Science Controversies On-line: Partnerships in Education
From week to week, researchers around the world report new
data pertinent to the continuing controversy over global climate change. These
findings are presented in a stream of articles, in the scientific press as well
as the news media. Yet the stream of findings often doesn't reach into the
nation's science classrooms, where teachers and students are saddled with stale
curricula and out-of-date textbooks.
To help overcome this
situation with global warming and other key issues, education researchers at
the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Washington have
teamed up with science journalists to develop and utilize a multi-disciplinary
Web site facilitating discussion of current science controversies by natural
scientists, science teachers, and science learners across the country.
Other controversies dealt with by the site include genomics,
genetically modified foods, the spread of malaria, and the decline of amphibian
populations. The project, Science Controversies On-line: Partnerships in
Education (SCOPE), has been supported by a grant from the National Science
Foundation. It is on the Web at http://scope.educ.washington.edu.
According to Professor Marcia C. Linn with the Graduate School of
Education at Berkeley, one of the project's most important accomplishments was
that "we were able to form partnerships between natural scientists concerned
with leading-edge controversies, teachers who wanted to teach about those
controversies, science journalists who were writing about those controversies,
and pedagogical researchers who wanted to understand how people learned about
those controversies. It really resulted, I think, in a unique research program
that's enabled us to understand better how all those constituencies make sense
of new information in science."
Currently, Linn says, more than 2,000 science teachers are using
SCOPE materials, while the various lists for scientists involved in the online
forums are "on the order of 2,000 scientists. As far as pedagogy researchers
are concerned, there are a large number of research groups that have taken
advantage of the materials, either to use them directly or to incorporate them
into their own research projects."
Professor Linn emphasizes that the SCOPE project, by
contrast with traditional science textbooks, utilizes current scientific papers
and other materials available through the Internet, and thus is better able to
catch the attention of students.
"With the standards movement there's a very big emphasis on
the basic ideas of science, and I think unfortunately not enough attention to
the contemporary scientific debates that really concern citizens," she says.
"I'd love to see that changed. We found that students were extremely excited
when they could research the causes of frog deformities or the decisions
concerning whether to grow genetically modified crops. And they kept coming
back to their teachers year after year, to bring them new information."
Linn says the SCOPE project also has been more successful in
shaping the interests of women and minority students. "I think that as far as
enticing a larger number of women and minorities into scientific endeavors,
these contemporary controversies are far more inviting and appealing than
traditional science materials. And often [students] tell us that they're just
highly motivatedthey actually read newspaper articles on their own, look
things up on the Internet outside of class. Which is rare, frankly, with the
traditional curriculum. We think that this is a way to expand interest in
science beyond the traditional groups."
Others involved with the development of SCOPE include
Professor Philip Bell of the College of Education at the University of
Washington and Pamela J. Hines, an editor at Science, a journal
published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in
Bell observes that "part of our research is focused on
exploring how learning technologies can uniquely support students as they learn
science. This is a research endeavor for us but it's also a design endeavor
because the technologies that we want to explore often don't exist yet, or they
don't exist in the right form for us to be using as part of our work. So we
actually go in and develop new pieces of technology for kids to use and then do
research around how it goes once it's in a classroom or some other learning
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