STEM Education: Building Better at Fusion

By Kate Kodet

Scientists make the world a better place by studying the environment, deepening understanding in phenomena, and creating solutions. Rather than accept current opinions, they dig deeper, gather information, and challenge the status quo. But what if a non-scientist behaved like this? What if we all followed their example and thought like them- not in the lab but out in our everyday lives? What kind of impact would that have?

In the fall, the Fusion Curriculum Team of Michelle Wikum, Imaya Rincon, and I spent two days in Anaheim at the CA STEM Symposium. There, we heard from other teachers and educators on how to integrate new and cross-curricular standards, use technology, and prepare students for life after high school. In addition to learning from fellow colleagues, I led a presentation and discussion on the importance and impact of the Nature of Science, a lesser-known aspect of the newly-adopted Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), on student’s success outside of science class. For each component of the Nature of Science, historical or scientific context and related skills learned in the classroom translate to address a societal need well beyond the science lab. The Nature of Science, as laid out in the NGSS, are as follows:

• Scientific investigation uses a variety of methods

• Scientific knowledge is based on empirical evidence

• Scientific knowledge is open to revision in light of new evidence

• Scientific models, laws, mechanisms, and theories explain natural phenomena

• Science is a way of knowing

• Scientific knowledge assumes an order and consistency in natural systems

• Science is a human endeavor

• Science addresses questions about the natural and material world

When a person “thinks like a scientist” and applies the scientific method, a way of thinking based on logic, tests, reasoning, and refining, then one is able to arrive at sound, justifiable conclusions.

There was a time where the majority of people thought that the Earth was at the center of the universe, and this belief was held so strongly that even when new evidence was presented by Copernicus and Galileo, most people resisted and even violently opposed changing their dogma. More recently, Elon Musk stated that he didn’t really have more noble intentions with creating the Tesla than showing people that an electric car didn’t have to be “ugly and slow and boring like a golf cart.”

What our students can learn from both of these stories is that it’s important to take risks and to challenge current beliefs, and do so not recklessly, but based on evidence and experience. One should not be afraid to make mistakes. In fact, one should embrace them, reflect on them, learn from them, and make better decisions next time. A scientific approach, one including judgments based on information and not prejudice, results in less stress, anxiety, and fear, and a greater capacity to understand and care for others. Maybe if we all thought like scientists, we’d all have great love and respect for one another, and the world would be a safer and kinder place for everyone.