What are we teaching students about science? Looking beyond content.

Kathy Perkins
Assistant Professor Attendant Rank, Physics

When preparing to teach courses in the sciences, we often ask ourselves: "What topics do I want (or need) to cover and how much time should I spend on each?". In "Engaging Students with Active Thinking", Carl Wieman argues that faculty should look beyond the science content of the course. He points out that our teaching influences students' attitudes and beliefs about science and learning science, and that these beliefs impact student motivation and important educational outcomes, such as students' learning of the content and their choice to pursue further science education. A student with novice beliefs about science will see science as a collection of pieces of information and problem solving recipes that need to be memorized, and that have no connection to the real world. From this perspective, almost anyone would think science is boring and useless. Within physics, we have, in fact, collected data here at CU which shows that students with more novice beliefs tend to be less interested in physics.

Wieman proposes that an important goal for science classes is to move students towards more expert-like beliefs about science - that is, helping students to see science as a powerful, coherent framework of concepts that are broadly applicable and describe the world around us. Wieman argues that by orienting our teaching towards promoting expert-like beliefs - e.g. by presenting content in real-world contexts, assigning homework problems whose answers are relevant and useful to students, and emphasizing reasoning and sense-making - we will better achieve our ultimate goal, to engage and educate our students in science.

Read "Engaging Students with Active Thinking" by Carl E. Wieman.

University of Colorado at Boulder CU Home CU Search CU A to Z Campus Map