have seen the advancements of an incredible array of new technological tools for inquiring into science. Yet, my 1S-year-old son, a freshman in high school, re 205

AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE ports to me that the textbook and science teacher are "boring" and that he frequently goes through a great deal of agony to learn something simple. The question posed for this discussion group was most appropriate; namely, "How do we teach science in a way that captures and returns the students? interest?" Simply put, How do we teach science as inquiry?" Science is the process of discovery. But the conditions condu- cive for discovery are not always present. The following four im- pediments were identified. 1. Relevancy. In the daily life of the student, the process of discovery seems to have nothing to do with the process of sci- ence. Too frequently, to the student and general public, there is no relationship between the food in our supermarkets and the research conducted by our land-grant universities. 2. Tunnel vision. Today, we are struggling with students who see the end of the tunnel (college) as a route to getting jobs. Sci- ence courses are seen only as requirements in traversing that tun- nel, that is, blocks to be checked on a scorecard. 3. Socialization. Science courses in our institutions frequently become socialized. They are not designed with a creativity factor in mind. Rather, they are structured to meet the student's needs, that is, helping them to check off the blocks on their scorecards. Hence, the result is aimless lectures and multiple-choice tests. 4. Documentation. The way in which we report science "turns off" students. We prepare articles that must meet rigid publication requirements a very conservative process that leaves our journal articles dull. We publish hundreds of journals that are read by a small number of people and certainly few, if any, students. More- over, there are few science writers who can make science exciting to the reading public. In view of these impediments, how do we teach science in a manner that is pleasurable, exciting, and educational? Participants made the following suggestions. 1. Balance content and process. We must find a balance be- tween the knowledge content of science and the inquiry process. Science courses must be more than just a collection of knowledge. In teaching genetics, I can remember the excitement of the stu- dents when we combined the knowledge of meiosis with math- ematics, enabling us to predict and understand the ratios in the segregation of genetic traits in our laboratory studies of fruit flies. 2. A participatory process. Teaching science should be an inter- active situation between the student and the teacher, both partici 206

TEACHING SCIENCE AS INQUIRY patina together in conducting an experiment. The close relation- ship between a graduate student and the major professor exempli- fies a situation in which science is best taught. 3. The use of technology. Technological innovation can be a very useful partner in the process of scientific inquiry. For example, the simplistic setup required for tissue culturing allows this power- ful technology to be readily used in the laboratory as a technique for problem solving and scientific inquiry. 4. Independent study. At the undergraduate level, independent study provides an excellent way to teach science. The selection of the project and the followthrough of the subsequent steps to its successful completion can instill in students a sense of excitement about science. 5. Communication and persuasion. Teaching students in a peer relationship situation provides a cooperative learning mode, be- cause the student must communicate accurately (stating the hy- pothesis), demonstrate results (testing the hypothesis), and persuade peers that the question was answered (proving or disproving the hypothesis). 6. Alternatives to "correct" answers. Young children do science naturally. They formulate ideas. They make observations, and they make conclusions. By the time a child reaches high school, most of the creative nature is gone. The process of inquiry is truncated when we demand a correct answer. We do not encourage devia- tions from our correct answer, nor do we encourage other interpre- tations to fit the hypothesis. As teachers, we must be willing to say that we do not know whether this is the correct and only answer. We must encourage students to evaluate many solutions to a prob- lem. 7. Deporting science. The most difficult tasks in the process of inquiry are interpreting and reporting the observations. How we communicate among peers through our journals frequently limits or restricts how we communicate with the public. We should, per- haps as a minimum, require our students and ourselves to write summaries of our reports in a manner that an outsider could read and understand. in summary, to teachers of science, the lessons from this discus- sion are that the science we teach should be relevant to the life of the student, that it contains a balance between the knowledge con- tent and the inquiry process, that it should be a participatory activ- ity, with both the teacher and the student engaging in the game, and that the tools of technology can make it an innovative process. As we develop our science curriculum, we must remember that our goals are the growth and maturation of our students so that they are able to understand and apply the scientific process. 207

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This book presents efforts to chart the comprehensive changes needed to meet the challenges of undergraduate professional education in agriculture. The United States needs to invest in the future--in human capital and the scientific knowledge base--to revitalize one of its leading industries, the agricultural, food, and environmental system. That objective can be met by educating all students about agriculture as well as by educating others specifically for careers in agriculture.

Agriculture and the Undergraduate includes perspectives on rewarding excellence in teaching and formulating curricula to reflect cultural diversity, the environment, ecology, agribusiness and business, humanities and the social sciences, and the economic and global contexts of agriculture.

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