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Science and Knowledge

Welcome to the on-line forum for exploring the meaning of science and knowledge. It was authored by Wilfred Franklin of Bryn Mawr College Biology Department in consultation with Dr. Paul Grobstein also in the Biology Department. It is  a place to put thoughts-in-progress that might be useful to other people, and to find thoughts-in-progress of others that might be useful to you.

It is intended as no more than a take-off point for conversation here, a conversation in which multiple perspectives on science are allowed to rub against one another, each altering and being altered by the others in the process.

Looking forward to seeing what new understandings and stories we generate together. Please read the following introduction and then post your thoughts below.



A starting point

Science is a way of making sense of the world and the place of humans in it by making observations, generating candidate explanations of those observations, testing the explanations by further observations, and repeating over and over again. In this sense, it is firmly anchored in an unending empirical process that loops repeatedly between observations and interpretations. The loop itself in turn cycles between inductive and deductive steps (see Karl Popper's hypotheticol-deductive Method). Regularities in patterns of observations suggest possible general principles (the inductive step) which in turn are used to generate predictions about observations as yet unmade (the deductive step). The process of generating and testing predictions yields both new ways of making sense of the world and one's place in it and new questions about both. In this important sense, science is not about finding "truth" but instead is a process of continuing inquiry driven equally by curiosity, skepticism, and imagination. (see science as story telling by Grostein).

To drive home the point about "truth" consider optical illusions. Take a look at some of the following optical illusions and ambigous figures forum on Serendip. (Also, try the Spinning Ballerina)

Optical illusions raise the serious question of how a perceiver "knows" the difference between what is "real" and what is "illusory"? When the process of science is elevated above discovering "truth", skepticism replaces "facts" and evaluating the significance of evidence becomes the critical skill to gain.


Implications for eduation in general

The underpinnings of science as a way of making sense of the the world have implications not only for science education but for learning in general. They suggest that what is of primary importance is to encourage and help students to develop their skills and sophistication in inquiry as a ongoing process, rather than primarily to teach them either particular content or particular skills. This is particularly true in an age when content is widely accessible and particular skills quickly go out of date. The need is not to implant particular material or perspectives in students but rather to help them develop the capacities to evaluate information and to construct for themselves meaningful ways of organizing information.

This is not at all to say that content is irrelevant to the educational process. Content is the fuel for the engine of inquiry, and cannot therefore be ignored. But conveying content is not the primary point of the educational process and so content should be chosen to facilitate the development of inquiry skills rather than starting with content and then trying to present it in a way that also develops inquiry skills.

As for students organizing information in a "meaningful way" to themselves, the process is not solely a function of individual inclination but involves an essential social dimension as well. Interactions with others are important contributors both to creating and to evaluating ways of organizing information. What is being challenged here is not the value of shared knowledge and ways of making sense of information but rather the notion that one should start with shared knowledge and ways of making sense of information. Instead one should allow these commonalities to emerge and evolve in ways that involve the ongoing development of individual understandings.

A scientific understanding depends fundamentally on a continuing engagement of individuals with a process whose outcome is not fully determined in advance. It is only through such an engagement that students will acquire enhanced abilities to inquire, evaluate, and find ways to make sense of information themselves.


Jess Martzall's picture

I really connected with Mr.

I really connected with Mr. Greene's article because I'm interested in becoming a teacher and it is incredibly sad how school frequently manages to destroy the love of learning. Luckily, I've had some amazing science teachers (Physics) who allowed us to experiment and learn from more than just notes on slides, but I've also experienced the the opposite type of education.

At my school, Biology and Chemistry were almost completely lecture-based and most of our time was spent taking notes on discoveries made hundreds of years ago. Our classes were only forty minutes long which isn't very conducive to in-depth labs, so any type of lab was rare. It was mostly all memorization and then multiple choice tests, and we never talked about current discoveries in any way. I wanted to give biology another chance in college, so I could focus on understand instead of regurgitating information.

Unfortunately, I do not think that science education in my area is going to improve any time soon. During junior year we had to take a standardized test for science, and instead of testing the type of logic or reasoning used in science, its goal was to get us to recall facts from middle school. How will it be possible for teachers to enable us to remember every minute detail we've learned in science? The test wanted us to spit back information, so science teachers will be even more pressured to teach to the test instead of trying to inspire a love of learning.

Camille Petre's picture

The Tiny Bits of the Puzzle

In reading both articles, I found myself thinking about the actual definition of science, and how scientists (including Brian Greene) seem to believe it impacts the world. It is more than true that we are surrounded by science, but I feel like science is too often viewed as a series of large discoveries that cause us to spring forward again and again until the specific state we live in right now. The history of science, to me, is a series of what ifs that could have happened without small discoveries. After all, science is mostly repetition. Small changes one or two scientists may have made could have repeated by hundreds of scientists, one of whom combined it with another idea to create one of these ‘earth shattering discoveries.’

A small contribution I think of is Karl Benz’s use of gasoline in creating the precursor to today’s automobiles. Without his contribution, we might have still found gasoline as a useful source of energy, or continued with steam powered energy to create cars that run by steam and gears. This has even larger applications for technology and political issues. We might still use helium filled zeppelins without gas powered engines, or wouldn’t have ever known that it is possible to fly a rocket to the moon. Benz is a well known name within some circles, and in some ways a bad example of what I am trying to demonstrate, but do consider the wide implication of his seemingly tiny contribution. Of course, there were others who contributed to Benz’s idea, but I think his discovery of the use of gasoline is still considered minor.

A possibly better example is the use of the giant squid axon in cognitive research. John Zachary Young is credited with first using the axon; a simple idea that using this neuron would make neuroscience research visible to the naked eye and thus simplified. Suddenly neuroscientists could test important theories, and modify them as needed. Hodgkin and Huxley used his research to give much bigger and well known contributions to the science, but I think it’s important to note what Young did.

In science classes we learn about how neurons fire, and the structure of sex gametes. I’ve rarely heard about the usefulness of a giant squid axon, or the man who had a microscope next to his bed so that he could do reproductive research without defying the church. I think it’s important to note these tiny contributions that have shaped our world. Sometimes science can feel overwhelming to students just beginning exploration in the subject because they are presented with a bunch of huge advances. I’m not sure they realize the amount of impact something seemingly small can have in the larger picture. It’s impractical to tell every story, but humanizing aspects of science might allow students to connect with bits of science rather than brushing off the entire subject. Science is not just about the obvious world changing contributions like the discovery of electricity; it is mainly rooted in the small steps of unknown scientists which have lead to drastic changes.

Rama Kirloskar's picture

Applications of Science

I agree with Mr. Greene that our educational system does not teach us how to apply our knowledge of science to our lives. This is the case especially in India where I grew up. Our teachers' main objective was to make sure we did well on our I.C.S.E exams which are similar to the AP's here. So we were made to memorize huge quantities of information without really understanding it or where it could be applied. So we learnt about topics such as nuclear physics,the periodic table and quantum physics without having the faintest idea of why we were doing so. It was very mechanical and boring. The only reason why I retained my interest in Biology was because of my genuine curiosity and its obvious applications to the human body. I was always fascinated by the way living organisms function and the way they have adapted to suit their environments.When I came to America for high school I noticed the difference in teaching styles. In India we were taught to pay a lot of attention to detail, but here we are taught to look at the bigger picture. It was this kind of thinking that helped me understand the interrelation between the sciences. So I think that teachers have to stress on the application of scientific concepts to help develop the interest of the student. Once the student is interested she will automatically feel like learning more.

Helen Chang's picture

Science in My Life

First off, I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I thought that Dr. Greene wrote in such a romantic and elegant way about science that is rarely seen in the modern age. I also agree with Jasmine above in saying that although everyone would love to learn science the "cool" way, teachers have the responsibility of making sure that their students know and understand the basics. Sure, genetics and nuclear reactions are far more interesting than the structure of the cell and functional groups, but students must know the basics before learning the "interesting" part of science. It seems to me that Greene is a little frustrated and disappointed that the general public still do not know even the basic applications of science to life, which I too think is very sad and upsetting. With all the education that we receive, people should be able to connect at least a little of what they are learning in their science classes to their everyday lives. Even if they find science intimidating, people should know better than to say that science is distant to them when science is all around us and makes up so much of our lives.

Katie Randall's picture

Labs and Method

For me, science in elementary school was a lot of fun. I may have simply been lucky in terms of my teachers and curriculum, but what I mostly remember was learning about those "big ideas"-- although in a simplified form-- for the very first time. It was in middle school that the details really began to matter, and in spite of the efforts of the teachers, the sheer volume of rote learning discouraged many of the students (including me.
I think that one of the biggest difficulties, though (and one not addressed directly in Greene's article) is the way that the scientific method is taught and labs are run. Like pretty much every students in this country, I learned the scientific method as one linear sequence of steps. You define one small problem or question, come up with one hypothesis, test it in one well-defined and very confined experiment under unrealistic conditions, and come up with an answer: true or false. Yes, teachers would mention that follow-up experiments could be made, but it was hard to see each experiment as part of a larger process, part of an ongoing search.
Labs, in middle school and high school, didn't help contribute to understanding at all. Some of them were fun to do, it's true-- but they were ultimately very frustrating, because the point of conducting experiments, in the real world, is to discover something new or at least provide support for an existing theory. The point of conducting experiments in high school was to get the results that the manual said to. The most exciting thing you could discover was a failure in the lab equipment, in which case you had to copy the "right" results from someone else to get a good grade. Yes, if your results were right you'd verified whatever theory was involved-- but knowing exactly what you're out to prove before the results come in was the exact opposite of the attitude we were taught. I'm not sure how schools with limited resources could resolve this problem-- but finding out the expected results after rather than before the lab would be a good start, and would cut down on the data-juggling that everyone engaged in at some point or another.

Riki Gifford-Ferguson's picture

I don't think the public school system has failed me,

but I don't think they took the right approach to teaching science. Of course this isn't necessarily the teachers' fault because the state sets standards and curriculum guidelines by which the teachers must abide, and I would imagine that it is kind of difficult to enamor the students while teaching them about equilibrium constants or a potassium pump. It just so happens that I love learning about all things science, so they caught my attention but not so much those of my classmates. Occasionally we would do hands on activities which most everyone enjoyed because it was a real-life application, and blowing things up is always fun. But those times were rare, and even rarer was learning everyday applications, such as why people tap the top of a soda can before they open it so that it won't explode in their face. Even though the state determined our curriculum, I think it is up to the teachers to make it exciting and personal, and unfortunately they is hard to come by.

Emily Takeuchi-Miller's picture


First of all I would like to say that I really enjoyed reading this article. I think an important point is being made. Science has forever been the subject of memorization. The cell is composed of ribosomes, mitochondria, a cell wall..etc. the article makes the point that substence is necessary for learning but so is inquiry. A student needs to be taught more than memorization. Critical thinking in science is very important. Science is a never ending blackhole of knowledge! There is always more to be learned.
I was lucky enough to have gone through high school with some of the most amazing teachers. These people lived and breathed their subject. To be honest I owe them a lot. It was there teaching that inspired me to want to know more. Challenged me to think outside the box when it came to science. It was in my anatomy class jr. year that I had my "ahh" moment. The moment I realized I was hooked. But I didn't get hooked by reading and memorizing the text alone, it was in learning the application into my daily life that caught my attention. How everything we were learning about was taking place either inside me or outside my classroom. The real world is science! The human body is a mircle. The fact that more people don't just drop dead every few minutes is amazing. All it takes is one itsy bitsy thing to go off track and the whole system can break down.

Wil Franklin's picture

dropping dead...


I had a similar experience re: living organisms dropping dead in my o-chem class....thinking about the billions of molecules interacting in fairly straight-forward, predictable ways, but it all adds up to us.  amasing!



Swapnima Shrestha's picture

I do agree with Dr. Green in

I do agree with Dr. Green in that there really isn't a lot of interest in science generated in our public school. Some teachers are there in the classroom simply because they have to be there, not because they want to share their love of science with the future generation. However, I personally was very lucky to have some of the most amazing science teachers who taught me to look at life in such an amazing way. To think that us humans, who think of ourselves as the most amazing and intelligent creatures, are just a minuscule part of this enormous and beautiful universe is just mind boggling. To be a part of this universe that never fails to amuse me is to be privileged.

Daisy Shetterly's picture

Lab Assignment

One of the things that disappoints me most about education in American Schools is the failure to do much interdisciplinary teaching. I think that part of the reason students don't see how relevant the sciences is because they are taught each subject without understanding its connections to other fields. Studying sociology for example in a biological context adds so many new layers to both subjects. If a student realizes early on her passion for philosophy, she may never take advanced science courses even though it might add depth to her own understanding of philosophy. In addition to learning to ask the "Big Questions" in science, students could gain a lot from learning to discover relationships between disciplines. Science is fascinating and I think the world would gain a lot if it were taught in a more exciting, more inspiring way. The same could be said, I would argue, for every subject. I think what the educational system needs to do is give the gift of curiosity. Having a fantastic or a horrible teacher in one subject could turn a child on or off it for life. However, if the child is curious, she will never stop trying to define "truth" for herself.

Malate-Ann Atajiri's picture

Science in Nigeria

Its funny that it have taken me a long time to post my comment. For some reason I was dreading having to say anything on this.However to my greatest surprise I actually enjoyed reading the article by Greene.In my country,after middle school exam those with high grades are selected and immediately put in the science classes without any consideration to what their passion might be.I always didn't like the sciences because of the way it was taught.Teachers just expected to you to know the formulas, the facts, figures and and quotes. We were not allowed to think for ourselves.If someone tried to ask a question it was seen as an attempt to distract the class from what it was trying to achieve.Questions were not always welcomed in the class room. The only science I found a way to relate to was geology.That was because what I learned in class I could always see outdoors. I could fully understand the rain formation process and the different types of clouds,etc.My interest in the other sciences came in my final year of high school.I had a biology teacher who challenged us to ask questions and to find ways of making science to relate to our everyday lives.Soon I realize that I wasn't reading Biology in order to put some more facts into my head, I was reading it because I had suddenly developed and interest in it.The article by Greene hits the mark when it says that life without science,just like life without music or art, won't be fun.

Pooja Vaddadi's picture

"The Allegory of the Cave"

In Plato's "Allegory of the Cave," Plato asks us to imagine people chained in a dark cave watching the shadows of puppets. The people chained believe that the puppets are real. However, there was one person who broke free of the chains and followed a path and discovered the real animals. I feel that discovering science is a lot like "The Allegory of the Cave." People are ignorant and just accept what they are told. However, those that are interested in science do not accept truth until they have experimented and proved that what they are looking at is really the truth.
I really liked "Put a little Science in Your Life" article. I thought Greene made a good point about people slowly losing the desire to learn. I feel like we start out outside of the cave, but we slowly travel deeper and deeper into the cave until we become chained to the walls and accept whatever explanations are thrown at us. I don't think this is the right way to live, Greene says "science is a way of life" and I agree with him. I think that we should strive to learn as much about the world that we live in, because without science there is no life.

Venkata Malakapalli's picture

TRUE !!!!!

TRUE !!!!!

Zoe Pond-McPherson's picture

As I child I was always

As I child I was always interested in science because of the fact that I am a test tube baby. I was interested in the science behind it and it made me love science classes. I always asked questions about test tube babies, but beyond that I enjoyed science classes while growing up because I had this interest due to my birth. If it were not for science I would not be alive. I entered the science fairs every year, though I never won or moved on to finals I always enjoyed the explorations. As soon as I got to junior high I was excited for the labs I would be doing, however it turned out to all be busy work. I read books and answered questions about it, but was never taught how it effected me. It was simply something I had to study so that I could go to eighth grade, but it didn't strike my attention.
I took the required science classes after that and quite often they were the same, nothing grabbed my attention until my junior year. I took oceanology and things began to get clearer about how it related to my life, and the things around me. My senior year I took The natural history of California mountains and deserts, and this was when I became interested in science again. We went on hikes through the types of land formations we had learned about. Through all this I have realized that we must learn science in a way that we can relate it to our lives, just as the article said. When it becomes something required in school, and no longer has that deep meaning it causes less people to become the scientists that we need in order to have the technologies we use every dya.

Jasmine Howell's picture

The Beauty of it All: a Testament

I must say that I was thoroughly intrigued by Greene's article and that I very much agree with his point. I can admit that I was not a fan of science until high school. Up until that point (with the expection of 5th grade) science was not my strong suit and I tried my past to stay away. It was in 5th grade and then again the summer before high school that I was made aware that sciene does play a role in 'real' life. In my mindset then, in agreement with Greene's article, I had been learning the facts of science like the parts of the cells and the kingdom and domains over and over and over again. And quite, frankly it was of no interest and did not stick to my memory, and until this day still doesn't stick too much. Yet, when science was finally presented to me in a life situated I grabbed on. It was when I learned about science through medical case studies and then in research that the beauty of science and the fact that almost everything is science became evident.

I do agree with one of the comments that I read above in that, in some ways, Greene does oversimplify the mechanisms employed to teach science in middle school and high school. Many school systems may not be able to afford to teach science in a 'cool' way that reveals the discoveries and insights that makes it appealing. Also, I do believe that it is important that a student be introduced to the details early in the game so that they can then put the novel ideas and discoveries into perspective.

Overall though, I can really appreciate this article in the emphasis that Greene makes on people learning science as a vital part of life and not just a subject that appears. This stands true for me because I was once a person who only say science a something that shows up sporaidically and now I am a person that sees everything through science (well not everything, but the most of it all). In short, science is life and life is science (to some degree since faith turns the ball another way).

Nikitha Ashok's picture

Science in our lives

After reading the article by Professor Brian Greene, I realized that my approach to science and learning is exactly what he describes. I could be more enthusiastic in acquiring the knowledge that will help me for the rest of my life. I am learning the sciences simply to help me achieve my career goals. I think of the ultimate and forget the details. Although I do possess the interest in knowing about the sciences, I have lost the curiosity necessary to truly enjoy the subject over the years. I would have to partly blame the method by which science is taught. We are forced to learn, memorize and even understand, but we are not encouraged to explore further.
Science is all around us, but we hardly mention the word outside the classroom. Every day, we take for granted the miraculous phenomena happening in the world, least realizing that they are all a part of the sciences. Like Professor Greene writes, as children, we were all eager to discover new things and the questions how and why were a staple in our conversations. Now, we listen to lectures and blindly believe everything we hear without judgment or questions.
In the article, we can see that science and technology go hand-in-hand. Technology that makes life fun, like the invention of the IPod, and technology that helps save lives, like MRI scans, is all possible with the advances in science. Creating awareness about the importance of science education has the potential to further evolve and improve these technological advances, hence improving our life and the lives of all around us. Changing our view and approach to science and science education will open the world of opportunities it holds.

Malate-Ann Atajiri's picture

Science for a different perspective.

First of all I want to apologize for making such a late entry, this is because I honestly did not think that this was going to be as interesting as it turned out to be. Its funny that my lack of interest for science sometimes is exactly what was being discussed. I found the article by Greene exceptionally true. I had always hated the sciences,biology, chemistry and physics. In my country,Nigeria,individuals who showed any academic potential were pronounced science students, not necessarily because they have this love for it. The only science that had fascinated me was geology this was because I could easily see the applications of what we learned in our everyday lives. I could relate with the rain formation process as well as the different types of clouds because I saw them everyday. My lack of interest for science continued till my final year in High school when I had a different Biology teacher. She began to challenge us to think and look beyond the text books and find ways to relate biology and all the other sciences into our practical lives. I thought this was hard to do at first but after a while i sincerely became fascinated by the sciences.Knowing the that with each step I took certain processes had to occur to make it possible and that with everything we put into our mouth certain things had to work in order to make the energy that we needed. After taking this approach, I realized as the article said Life without science is equally not fun.
I seriously believe that the way science is taught especially in the African countries need to be address. Too much emphasis is put on students being able to duplicate the thoughts and words of other people. Once you try to put something in your own perspective it is assumed that you did not fully understand the concept. When questions are asked in class, the teacher sees it as a distraction and a way to divert the class's attention from what is being taught. Science should not be so. Science should be mesh of the old as well as the new as Greene put so well in his article.

Danae Ostroot's picture

Depends on the Person

I really like Greene's article about opening up people's minds to science more. But it seems to me that not everybody necessarily wants to be like that. I mean, sure, it's really interesting to think about, but its just not everybody's style. And if it is something you're interested in, you'll find a way to get into it anyway, with or without your teacher's help. I know all my biology classes in middle and high school were memorizing facts and that sort of thing, and I ended up really getting interested in biology. The other science classes I had, like chemistry and ecology, really were hands-on and focused on trying to make people see the big picture, and how everything related to the world around us. I never got into either of those subjects.

Laura Gilroy's picture

Brian Greene's Article

While I thought most of what Greene said in his article hit on some important points regarding the importance of science in and out of the classroom today, one quote in particular really stood out to me:
"It’s the birthright of every child, it’s a necessity for every adult, to look out on the world, as the soldier in Iraq did, and see that the wonder of the cosmos transcends everything that divides us."
Not only does Greene accurately sum up the vital nature that science should play in the lives of all humans here, but he points this out in almost a spiritually minded way. He explains in his article how science helped a soldier in Iraq develop a sense of clarity and stay sane despite everything going on in his life. The principles and conclusions this soldier drew from science can also be used by the "rest of us"- children and adults alike, to look at life through lenses created by the perspective and understanding gained through science. Despite constantly being changed and improved, science is fact and will always be there to explain life and what goes on in the world, and in fact it does transcend most all else. Should the entire human population be destroyed millions of years from now, science and the basic tenets of life will always remain. Reading Greene's argument was both comforting and encouraging for me, as a student of science, because it made me realize that I probably won't ever truly understand everything I would like to regarding science, but thats ok.. as long as I keep exploring and keep questioning.

Wil Franklin's picture

Facts and change?

Science as continuous change or as fact.  I would like to hear more about how science is both.  Can it be both?

Rosalind Black's picture


I think it is true, what everyone is agreeing upon; that most of the time in high school education far too much focus is on doing well on exams and memorizing the content when instead it should be on encouraging students to continue inquiring about the ways of the world. However, I think students would be even more interested in science if they actually understood it better, period. Many students do well just learning dry facts and doing memorization, but not all of us learn the same way. Personally, I had some really good biology teachers when I was in high school, and the way they taught the dry content part of science is what helped me really remember it, and then stay interested in science. For example, my Bio I teacher had me and all the other students in my class become a working model of the Krebs Cycle, so we could all understand exactly how it works. I don't think any students in our class will have trouble remembering that in the future, should they need it. So I think that also simply different teaching techniques can help students understand more, and then stay interested.

Subin's picture

Reading Greene's article

Reading Greene's article reminded me of a recent discussion I had with a friend couple days back. My friend a non science major stated that she doesn't "understand students who are non-science majors taking a bio or chem class for fun". When I heard this of course I disagreed because for me, like many of the students here, the sciences can be very interesting and in her words "fun".

Greene's argument that our "educational system fails to teach science" in way that "integrates it in to their lives" is proof of American's strong idea and I believe a misconception that science is difficult, boring and useless-unless needed for a profession.

Wil Franklin's picture

Please elaborate on

Please elaborate on "America's Strong Idea".
hope fillingim's picture

my high school biology

my high school biology teacher had a poster, well, a piece of paper written on in sharpie, in his room that said "science is a continuing process of inquiry." So I read that every day and that became how I defined science. My bio teacher helped, too. He would answer questions with questions. I guess that's why I like science even though strictly speaking i'm not that great at it. Still, I think ultimately the goal of science is to discover “truth.” not that we should take everything we learn or see as true, but without striving to discover truth, even if we only ever see partial glimpses of it, what is the point of inquiry?

Wil Franklin's picture

Great question, what is the

Great question, what is the point of inquiry?
Aarthi Raju's picture

general discussion

It seems that my comment from three hours ago hasn't gone through, so let me summarize it:

I first questioned the idea that truth is relative. Isn't science a quest for the absolute, incontrovertible laws that govern the world we live in? Doesn't that mean that there is a single answer to each question that is either black or white with no grey area?

Secondly, I discussed how I don't believe Brian Greene gives enough credit to elementary/middle school science teachers. My parents are foreign (from India) and are members of the "lecturing = teaching" society, so whatever I learned as a child was very dry and unimagnative. But school was a different story. When I was in 8th grade, my teacher demonstrated air pressure by placing a marshmallow in a vacuum chamber so we could watch it bubble and expand. And in 3rd grade, we colored and cut out "intestines" from paper so we could see how long the small intestine really is (by the way, it's about 7 meters, and thanks to that demonstration, I've never forgotten it).

And lastly, I discussed that maybe his critique is accurate in terms of high school education. Not just science, but all subjects. We're so focused on our standardized tests (APs, etc) that we can't fit in activities and demonstrations which are interesting, but inevitably time consuming. So maybe we (Haverford and Bryn Mawr) will be better off excluding ourselves from the U.S. News college rankings.

Lisa Lim's picture

Bio 101 Lab- Lisa Lim

"As every parent knows, children begin life as uninhibited, unabashed explorers of the unknown. From the time we can walk and talk, we want to know what things are and how they work — we begin life as little scientists. But most of us quickly lose our intrinsic scientific passion. And it’s a profound loss."."

--Brian Greene, "Put a Little Science in Your Life"

This particular paragraph in the article caught my attention though whether that was a good or bad thing I haven't decided. Dr. Greene talks about how we begin life as little scientists but quickly lose our passion for questioning what things are, how they work and, in my opinion, the most important--why. Why something is the way it is, why it works in such and such manner and so on. What he doesn't seem to realize is that this questioning, this "intrinsic scientific passion" is not generally promoted--not in school nor home. At least, not where I'm from. When you're young, asking all those questions are cute, if not a little annoying. But keep at it and as you get older, be it several months older, a year or two, you're told in an exasperated tone to just be quiet or stop bothering whoever it is you're asking. It's cute when you're three. When you're seven, eight, ten, you're disrupting a class. It doesn't matter how you introduce the science--if you teach the child that asking questions is a bad or annoying thing, or that one can only ask certain questions (and really, you can say they can feel free to ask you any question, but if you don't follow through with it, they won't) and within a very specific time frame, the child will naturally learn to curb their own questions and hide/curb their curiosity. Science becomes just another subject like math, english, or history, where things are spoken/thrown at you and you simply accept it to be 'true' with little to no questions.

Anonymous's picture

A Little Lesson from Bill Nye

As a young girl, I remember having an inate desire to understand the world around me, so I know all too well what greene means when he says "From the time we can walk and talk, we want to know what things are and how they work — we begin life as little scientists." - I still know the words to the theme song of Bill Nye the science guy :-). And, like many students, I can relate to the dryness of school science classes. Sometimes, it seemed as though information was jam-packed into our minds in preperation for some standardized test. Overall, I can say that my public shool science education was not all so terrable, but I do admit that sometimes I found myself wishing we could learn science the way Bill Nye would have it taught - as an intriguing, insightful, not-just-facts sort of way. OK, thats not to say that a high school AP Biology class should realistically model a teaching approach after a children's TV program, but I think that mr Green's concept of teaching break-through research to inspire students is certainly one way in whih science classes could peak students' interest and go beyond just facts and basic concepts in the classroom. This would truely make any physics, chemistry, or biology class all the more intriguing. To expand upon greene's article, I also believe that schools in the US (particularly public ones) should make more of an effort to intertwine the sciences and show how, in the end, the all mesh and create the framework (on the basic level) for higher level science and technology. When we look around us, at all the technological advances we have made in this world, we notice that sometimes many areas of science work together. From the pace-maker in my grandmother's heart to the flatscreen tv in my dormitory living room, science is all around us. I hope that, no matter what my career or future goals in life, an interest in science will never fade and that I will continue to be a student ...and maybe even watch and episode of Bill Nye at least every once in a while

bmc.sspry's picture

Science: perspective, not fact

Sarah Spry
There were two points within the article that I find crucial to doing science a justice, those points being that science is another form of “perspective”, or “explanation” for the world we exist in rather than simply an answer to it. Often I feel that science is seen as a two dimensional form of question-answer, when in fact it is more akin to the study of literature or history. Literature and history are forms of explanations for the world we live in, and the two are separate “lenses” for how things came to be. Also, like literature or history science reflects the biases, limitations or enlightenments of a specific society at a certain point in time; science mirrors humanity’s social evolution. A basic (and perhaps rather obvious) example of such evolution is how the leading scientists of the late fourteen hundred all believed that the world was flat and that it was the center of the universe, reflecting the need for people to believe that human life was the greatest life for, as well as other religious beliefs of the time in Europe. Of course today we look back and say that that was a conceptual flaw due to the technological or perhaps intellectual shortcomings of the time, but I think it had to do with what was socially, and perhaps religiously need at the time and place.
The second point that I thought the article conveyed was how science (and education in general) ought to be the application of thought and reasoning, rather than memorization. I absolutely agree with that “postulate” because to encourage memorization alone implies that knowledge and “truth” and understanding are stagnant, when in fact the truth according our perception is ever shifting, forming and reforming. Like optical illusions on the site, without the disclaimer that they were all optical illusions we would have no reason not to believe that was we see is reality. In that same respect we must accept that we only have our ability to rationalize make observations and create suppositions from those observations, because otherwise we live within intellectual obscurity like one observing an optical illusion and not realizing it.

Carolyn Cai's picture

Carolyn Cai

I agree with both articles; science is very interesting, and the education system should try harder to teach science as it actually is, which is fun, than to just make kids memorize facts from a heavy textbook.
Both my parents worked in the science field, and as a result I learned that science could be fun, because I remember at school it was pretty boring, and our teachers didn't really try to make learning fun for us.

Lily Scott's picture

The Drama of Science

What strikes me most about Mr. Greene’s article is not necessarily his subject matter, but rather his excitement. Clearly, Greene has a great deal of passion for the world of science and all that it beholds, saying, “science is a language of hope and inspiration providing discoveries that fire the imagination and instill a sense of connection to our lives and the world.” It is because of his connections between science and the universe that makes Greene so adoring of science. So why aren’t students so passionate about science as well? In concurrence with Greene, I believe that it is the hounding of terms like ‘adenine’ and ‘mitochondria’ that inflicts with our ability to see the bigger picture. Of course, without understanding these terms, the bigger picture would be completely obscure. However, I believe that with the intention of learning about how life works, rather than memorizing for a vocabulary quiz, science can become much more engrossing and instill the fervor that Greene has. Yet it is not merely up to educators to make the “drama” of science apparent. We, as students, should not just learn things simply for a test, but should really try to comprehend how aspects of science fit into our lives: we should quench our curiosity. When we begin learning and discovering for ourselves, that’s when it becomes interesting.

Julia Anderson's picture


I am absolutely in love with the idea of science and research as a constant flow of observations and interpretations. I have always seen it and heard of it being taught linearly - the hypothesis is seen as the BEGINNING of the deductive scientific process and cannot be seen simultaneously as the END of an inductive experience. I think that this closely relates to Greene's desire to emphasize the big-question scientific fields rather than the basic facts that are so often focused on in classes. Since the big-question topics can't be taught in the linear, deductive sense to children, they avoid them altogether. Introducing the scientific method as two processes rather than one makes it possible to include more areas of study (and more importantly, more interesting areas of study).

It's interesting that the kids who do well in their middle school science classes are not necessarily the curious ones who go home and try to figure things out on their own. Sometimes these two coincide, but oftentimes you encounter the boy who is obsessed with space and black holes or weapons and guns who simply cannot stand to focus on the water cycle or the parts of the cell. These kids should get some credit for their curiosity, somehow, or at least be shown how their interests could connect with their classwork.

All of the comments that I read above seemed pretty centered on improving education, and I suppose that was the focus of mine as well. When it comes down to it, I think it's most important for kids to have more OPTIONS in their education. Having a choice about what they choose to study could bring out the curiosity that they lose as their educational decisions are made for them.

Claire W's picture

Questions no one knows the answers to

It's funny, I was actually thinking about something very similar to this discussion on my way to our first bio class. I was wondering what exactly our 3-hour lab period is going to be used for, and how these labs will compare to my past "lab" experiences - the almost-always boring ones in middle and high school classes, or the amazing experiences I've had the past 3 summers working in a university research lab. It occured to me how ironic it was that I, someone who never particularly liked the labs we did in high school bio, physics, and chemistry, have fallen in love with "real" lab work. Thinking about it more as I've read these articles and all the above replies, I think the big difference is that in the lab, I'm starting with the DOING, not the understanding, while at school, labs are supposed to reinfornce some concept we're already learning. I suppose sometimes they do introduce topics too, but as someone above mentioned, there's always a "right answer" you're expected to find; you know the teacher knows how it's going to turn out; there's no real excitement or discovery; generally all the students know how it's supposed to turn out too, it's just a question of getting that to happen. In the lab, it's all "real" - no one has the "answer". Understanding what's going on, at least at this point for me, comes second to actually doing it and seeing what happens. To some extent I'm not sure that's always good thing; I'm often frustrated, wishing I had more of a framework for what I'm experiencing. I'm lucky to have worked with a very patient boss/mentor who was good at explaining things, but he also couldn't stop his work and just teach me molecular biology.

I think ideally, schools should be somewhere in between those experiences. Labs should be more about discovery, giving enough background for some understanding of what's going on but leaving that last connection up to the student, who can then enjoy the satisfaction that comes from figuring something out yourself. I'm not sure I've ever experienced more satisfaction than that resulting from days of lab work culminating in something that actually produces meaningful data, that answers a real question no one knows the answer to, however tiny and apparently insignificant. It's made me realize that whatever field I end up in (though I'm pretty sure that's going to be bio), I want to spend my life trying to answer some of those questions that no one currently knows the answers to.

One more thing I want to add - reading these comments, I'm starting to appreciate that my schools were definitely ahead of some in terms of teaching science. My teachers generally found ways to connect science to daily life, at least once in a while doing an activity or bring up a topic that would interest the more "non-science" students, etc. But I do think my appreciation for science came from sources outside of school - mostly books, and later websites too. The biggest thing though, I think, is that my teachers were able to encourage that outside exploration - from my 1st grade teacher who helped me research finches (our classroom pets), to my 12th grade teacher who was my advisor for two independent studies in science last year. This can compensate a bit for the fact that at least in the current education system, the demands placed on teachers (standardized tests, etc) make it impossible for science classes to always be as engaging as we'd like. This was very clear to me my junior year, when some of our most interesting classes took place after the AP test - we voted on what areas of bio we were most interested in exploring further, and how we would like to explore them. One class observed behavior of students in the cafeteria, while ours set up a re-enaction of a firing neuron based on a youtube video we'd been shown in our study of protein synthesis (if you haven't seen it, definitely check out (you can skip the talking guy and just go to the action if you want)). In some ways, I think we did learn a lot less running around outside than in a "normal" class setting, and at least what my class did wouldn't have been possible without that prior class; to some extent we were just goofing off and having a good time. But on the other hand, it was amazing how much was actually reinforced and clarified through that fun - the bio teacher yelling "no no no, the sodium ions have to go back out, dont just stand there!" While obviously something like that isnt a replacement for classroom teaching, I do think everyone in our class will always remember having "K" and "Na" signs taped to their backs or tossing neurotransmitter tennis balls.

Alesha Polles's picture

The Science of Learning

As a high school student, I was exceptionally lucky to have a biology teacher who had a grasp of the fact that science was about more than facts and numbers. He too began his courses with a discussion of what science meant and how students learn (also intended to help students improve study skills in general). He also frequently sidetracked into current issues and used the science we were learning to enlighten us about the complex backgrounds of these issues. One in particular that I remember is the ecology behind forest fires and whether controlled burning should be implemented to eliminate natural fuel.

Despite such a stimulating experience in biology, my coursework in other scientific disciplines in high school encouraged the notion that science was more about quantities and processes than about ideas. Honestly, until beginning this course, it had never occurred to me how interdisciplinary the sciences are, or how well science as a whole fits into the liberal arts curriculum. In fact, the discussion occurring on this discussion board and in the textbook about the nature of truth and its dependence on available evidence is strikingly similar to the discussion about the nature of history and historical "truths" that we had in my medieval history class last week.

With regard to the "truths" and facts of both science and history, among other divisions of inquiry, I wonder whether it is in fact possible for students to understand the complex theoretical meanings of truth and evidence throughout their education. Or must a simpler but perhaps less accurate version be digested first before it is ultimately rejected by additional learning and growth?

Lea Hane's picture

This article discussed a

This article discussed a topic that I often think about in my spare time. I am dead set on becoming a doctor, but when I think about the Biology, Physics and Chemistry courses that I have to take, I am struck by pure terror. I do not, however, feel this same terror when I open a Biology, Chemistry or Physics textbook. Reading about science and watching documentaries about science is something I truly enjoy. It’s not until I am faced with a set of questions that I must answer, problems that I must solve, or the grade that I absolutely must earn in order to maintain my sanity, that science becomes something that I dread.

I believe that many other students feel the same way. I agree with the article when it suggests that “in teaching our students, we continually fail to activate rich opportunities for revealing the breathtaking vistas opened up by science, and instead focus on the need to gain competency with science’s underlying technical details.” In our educational system, the student is rarely left to discover laws of nature on his or her own, but is instead told what he or she is expected to discover, and if this backwards process is difficult, as it is for many, the student is left to believe that he or she is incompetent in the study of science.

I was also particularly interested when I read that the author has “spoken with high school dropouts who’ve stumbled on popular science books about the human genome project, and then returned to school with newfound purpose.” My best friend is also a high school dropout and I am always surprised to discover the many interesting books on science that she reads on a regular basis. She has such a strong passion for acquiring knowledge about science and nature, that I, the biology student among us, am truly inspired by her. I have also known other unlikely people with a similar passion and curiosity for science. These unlikely people grasp the importance of science and how it connects to our lives.

By far, my favorite part of the article was the closing lines, “It’s the birthright of every child, it’s a necessity for every adult, to look out on the world, as the soldier in Iraq did, and see that the wonder of the cosmos transcends everything that divides us.” This, I believe, is one of the most important lessons that one can learn from science. Science is not necessarily about memorizing the most facts, balancing the most difficult equations, or even getting into the toughest grad schools. Science is about understanding our selves and our place in the world.

Reetu Bajaj's picture

"Science is a way of life

"Science is a way of life (Greene)." That has definitely been a common phrase I've heard since middle school. What I never really understood was why and how. Of course when we all are little kids, we wonder why the sky is blue or why the grass is green, or where did we come from. But interesting questions like those had never really been answered. Students learn from a textbook, and many teachers follow a strict curriculum. Going beyond the textbook would cause too many questions. But as we grow older, our curiousity might becomes less, and questions might be minimized.
Living in this day and age, our lives have been based around science, which brings me back to Greene's quote. We use "cellphones, iPods, personal computers and the Internet (Greene)" which have been built on the basis of science and math. And now, with global warming becoming a popular issue, meteorologists are being questions and we wonder if our world's enviornment is at stake. But are we introduced to these topics when we're in a classroom? Teachers need to be enthusiastic, and students have to learn to keep an open mind, because without it, we'll just be writing notes and taking tests without having any clue of what we're learning. Our job is to questin what's the "truth" and what's allusion and the teachers should be open to questions and advisable to conclusions.

Megan Kietzman-Nicklin 's picture

Beyond the Page

Learning, to me, is more than just knowing what other people discovered- the great "ah-ha!"s from some other life, but is truly about understanding how someone came to the conclusions that he or she did, practicing that myself and learning from experience, from doing. Science, especially biology, in my case, is the chance to really be active in my learning, and connect what happens in the classroom or on the pages of a book to my every day interactions. This article presses each person to make science personal- because it is: it is about the life that I live and the perspective I bring to it. Science is not about "knowing the facts" or learning "the truth" of this life and the world I find place in, but observing carefully with a special kind of mindset. Science is about understanding the visceral interactions with the world to the best of my ability, and I think it gives me the chance to see through a different lens- even to look at the extensive academic information through a deeper connection to the physical and material- where it is not so in my is like the first men who flew on rocket ships to the moon.
I read a book once about their trips, and every man was changed- not by the moon, but by looking back at the world, one small fragile planet- not all that vast, and easily damaged, through that small round window. I think that the author of this article asks every person to cultivate this understanding in the perspective that we bring to the world. Science is a chance- as simple or complex as we make it-to accurately understand the universality of behavior and structure, to the best of our ability. The world truly is small, and this is our chance, with each breath we take, to know how much we all share.
But I am left with the question- how to make that real through a class? It seems to me, that the basics are fundamental to understanding the newly fascinating elements of science, but there is little understanding of making the "basics" of science something that excites direct connection to my life- how do I make the unquestioned theories of old something energizing for my constant learning? Something that I do, instead of that I read? One idea that comes to me, is to make the unraveling of scientific knowledge more personal- understanding the amazement that accompanied the discovery of the cell in cork, or the massiveness of the task of naming the parts of the body- even one as simple as a worm- it is possible that that view into the birth of science, into the awe that accompanied each leap, can encourage the ability to question and understand the facts as pole-vaults of insight, can lead to synonymous moments of "ah-ha!"

Aarthi Raju's picture

Science and Knowledge

I apologize in advance if my comment is too philisophical, but I'm not so sure that I agree about truth being relative. Isn't the whole idea behind science that we're trying to find the rules that govern our world? And we're searching for some form of order in a universe full of seemingly random events?

In relation to the Brian Greene article, I feel like he doesn't give elementary and middle-school science teachers enough credit. The science I learned at home from my parents (who are foreign, by the way) was extremely dry and uninspiring, because that's the only way they learned, and therefore they only know how to teach that way. However, science at school was always fun because, especially in younger years, the classes were very hands-on. I remember that we all cut out "intestines" from paper, taped together dozens of pieces, and draped them around the room, which demonstrated clearly how long the small intestine is. That was in third grade, and I've never forgotten it. In 8th grade, my teacher demonstrated how air pressure holds us all together by placing a marshmallow in a vacuum chamber and watching it expand.

I do agree with him that once you hit high school level, the focus on memorizing facts is a lot stronger (and less fun). But perhaps that's a function of our society, which is so focused on standardized tests? Despite scoring well on whatever AP science exams I took, I'm unable to remember what I learned at the time, because none of it was presented memorably. Unfortunately, making science interactive and interesting takes a large amount of time, and when schools are concerned about their rankings, "interesting" no longer matters. Maybe Haverford and Bryn Mawr's decisions to remove themselves from future U.S. News college rankings is going to benefit us in our remaining time here.

Stephanie Vrakas's picture

Science education started in

Science education started in my school system at the elementary level. I spent my K-5 years constructing volcanos, eco-systems and tornados out of two soda bottles. Science education was used to engage the students' curiosity, and show them the scientific applications of what they were experiencing in real life. I believe that in the elementary years students were very "into" science. It was not feared as it was as I progressed through the education system. It was really in high school when science was broken down in to bio, chem and physics that students became aware of its "problems". Bio was too much memorization, chem had too many equations and physics had too much math. The practical applications of science had been lost by those who explored it. I believe that in HS biology if my teacher had given the class one of the volcanos we had made in second grade, the connection between science and life could have been recaptured. It is very important as a student of the science to maintain a clear connection between real life application and the concepts that are being explored. If that bridge is not being made it is easy to become lost in science and develop a negative perception of it. As a chem major i appreciate the small subtle aspects of science and I take advantage of them on a regular basis. For example just the other day i needed to get permanent mark off of a surface and just by thinking about what would dissolve permanent marker I was able to figure it out. Science is involved in everything, but it is often overlooked.

Sharon Kaziunas's picture

"Put a Little Science in Your Life"

I also agree with the Greene's article, that science education has been stripped of its intrinsic sense of wonder. I have always been fascinated by the big picture or the tiniest details that science is able to explain but I have often struggled with the nitty gritty technical aspects. Unfortunately, I am one of those people who have experienced the "cold, distant, and intimidating" side of science education. I enjoy reading the science section in the New York Times, I am fascinated by astronomy, and truly intrigued by the complexity and beauty of the natural world, but when it comes down to sig figs, conversion factors, and genetic problems I tend to loose enthusiasm at a rapid pace. Throughout my educational experience I have focused my energy on my intellectual strengths in the humanities, frightened that if I engaged myself more in science I was doomed to fail. I was forced to confront my perception of science education when I decided that I wanted to be a doctor. This year, I am trying to view science as not simply a means to an end, in my case a career in medicine, but rather as a chance to gain a new perspective on the world around me and better understanding of how things work. And yes, although I will probably still groan inside when I have to calculate the margin of error, I have come to believe that the quantitative and technical skills are simply tools that are necessary to explore the interesting big questions. Just as grammar, sentence structure, word choice, and style are needed to craft an excellent essay, I think that the frustrating details of science are the building blocks on which rich discoveries are based. I do, however, believe that the way science is taught needs to be modified. I think that many students are intimidated by science because they are afraid to be wrong and to make mistakes. If anything in our educational system needs to be changed I think that it is the stigma that if you make a mistake you are automatically stupid. I think that a child's natural interest in science is often shut down by a competitive, grade-orientated system that discourages a child who might not pick up the technical aspects as quickly. Science should be made more approachable, without dumbing it down. Perhaps by first introducing the larger concepts and then the technical tools needed to achieve a solution students would retain their passion and curiosity. Who knows what potential Noble prize winners were "weeded out" by a ridiculous bell-curve!

Sarina Dane's picture

Put a Little Science in Your Life

I read this article directly after reading a Raymond Williams essay called "Marxism and Literature" for my CSEM class. In it, Williams argues that the natural sciences are almost irrelevant because since God (or whoever) made nature, we can never fully understand it, whereas since man created culture, we can truly study and comprehend culture and society. Obviously, I disagree with this notion, considering I am taking a biology class. I do, however, think that looking at sciences like Physics, Bio, and Chem in an applied way, as Greene suggests, is probably the best approach. So much of our day-to-day living is dictating by scientific discoveries from only the last half century that the natural and social sciences are now incredibly connected. It's almost impossible to understand one without knowledge of the other.

If I were to design a high school curriculum, I would love to have most of the classes taught in a combined and interdisciplinary way. Science is related to literature, history, politics, and math. As someone who was never much of a "science person," I think that I would have gotten much more out of my science classes if I were able to directly see their relevance. Part of the problem is that scholars in individual disciplines tend to look at their field of choice as superior to others (perhaps even subconsciously) and don't automatically see how they are interconnected.

Moira's picture

Science is not taught well

I strongly agree with Mr. Greene's belief that "our educational system fails to teach science in a way that allows students to integrate it into their lives." I think this is the core problem with our educational system today. The majority of high school students wake up, go to class, sit at their desk, open their texts, listen to a lecture, take notes, and go to their next class. The teacher teaches from a textbook according to a strict curriculum that intends to more-than-adequately prepare students for the AP exam or SAT II's. There is a lot of material to cover in a short amount of time. As a result, there is very little time to discuss the information or apply the knowledge to today's life. This is okay with the high school though, because this ensures the high school a large percentage of students with high scores on the AP, and therefore the high school a better statistical ranking. Unfortunately, this is most important to academically competitive high schools across the nation.
I walked into several classes during high school where the teacher began the lecture with "The sooner we start, the sooner we're done." Even teachers are no longer enthusiastic about the material they're teaching. They are stuck teaching a science according to a strict syllabus. No wonder many students find science classes dry and boring- there is nowhere near enough integration of science and life in the classroom. Students aren't asked to question the science they learn or think about it further. They are encouraged to focus on what the teacher guesses will be on the 'Free Response' section of the exam. It is a shame that this incredible subject, that does apply to all areas of life, is neglected in the classroom as much as it is.

Elle de Moll's picture

Beyeond the Stars

"We rob science education of life when we focus solely on results and seek to train students to solve problems and recite facts without a commensurate emphasis on transporting them out beyond the stars." (Greene)

My personal experience with science education, in a public high school in small town America, nearly destroyed my curiosity and desire to pursue the mysteries of the world we live. I enjoyed humanities classes because I had the opportunity to be creative and original. In contrast, my science classes were torture, and I remember hours spent memorizing formulas and numbers.

Although in-depth science is impossible without this attention to technicality, middle-school and high-school students need to be captivated by the enormous potential that science has to unravel the mysteries of the universe, in order tempt them to study science beyond the minimum number of years required for a high school diploma. Students with a true curiosity in science, will then learn to "solve the problems" necessary and perhaps their studies truly will carry them "beyond the stars."

Kyla Falcon's picture

not a science person...

I am not someone that focuses large about of time on biology, chemistry, physics, etc. However, I believe that science is important. Not only does it "explain" our world, but there are other thoughts and theories that arise from other ideas. Discoveries and concepts can fuel new, more "far out" hypotheses. And I agree with the post above mine- the language of science should inspire world citizens to look at the world with not only more criticism, but different approaches. That is how the plethora of genres, styles, etc have come to exist. And on another short note, science is in itself special, and it is different from other studies. For example, when you can physically experience gravity, and then have it explained, that is still phenomenal after years of living on our Earth.

Lauren Katz's picture

"Put a Little Science in Your Life"

Science is two-faced. Depending on the individual, one may encounter the captivating side of science where the pieces of information left at one’s disposal unlock an unfathomable amount of the world’s mysteries. On the other hand, one may come across a fairly dry science where one is attacked by an onslaught of formulas and long, tedious experiments. According to Greene it is up to the educational system to discover a way to put the more enchanting aspects of science at the forefront of academia. Yet I must ask how one can expect teachers to construct such a foundation in children when the teachers are given limited resources and a fraction of the school day to do so? With such limitations and the need to prepare students for both exams specific to the course as well as material covered on standardized tests it is impractical to assume that students would not become disinterested. If more focus was placed on emphasizing the connections between classroom learning and the real world instead of just making the grade I feel that one would be able to connect with the students better. As Greene stated in the article, most of us have woven science into our daily life and for many of us we find an immense amount of pleasure in our technological advancements. It only seems logical then that the science behind those “toys” would be appealing as well. However, it seems like no one has used this window of opportunity in the beginning years of science education to captivate students which leads to the years of indifference.

mriganka lulla- bio lab 1's picture

put a little science in your life

Well as much as i wish i could deny it, i am one of those people who was completely awed by hollywood and seventeen magazines and the like.
Science is something ive come to take for granted. While i was reading this article, i was talking to a friend back in india and thats when i realized that if it wasnt for science id still be yearning to go back ... Science has made me less homesick, and suddenly science doesnt seem to be a frightening and unreal prospective.
When my oarents, aunts and uncles and grandparents tell me about their generation and how we are so fortunate, i roll my eyes.. How could they have lived in a world of limited technology ? It seems absurd to live without e-mail.
and then you realize, that its so much deeper than frivolous technology that we have become addicted to. its the machines that cure a hundred thousand people, that give people the hope to live, the machines that look so formidable are things that we must embrace.
And yet, on the flip side, when Bombay experienced a 9 degree celcius winter last december, we knew that global warming wasnt just an excessively used word.Its actually happening, science has taken over our world and our lives, and also teaches us responsibility to some extent. We have the power to improve , and also the power to destroy. Science is, in itself, the most complex juxtaposition.
Moving to something i read above, i too am from India, and the system certainly has many a flaw, but then again, it depends on the student. Perhaps oppurtunities are limited, but it would be wrong to say that they are absent. so on that note urvi, i disagree.
I too did science only upto tenth grade, and tortured by the complicated physics and math that i did not understand, i did not pursue it furthur. However, mr. Franklin, with no offense meant, Americans do have to fear the indian because India is boming with change. The IIT sector, technology, developement, computer, you name it and there are successful Indians in every field, ready to take over with their knowledge.Sometimes we are in such awe of the west that we fail to reach out and grab whats in front of our face. And there is change in the education system as well.
Science, was something i feared and still do. If i do not know and understand A ( math and physics) , will i be able to move on to B ( well, in this case intro to bio) ? But if anything, this article has made me realixze that there are things beyond my realm of understanding, things that i blissfully unaware of, and things which i would love to know about.
So, at the risk of being disloyal to the Humanities, i'd say im ready to take it on!

Erin Glaser's picture

Go forth and explore

Greene's article is a pointed commentary on the scientific education many students are receiving in public schools. The examples he uses to illustrate how science can be a source of inspiration are often about individuals who are not in school such as the highlighted case of the soldier in Iraq. What he seems to be saying is that science is more then just an area of study,science is first and foremost a way to examine and understand the world we live in.He complains that in schools students get so bogged down with the meaningless memorization of facts and methods that they never experience the true joy of science, the joy of discovery.
In this I absolutely agree with him. Although I have gained much knowledge and wonder from my science classes in middle and high school I have always found inspiration through other means. I know that having a plan, a solid method of examination allows scientists to take advantage of their discoveries but, some of the greatest discoveries of our time happened as an accident or purely by chance. Although science is reliant on the scientific method and on an objective way to examine scientific phenomenon, scientific curiosity is the most important thing that we can learn in order to bring science into our lives. For example, look at the Hadron particle collider in Europe, although scientists do not know exactly what will happen when they turn it on they are going to do it anyway.Why? Because they have a desire to know, to learn that is so strong they will risk the unknown to find that perfect knowledge.
All science can be applied to real life (in that respect I must disagree with Mr. Greene) but if the joy of learning and the desire to explore is crushed by mindless tedium in the classroom then science will find itself being slowly abandoned by the younger generations. I agree with Mr. Greene that the science curriculum should be revised to allow for more free exploration of ideas and less memorization of methodology. After all if free thinking and exploration is not the most vital aspect of scientific advancement then I do not know what is.

Leigh Raphael's picture

science in my life

I was really interested in Greene's article about putting science back into our lives and as I read others accounts of their education with science, it really just brought out the main reason I came to Bryn Mawr. In middle school I used to be amazing at science and I went to high school excited to try better science courses. From age five I wanted to become a doctor, but in high school the classes didn't seem to help me and I fell off the radar a little bit. When I visited Bryn Mawr with my dream of being a doctor still intact. The tour guide opened up a lab room and she touched the lab table and asked the group if we noticed anything. We didn't really know what to say and she quickly said how the lab tables were lower to fit the average heights of women.
I just remember thinking to myself that every small detail would help me bring science back into my life because it was once a really strong interest and in high school my interest started to fade. I know I went off on a really far away tangent from the articles but that was all I could think about when I read Greene's article. The soldier read a book of his and it helped him cope with his life, and Greene in return realized that even small things (like writing his book) could have a bigger affect that he ever thought. I just hope that my years at Bryn Mawr will bring science back into my life.

Katie's picture

"A language of hope"

The author of this article, Brian Greene, refers to science as "a language of hope and inspiration." Unfortunately, as Greene mentions, many science classes get caught up in the technicalities and unrelated particulars of the subject and thus end up with a disconnected stream of facts. Like Greene, I would encourage classes to focus more on the "language" of science. Literature classes do not focus solely on parts of speech, but rather look at the text as a whole. This gives the reading meaning (past the sentence structure) and makes it an individual and unique piece. Similarly, science teachers must try to get their students to see the larger picture and appreciate the meaning of science as a language of life and discovery. To return to the language metaphor, it is necessary to learn the basics of a language-- subject, action, and basic grammatical structure-- before reading the works of Shakespeare. However, once the foundations are laid, students are encouraged to read and write and explore the English language. Similarly, it is crucial that students in science classes learn basic elements such as the scientific process, but afterward, they must be allowed to branch out and explore what science has to offer. If students grasp the importance of science, they should be able to apply their new-found language to situations inside and outside of the classroom. Hopefully the student's bilingualism (of English and science) would accomplish what many science teachers have failed to achieve-- a conduit and a tool for looking at the world with a more critical eye.

Wil Franklin's picture

I found your expansion of

I found your expansion of the language metephor very useful, especially looking at the whole text like building a larger context in the sciences.
Lauren McDonough's picture

I'm a science person, so I

I'm a science person, so I can understand where Mr. Greene is coming from. Yes, science is great and helps us understand more of the world around us, but that's pretty much all I agree with. For me at least, science was the one subject in elementary school that did relate to my life the most. You can't possibly learn about the cell without knowing that you are physically made up of them. I think it's hard to learn anything in a biology based class without knowing that we are directly linked to everything the teacher is saying. All the other subjects involve ourselves less, like math. What does the pythagorean theorm have to do with me? (I'm not saying that I don't like math!) Mr. Greene complains that science can be too boring for kids, when it's supposed to be exciting because it's all about the world. I think science has the same potential as any other subject to be boring. It just depends on what strengths a kid has and what he likes. Of course science is important, but other subjects are as well; Mr. Greene doesn't say any of them are too boring and should motivate kids. I think if a kid doesn't think science is interesting, there isn't much more you can do. Of course you should try to spark an interest, but sometimes things just don't click. I know for sure that I will never like learning languages, no matter what a teacher does to make it 'fun.' Just because you feel passionate about something doesn't mean everyone else has to. It would be great if kids got more excited about science, it really would. But Mr. Greene is being a little too hard on the teachers. It's amazing that Mr. Greene changed the outlook of the soldier in Iraq, but that can't possibly have the same effect on everyone. Like I said, I love science and would love it even more if everyone was as excited about it as I am. But we can't force people into it.

Wil Franklin's picture


The fact that we are all different does mean that not all will love science, but could not we increase the ranks of science if it was presented differently?
Leah Raj's picture

"Put a Little Science in your Life"

Greene is absolutely right that science has a profound impact on our everyday lives, especially in recent years due to the surge of technology. Even young teenagers walk around with cell phones and ipods and they never realize the science that is involved in those. Part of this lack of education is due to the eduational system. But on the otherhand, no one can expect a middle school science teacher to teach the workings of an ipod, where most likely they themselves do not understand it. The technology that children and even adults use today can not be explained unless he/she is a atleast a science major if not a graduate student. For instance, in intro bio I think it is safe to say, we won't learn the inner workings stem cell research. We cannot be expected to know what phD students are researching. However, the latest technology is the most interesting to people today, and it is so complicated an average joe on the street doesnt know the sequencing or connection of wires. They just buy it and turn it on. As for stem cell research of genomic sequencing that Greene talks about. As the elections are approaching stem cell research is a hot topic. Americans should be more educated about this topic to be able to make an informed decision. What voters hear from their candidates or new reporters on the tv is how they base our decision about these sensitive debates. We should be more educated in these topics because what the politicians teach us is not enough.

Wil Franklin's picture

Well Actually...


Actually, we will spend time on the biology of stem cell research.  Furthermore, we have a lab devoted to bioethics of stem cell research among other things. 

Nora Schmidt's picture

Science, what a word.

After reading these articles I come to see why many people find science scary and often boring. Science is such a broad term and has multitudes of broad topics underneath it. When people take Biology in high school it always seems to try to be all encompassing, trying to include everything deemed as Biology into 24 weeks of class. By going from topic to topic so fast many people get overwhelmed and bored because there just isn't time for them to get interested in the topic at hand before the next topic is introduced.
When people say that Science is boring or doesn't interest them how do they know that all science doesn't interest them? They could have just taken the Biology and Chemistry classes in high school and then just said no to science. They wouldn't know if physics or geology or some other "Science" interested them, each genre of science is so unique and that isn't stressed enought to our youth. All they see is the people in the media and they aren't the best role models for the future. The media focuses on watching and making observations but not in interpreting them. If we can start teaching kids to interpret their observations about general things at a very early age then their interpretations will grow in depth and magnitude as they grow older.

Wil Franklin's picture


Thank you for bringing "interpretation" into the discussion.  Science very often seems dry and unimaginative, but data, numbers, observations don't mean anything...someone has to interpret those data.
Erica Lo's picture

Science and Life

I must say I thoroughly enjoyed reading Greene's article because he highlights the beauty of science, in that it feeds our inherent curiosity of discovering the world around us. I know a number of people who have a severe aversion towards science because they "can't think that way." But I disagree with these sorts of statements (and I think Greene would too) because it really is more than just numbers, reactions, and probabilities. Though science is pragmatic in that sense, it is still an expression, an interpretation of how we view life, just as music and art which is why I agree when Greene says "we must embark on a cultural shift that places science in its rightful place alongside music, art and literature as an indispensable part of what makes life worth living."

To understand science means going back and reevaluating the way we view it, not just appreciating what it can do for us (e.g. higher living standards via technology) but appreciating science for what it is, learning about what is around us and remembering the grander scheme of things. It's more than just compartmentalizing our world but as Greene says, it is an empowering experience. And I think with this sort of mindset, transformation can happen in schools and children, along with adults, can go back to days when they looked around their world in awe and simply wondered.

Wil Franklin's picture

Great quote

This summer I worked with K-12 teachers and we rewrote the quote after discussing the differences between the arts and sciences.

"The greatest adventure is inquiry and the ongoing process of creating meaning. We need to embark on an educational shift that integrates each discipline within all disiplines as an indispensable part of how we create meaning."

What do you think?


Joanna Barkas's picture

Joanna Barkas

I definitely agree with the suggestion already made above numerous times, about teaching students to think and ask their own questions, rather than simply feeding them facts in public schools. I personally found this way of teaching in my high school different and extremely effective. This way of teaching, referred to as the “Socratic method of teaching” within my high school was required by all teachers, particularly the science teachers. Teachers were never to lecture any of the information we were to know; rather, they were to provide enough information, forcing us to ask more questions and in the end coming up with the answers on our own through discussion. It was not even recommended that we read the textbook before coming to class. I remember encountering this new way of teaching my freshman year of high school and initially being extremely frustrated by it, especially in my first science course-regents level Biology. It was of course initially more difficult for me to think of the answers on my own through discussion, rather than simply being fed the facts from a textbook. However, by my senior year, I found that this way of teaching had not only helped me remember more information, but it had also changed my way of thinking. This method of teaching helps initiate discussion and helps students learn the facts while realizing on their own what science requires as well as what it can offer, while cultivating an interest in a subject that otherwise may not seem interesting.
I also agree with the point made by Mr. Greene about public schools not offering the proper foundations for students to grow to love science. I noticed, especially in NYC schools, where passing the regents is of the utmost importance, that memorization of facts is the most popular learning method. Unfortunately, although I agree with the author, I don’t think Mr. Greene pointed out how difficult it is for teachers to provide all the information that students need to know, while simultaneously sparking their interest in science. I cannot say that I can identify with this public school experience, as I attended a science high school in NYC where a majority of the students already had this interest in science. Since teachers knew that the students were interested in the subject they were teaching, they did not encounter this difficulty. Although students already had an interest in science, it was the encouragement of our teachers to participate in our own hands on research that ultimately helped most students realize what science meant to them. About a quarter of my graduating class participated in independent science research projects in coordination with science mentors and I believe that this ultimately helped students realize what science meant beyond the classroom and grew to love it. I know that this may not be a possibility for all public high schools, but I agree with a comment made above-that it is ultimately the students’ responsibility to place themselves within a scientific environment to realize what science truly is.

Alexandra Stratyner's picture

"I'm just not a 'science person'..."

As a student with a variety of academic interests, ranging from theater to writing to, of course, the study of science, it kills me when my I hear my friends and fellow classmates, from Bryn Mawr and high school alike, tell me that they are just not “science people.” What an outrageous label, “science person.” Everyone is a science person; as Greene discusses in his article, humans naturally tend towards inquiry, and inquiry, the backbone of science, is integral to so many other facets of our academic worlds, from philosophy to the analysis of literature.

The mistake that so many science teachers make, as I see it, is that they dull science down and make it an uninspiring topic, focusing for too long on the definitions and ignoring the real-world applications (applications that propel all human beings to strive for understanding of nature and their environment from childhood onward) of the laws and equations they teach. The dogmatic approach of so many science teachers and academic bureaucracies that decide on curricula, to endlessly lecture and test students in a way that encourages many not to relate to science but simply to memorize facts in order to attain a grade, is to blame for my peers who are convinced that they are not capable of understanding scientific fields, or even worse, simply dislike the subject as a whole. If educators want students to enjoy and understand science, to make the connection between chemical compounds and the inner workings of a star, they must look at what peaks student interest in other academic fields— discussion-based classes, real-life examples, and a sense of intelligence on topics that is fostered not by a red percentage on an exam but by the inner pursuit for knowledge that comes with a positive learning environment.

Wil Franklin's picture

Student driven

I like your point about fostering an inner drive for knowledge instead of forcing it through examination.  I've read several books that suggest one benefit of student driven inquiry is that the ownership of the process creates an emotional facet to the process.  Emotions have a lot to do with learning and memory.  More about that the first week.
elias tousley's picture


Although Dr. Greene manages to say a lot in this article, the importance of convincing a student to "want to learn" resonated most with me. I think that this point extends beyond science education, and I hope I don't get too far off track.
I had a hard time keeping up once I started college. Students were strangely enthusiastic and mastered material quickly and thoroughly. It took me a few months to realize my problem. I had been taking a passive approach to my classes - I would sit and listen and write words down and hope that my brain retained it. I found that this is a tough habit to break.
If a teacher can persuade a student to take a genuine interest in the subject matter, she has saved herself a boatload of work. People who have passion for an subject will actively pursue further knowledge. I imagine that pride, as well as interest, drives them to do so. When I have been able to convince myself that I really want to know something, I take satisfaction in the hours of study that follows. My guess is that interest in a subject creates sort of a positive feedback cycle: you decide that you want to learn more, then you do, then you feel like maybe you're not so dumb after all, and you keep gulping knowledge because it makes you feel good about yourself.
Because our education system has traditionally set standards of competency for students to attain, it makes sense that teachers are largely concerned with throwing information at their classes. I would say you can "own" knowledge the same way you own property. When you're renting an apartment, you don't have much attachment to the place. When you own a house, you can really appreciate it. Similarly, students seem to enjoy learning most when they feel that they are, on some level, teaching themselves.

Wil Franklin's picture

Renting versus Owning

Renting vesus Owning....Fantastic metaphor.  May I use it?  I think it is a useful and accurate metaphor.


jpfeiffer's picture

"Put a Little Science in your Life"

I agree with Mr. Greene when he states that, "our educational system fails to teach science in a way that allows students to integrate it into their lives". Coming from a public high school and witnessing a wide array of students each with a different motivation to learn, I had the oppourtunity to see a countless number of students in their science classes. However, they attended them not because they chose to, but rather because they were being forced by the administration so they could complete all of the requirements necessary for graduation. They lacked any motivation to attend because in their eyes, they did not see how the learning of biology, chemistry, physics or any other science class would be applicable to their daily lives. They were not interested in pursuing any sort of career in the sciences and thus they viewed their participation in such classes as a waste of their own time. I agree that students should realize that science is everywhere in their lives, however I do recognize that not everyone shares in my own personal love of science and that this could be very difficult to achieve. Nonetheless, I remain optimistic that some day many more people will appreciate the science that is apparent in their daily lives and not just ther science that they are "forced" to learn.
Sonal Kumar's picture

Biology, Philosophy and English, Oh My!

I agree with Anonymous’ post in that science is indeed made out to be a daunting and difficult subject. I think part of the reason that science frightens people is due to the fact that the subject’s content is primarily objective and fact-laden. Science classes— be it high school or college— are more often than not lecture style as opposed to discussion based or writing intensive. Already at this point, expressive and communicative students rule out the possibility of studying Biology. Content in a Biology course is eternal; there is no way to study the life of a leaf without explaining photosynthesis. However, I think the pedagogy, namely the strategy of instruction, of a Biology course can be altered to appeal to a broader range of students.

In my Philosophy of Mind course, we are discussing whether consciousness is a brain process. Is it? Well, the mind (not brain) is intangible, something like the soul. If we cannot see the mind and we have no scientific evidence of the mind, how can we say that consciousness is attributed to Biology? What does it truly mean to be conscious? While it would be ineffective to spend a day in a Biology course on such mind-boggling discussions, I think it is nevertheless important to address such questions, even if it is to a class full of future Biologists. The debate of consciousness is a very relevant discussion in the study of Philosophy and of Biology. So, why not include it in a Biology class? This approach, I think, will represent Biology as the comprehensive subject it truly is.

As another example, my Critical Feminist Studies class (an English course), is discussing the effect Biology has on sex and gender of human beings. Biology in an English course? Yes. Why? Because Biology is an integral part of studying practically everything. In other words, it is evident that Biology (a natural science) is vital in answering life’s most important questions; this fact I will not deny. It is clear to me that Biology is interdisciplinary and so Biology should become a more inclusive area of study. If Biology can be the topic of discussion in an English course and in a Philosophy course, why can’t we use English and Philosophy in Biology?

While it cannot be taught as a subject that is as writing intensive as an English course or as freethinking as a Philosophy course, I strongly believe that Biology should still include different perspectives from various ares of study-- from English, from Philosophy, from Sociology, from Anthropology—-into course content. Obviously, the extent of discussion and the type of discussion should be the discretion of the teacher/Professor of the course. In my opinion, the approach would make the idea of taking a Biology course less stressful and more attractive to all students, to every student.

Wil Franklin's picture

Lions and Tigers and Bears!

Yes, we shall see if biology has anything to tell us about consciousness in our first class meeting about the biology of learning.  And I'm curious about how the soul and mind are similar and/or different?
Amirah Nash's picture

Amirah Nash

I agree with Mr. Greene's position that science isn't taught to students in ways that they can and want to incorporate it into their daily lives. Until recently, I admit that I'd always thought of science as a subject to study in school. I even felt this way about labs which, though they allowed me to put the principles I learned into practice, weren't really useful in my everyday life. However this past summer, I did research at a college of medicine and it definitely opened my eyes to how powerful and influential science actually is. When I was working on my research project, I was eager to learn more, anxious to perform the procedures, and excited to interpret the data. Even though I didnt get the results I was looking for, I was still motivated because I felt like I was working on something that was useful and I was excited to be a part of it. I had never felt this way in any of the science courses that I had taken, but I think that if more people felt this way about science it would be much more popular and its importance would be much clearer to all.

eprins's picture

Why so many women avoid majoring in the sciences

Although I do believe that Bryn Mawr and other All-female colleges have been shown to have extraordinary numbers of science majors, I believe that this article perhaps touches on why women avoid the sciences. Since I have stepped on this campus, I have asked many of my classmates the same question: "what is your intended major?". As usual, I always get tons of English and History perspective majors as well as your share of psychology and art. I have not found too many women who are looking into Chemistry, Physics, or Biology.

Of course, as a perspective anthropology major, I have no problem with social science or humanities fields, but I do believe that there is a reason more women have not tried science. It has been shown that humans are more comfortable with what they know. We grow up in environments filled with music, art, and literature. Technology, science, and math are seen as something in our culture as only for the "smart people" and molecules and calculus are a bit harder to see as connecting to everyday life on the surface.

Because high school classes are so basic and cover topics so unattached to everyday life, students are left feeling uninspired. I will be honest and say that I remember very very little from my high school classes. It is only in college that the fun begins and science classes tend to take more specific approaches to scientific topics and student get to learn about the wonders of science. Yet, if students come to college thinking "I am not a science person and I will do everything in my power not to take a science course" they never get to experience science for what it really is.

Now, I bet you're wondering why I singled out women for avoiding the sciences. Although this has been improving, men are still more encouraged to major in the sciences than women. Men are encouraged to go into medicine and graduate school while for women, at least in my area, it is considered socially acceptable to simply get through undergraduate and then become a stay-at-home mom. The topic of gender and career is far to great for me to cover in a small post nor do I care to get into such a big subject so I will just leave it at this: If sciences classes were stronger in high school, more women would come to college feeling inspired by the hard science classes and willing to take classes at the undergraduate level.

eolecki's picture

"Put a little Science in Your Life"/"Science and Knowledge"

            Both articles seem to be making the same point; many people have a skewed view when it comes to the idea of science.  Science is not just about learning facts and memorizing formulas; it involves a certain type of thinking.  In “Put a Little Science in Your Life” I really liked the comparison the author made to memorizing scales but never actually playing a masterpiece.  Science is about taking the things you learn and bring them all together to create a new question or to think of something in a new way.  It is great if you understand specific concepts like the parts of a cell and what they do, but science involves taking that knowledge one step further and asking questions and forming guesses and thinking about all the implications that knowledge has on your life. 

     “Science and Knowledge” talks about science as an “ongoing process” instead of teaching specific skills and content.  The nature of science is constantly changing, which is why simply memorizing facts is not enough to truly understand science.  I took biology my sophomore year and by my senior year when I took AP there had already been numerous discoveries that completely changed what I was taught only two years earlier.  Teaching students what to do with scientific knowledge is what should be the goal of all teachers.  Although, teaching students a thought process rather than facts is much more difficult and even more difficult to measure.  But once students learns to think like this, questioning, evaluating, experimenting, and drawing their own conclusions, than they really understand what science is.
Wil Franklin's picture

Measuring a process

I'm impressed with your insight about the dificulties of measuring process. Any suggestion on how to measure the learning of "a process" as opposed to measuring "content learing"?
Katherine Bakke's picture

Bio Lab 1: Katherine Bakke's Response

Yesterday I was talking to my brother, a college junior, about why university-level education has to be so demanding and stressful for students. I just don't see how stretching (to the point of breaking) one's physical, mental, and even emotional capacities can possibly be a successful educational pedagogy. While it may teach skills like prioritizing and stress management, it also has the potential to breed a resentment of the educational process within students.

My brother sympathized. He said that he had read an article in the New Yorker several weeks ago about studies that show one's most brilliant ideas come at moments of complete calm. "This physicist who won the Noble Prize came up with his most imaginative theories when he was at his favorite strip club," said my brother, paraphrasing the findings of the article. (I'm trusting my brother on this one... also, please pardon the crudeness of mentioning a strip club in a homework assignment).

With this in mind, I think that is why I enjoyed General Chemistry lab as much as I did. Not only was I working with my hands, but my mind was engaged in a way that was calming, relaxing. I respect the efforts of scientists like Greene, who strive to make education, and especially science education, creative, magical. Science classes should be taught in that manner, and with real life examples. I experienced the success of this kind of teaching last year in gen-chem lab. One of my favorite labs was a three-week project in which we made biodiesel fuel. Not only was the lab topical to environmental issues, but it was also fun. Get-your-hands-dirty fun. The production of biodiesel is something I now grasp and understand, if only on an elementary level. Still, over spring break I talked to my uncle, a lobster fisherman in Maine, about the advantages of biodiesel over regular fuels, as well as explaining to him why, when producing biodiesel domestically, it is easy to botch a batch.

However, I've seen the pedagogical idea of synthesizing the "fundamentals" with a student's own imagination/innovation back fire. I cannot stand when teachers play the "guess what I'm thinking game" with their students. It seems that often, in an effort to spur a student's imagination and investigatory thinking, a teacher will FORCE them to be "creative," to try to find the solution to a problem before they are equipped with the proper tools/knowledge to begin to tackle it. The results can be humiliating for the student, who feels inferior for not "coming up with the most creative answer," and instead begins to feel the same kind of resentment toward a subject that I feel overworking creates.

So, how does a teacher teach well? And more specifically, how does a science teacher not only teach well, but also inspire his students?

I don't think anyone can answer that question, because like science itself, it has an ever-evolving answer. I do know that seeing the love of science about which Greene talks so personally in his article--the deep satisfaction that comes from discovery (and often it is merely a personal discovery, not an earth-shaking one, that is the most profound)--reflected in one's teacher can be truly inspiring. Having that joy demonstrated and reinforced helps me become more deeply engaged in a subject. Activities that promote such emotions are bound to triumph in the mind's of students. But to force the issue, to make a student feel he could never arrive at such a discovery because he simply "isn't smart enough," will immediately extinguish any spark of interest in the sciences, or any subject for that matter.

As a final thought, again involving the idea of joy involved in investigating the workings of the world, is about how I arrived at my interest in medicine. My interest in becoming a doctor is primarily about being a healer, an active servant to others. But, I could not choose such a path without a keen interest in understanding the human body, a subject I know next to nothing about. I can only assume this interest arose thanks to my mother and father, who both worked in the medical field, and who always took the time to explain to me when I was sick WHY I felt sick. Their teaching, but through explanation and mere example, supports that the best teachers are the one's who are passionate about their subject and patient enough to explain it in an encouraging, nurturing manner.

Wil Franklin's picture

Back firing

I'm interested in hearing more about the "guess what I'm thinking game".

Can you elaborate?

Katherine Bakke's picture

Back Firing Reply

I suppose you could compare the "guess what I'm thinking game" to a reporter who frames his questions in such a way that will make the source, in the end, say something that the reporter wanted the source to say, a statement that allows the reporter to say what he wants to say in a non-subjective way.

It seems that some teachers will play this game to merely involve the class in the lecture, which is a good thing. But more often that not I find it frustrating... I find myself thinking, "we don't know and we can't possibly answer your question because you haven't even taught us the material yet!"

I'm not sure if that makes sense, but I definitely experienced it in middle and high school. Not so much at college, but I think, especially in the sciences, it is tempting to play the game.

Wil Franklin's picture

I'm guilty

No, you make perfect sense and I have done just as you claim - to try to engage students.  Mostly I have received a deafening silence and thought to myself, "these students are so dis-engaged".  But, as I have begun to ask real question, open-ended questions, I realized that students are not zombies but were only bored of my inane questions.  Now, you make me see another alternative and that is, student may be hearing my question as "Charlie  Brown Teacher Talk"... you, know, bla, bla, bla.  If you have no experience with what I'm asking then of course I'm going to get silence in return.

You make an excellent case for starting with what students already know.

Do you think that will help?

Hannah Gatz-Miller's picture

Studying the world -- in the world

When I was in Middle School, we only had "formal" (in the very loose sense of the word) science classes about two times a month. Instead, once a week, the class would go on a day long field study, in order to better understand the natural world and its forces. Using this method, biology, chemistry and physics were mashed together to create one overlapping sense of "Science" and what it means to the world around it and everyone in it. We learned about Dissolved Oxygen and PH levels at the banks of actual rivers, and saw how it affected the fish and other animals there. We studied the velocity of the water rushing past, and were required to memorize native plants. For Geology, we would visit sites like Mt. Saint Helens and the museums and wildlife areas there. This approach was definitely infinitely more engaging than watching PH change colors in a test tube in a sterile classroom environment, without watching what it might mean for whatever's living in the water, all for the sake of a grade or test scores. Not to say that science cannot be engaging in the classroom (it usually is) but I think that people need to see how much science is integrated into our daily lives and the world around us by actually going and observing it outside of a textbook and a controlled classroom.
To me, science seems to be only one of many different ways of knowing. If the perspective of science is limited, what does that mean for a person's perspective on the whole world, and how they interact with it and the people, plants and animals within it?

Wil Franklin's picture

Ways of knowing


I once would agree with you that science "is only one way of knowing". Now, I am not so sure.  That is to say, if science is redefined as the process of inquiry, then by nature of living organisms - we can only understand through sensing, reflecting, intergrating and testing.

Intuition is only speculation.  Knowing I would argue takes a test for verification.  Then it becomes a looping process that is no different than science?  Or, maybe not?  


p.s. - did you go to EMS?

Kate Gould's picture

Science as a Process

As many have said before me, science is a process. Through scientific inquiry, one is not searching for "truth" because such truth is unattainable. An observation, that birds fly South in the winter, is the beginning of such an inquiry. But it is not truth that birds fly South every winter-- we have no way of knowing whether or not some variable will change: climate from Global Warming, the switching of the poles (North and South), or some other unforseen change that skews the path of the birds that seek warmer environments in winter.

Science is a process. One of the biggest problems I had with adjusting to college-level biology was the fact that there was not always an answer. My middle and high school, where my love for science developed, taught science as a series of textbook problems that always had textbook answers... And this is clearly not true. (Hah). Teaching science this way, that you have to find an answer, ruins the beauty of observation, of trial and error, and of the continuing curiosity expressed by students interested in science. As Professor Greene stated, students have little sense for the "big questions," being made to focus on the more technical details.

How can we expect students to enjoy science when they think all of the answers come from a book?

Grace Loudon's picture

Grace Loudon

I must say that the soldier who was reading about quantum physics has made a connection that no teacher in the science or math departments at my high school have ever made. The fact that this soldier was able to feel more connected to the world he lived in by reading about physics is something that was never shown to me. In my physics class this past year, my teacher never seemed to understand what the connection was to the real world and why what we were doing was useful. Physics and math might as well not be taught if there is no explanation to that leads to curiosity about the subject. These subjects should not be thought of as ways to earn grades or scores, they should be the launching pads for future discoveries. I believe that these subjects should be taught with presentations of what is yet to be confirmed. If no one in the world yet knows how to get humans to mars, maybe we should learn about what they are doing now to get there instead of learning about how to theoretically move boxes around using equations that are given fake names because we couldn't remember the real name anyway. If high school dropouts can be inspired to pursue further education by reading about science, then why can't we keep their interest while in school with the same science?

Wil Franklin's picture

Failing You.

I really hope we can connect biology to something real.  We'll start with the biology of learning.  Like your idea to working on getting people to mars.
Yong Jung Cho's picture

An Adventure worth Traveling

Students raised in the 21st century have a harder time grasping the true beauty and excitement that science has to offer because there is an easy access to entertainment. It is a lot more appealing to turn on the television or play a game on the computer than to ponder the mysteries of nature. Greene said that we are all born as little scientists and I absolutely agree. But, being a part of a society where not much thinking is involved to be entertained contributes to the dilemma of having less children interested in the math and sciences. The methods of how science is taught also contribute to why many students don't have a hunger for this particular knowledge. I think that because there is such rigidity and limit to what is taught, many grow up not knowing what science is or can be considered to be. Science is a term that encompasses an entire spectrum of concepts, ideas and mysteries; therefore it is very difficult to teach. Because it is much easier to teach science in very technical manner most students cannot feel the relevance of what is taught inside the classroom to the outside.
In my high school I participated in a robotics team and the whole purpose of the program was to inspire the participants to becoming science and technology heroes. If students are given the opportunity to have hands on experience or even just prompted to explore their curiosities then many will see that science is an adventure worth traveling.
The purpose of science is not finding truth because truth connotates an end or a conclusion, instead it is about thinking. Science is about being curious, creating original ideas and continuous exploration. Science cannot be solved but must be continuously improved. However, Although the goal isn’t truth, I believe that it can be found. I think truth is also a very spiritual term. Therefore, even if someone cannot find the concrete answer to their question or experiment the process itself can be very fulfilling. (I think Professor Brian Greene would agree as well. He also believes science can be a ‘lifeline’)

Wil Franklin's picture

Truth as spiritual.

I definitely want to hear more about what you mean by "truth is also a very spiritual term."  I think I agree, but I'm not yet sure what you mean.

Can you elaborate?

Yong Jung Cho's picture

Truth is being content

Truth is relative term. People define truth in their own way and so people will always debate and support their own belief with what they may deem as correct. For example some may find creationism as truth whereas others will support evolution. To each group their own idea of how the earth was created and humans formed is truth. I think that (personal) truth is finally when one is CONTENT and at peace with their answer. There would be no more need for further exploration for him or her.

Wil Franklin's picture

No further exploration?

Truth is "no further exploration".

You may be on to something there. I really like that definition.  As you point out it allows for the relative/personal to be valid and is broad enough to be a powerful definition.  Moreover, I like it, because it makes me realize why I am uncomfortable with "TRUTH".  I am curious and skeptical and I like to explore and discover - even if just for myself.  

Still, how do two such vastly different beliefs intersect such that these believers can talk and interact with each other.  For example, say I use the term "frog" and I ask you to draw a frog.  Meanwhile, I draw a frog and then we compare.  What happens if I draw a frog and you draw a tree.  Or for that matter I draw a tree and you draw a frog. You see my point.  We have to have some common ground in order to interact with each other.  And why do so many people draw frogs when I ask for a frog?  Does that imply there is a truth about frogs?...about evolution?



Yong Jung Cho's picture


The basis of interaction can be founded upon differences. If each of us had valid explanations to prove to each other that our beliefs of what a frog may look like, then we are 'interacting'. Therefore communication and persuasions are methods of interactions. Interestingly enough, I heard about a recently conducted experiment which led to the 'swarm theory'.(Please correct me if I am wrong) Insects particularly those that live in swarms rely on themselves first. For example INDIVIDUALS decide upon the perfect location for their home. This can metaphorically stand for: humans individually seeking for 'truth'. Fascinatingly, when enough of the individual insects (on their own!)decide upon the same location; they collectively come together and build their hive or nest..... isn't that amazing! This can also be related to humans. When enough people INDIVIDUALLY create the same 'truth'...... the truth is established as fact.

Wil Franklin's picture

More on Emergance


Here is a very helpful simulation on "emergance" of social order from individual interations... /complexity/models/antcolonies/ 

Also, see /exchange/node/1547 for a discussion of why we try to be objective.

Furthermore, let me direct you to a course offered this coming spring, called "emergance".  It is a chance to explore these and other topics at length.

Thanks for all your thoughts.


Eun Chong Yi's picture

Teaching in General

I particularly liked the quote "content should be chosen to facilitate the development of inquiry skills rather than starting with content and then trying to present it in a way that also develops inquiry skills." This method of teaching is focused on persuading people to question so called 'truths' and building curiosity. In that sense, rote memorization of dry content is counterproductive in teaching because it does not create a self-driven desire to go beyond the assigned course work. I believe many of us are speaking from prior experiences when we bemoan the current education system. We have all been victims of un-engaging memorization and test/statistic- oriented course work. It's unfortunate that solving this problem requires extensive politicking and a sluggish race through the many hoops and obstacles standing in the way of change.

Wil Franklin's picture

Quote from Alumni BMC '06.

Your comments remind me of a quote from Elizabeth Catanese BMC '06 that I saved:

" I think that the greatest act of love a teacher can perform is to help a student to trust hereself and her internal vision, to allow a space for freedom and exploration and help a student get over any fears of engaging in that process, to help a student want for herself and from herself."

Hope we can help.



Cho Park's picture

Is it possible?

This article brought things into a totally new perspective. Usually, science is considered a dry, factual subject that requires little or no imagination. It certainly isn't referred to 'exciting' or 'creative' by any means, least of all in my high school. As the article stated, basic information that was considered essential for getting into a good college was just crammed into our brains so that we would be able to spit back answers onto exam sheets, no questions asked. The point is, we forgot to go back to the roots of science itself, which all started with questions of the unknown world and the passion for learning the answers. As Dr. Greene stated, we were all born with that passion when we were younger, whether we knew it or not; the incessant questions that we asked our parents from 'why is the sky blue?' to even 'what is that made of?' proves that we all have the basic questioning nature in all of us. Sadly, that little scientist seems to die in most of us. I myself truly experienced my questions of the world being quenched as formulas for compound chemicals and the structures of neutrons and atoms overwhelmed me. I'm almost 100% positive that this would have been different, however, if as Dr. Greene suggested, the thirst for inquiry was first nurtured within me. Instead of stuffing formulas within my head, it would have been nice to see the effects and wonders that these compounds made.

Coming from Korea in particular, science isn't treated as a wondrous process. Instead, it is a means of getting ahead and owning the technologically most advanced machines and gadgets, or using it to better the nation in some frenzy of national pride. This is exactly why Dr. Hwang claimed that he had developed a way of cloning stem cells, thinking only of the esteem and respect that he and his country would receive instead of how the truth would crush the hopes of hundreds of lives. The answer to this problem doesn't seem simple, however, as I can think of no viable solution to the education system that schools instill now. It's true that the facts and content that we are given now are essential to go forward in the name of science, but it is also true that the way in which the content is delivered seems to be killing whatever curiosity students hold. Is it possible to find a way that will stimulate and engage students while delivering the facts as well?

Wil Franklin's picture

killing curiosity

We will certainly try to re-inspire curiousity in this course.  Thank you for your point of view.  Your comments on Dr. Hwang has given me more context to help me understand the motivations behind the ethical issues of responsible reporting of scientific findings.
valerie pierre's picture

put a lil science in your life

i really enjoyed the article, but i believed that it made science seem like it wasn't difficult to teach. i love the optimisim of mr. Greene but i don't believe that he took into account how many people are in a typical high school or middle school science class when he decided to say that the teachers are not making the class more relatable. i think that it is the job of the student to find something to relate with when they are that young and in an enviornment where the teacher cannot possibly make each class relatable to everybody in the class. but other than that i think that mr. Greene's article was interesting.

Wil Franklin's picture

Thank you for pointing out

Thank you for pointing out that students have some role in their education.  But maybe after dull science is beaten into them for years and years - it just may be too much to ask of students to just "suck it up" and try to find the meaning.  On the other hand, no student will learn anything if they do not want to learn it, so I see your point.
Sarah Moser's picture

As a kid, I was always

As a kid, I was always interested in science. I wanted to learn about the weather and about why things heated up in the microwave. I was always completely engaged when my fifth grade teacher would set up experiments to teach us how to create a circuit that would light a bulb or encourage us to participate in the Science Fair. I entered high school level science aiming to be a veterinarian when I "grew up." This excitement I had developed for the sciences was quickly squelched when I found out that science placement in high school relied solely on our performance on a math placement exam. Having struggled with math my entire life, I was discouraged from taking advanced science courses and instead encouraged to focus on the humanities. I think situations like this occur all too often; when a child has a passion for science, they should be encouraged by all means to pursue it, whatever the results. Science teachers must not take themselves too seriously, but instead realize that students do not need to be taught to focus on "continuing inquiry," or the process, and that that way of thinking is natural. In high school science, the goal was always to figure out how to get the "right" results out of a scientific experiment. Students always wanted to have the "right" hypothesis in order to conduct an experiment that produced the expected results. By this way of thinking, it is easy to lose sight of what the author, and I, would consider most important: the process. Science should be about the journey, not the destination.

Wil Franklin's picture

process over content

well, hopefully you haven't given up on science. You seem to have all the beginnings of a great scientist.  And depending on what interests you, math will come when you need it.


Elizabeth Hamilton's picture

Science education in this

Science education in this country clearly does leave something to be desired. More disturbing to me however is the hostility towards science education, not just from students but from all sorts of educated people. It seems that there is a perception that a person can be almost entirely scientifically illiterate, and still considered themselves well-educated and scholarly. I cannot count the number of times I have heard adults and children, smart people whom I respect, explain that they "just aren't science-people." They say this with no hint of embarrassment or regret. Apparently, there is no shame in not being a "science-person." This is not true of other disciplines. Acceptable though it may be in intellectual circles to know hardly any math at all, can you imagine a well-respected scholar explaining that he "never bothered reading that Shakespeare crap anyway?" Certainly not if he expected to remain quite so well-respected. This strange separation between "science-people" and the rest of the world seems to imply that people who do enjoy science learning are simply a strange subset of humanity, and that scientific knowledge is just too much to ask of anyone who is not already inclined towards learning science. It is really a shame that science is viewed this way, because it only serves to legitimize the failings of science education.
The problem of reinvigorating science education is more complicated than simply teaching students to appreciate the fascinating body of knowledge that science has brought us. It is important to remember that science does ask an awful lot of a student, not just in terms of grasping difficult concepts, which will get you pretty far, but also in terms of their temperament. A student of science needs to exercise persistent skepticism, in order to keep asking questions and testing assumptions. Otherwise, what is the point in doing a laboratory experiment to verify a principle already widely accepted as true? This is a more difficult task than can be completed simply by maintaining healthy curiosity about the world around oneself. It is far too easy to take for granted that the answers in the book are all of the answers that we need. This is the crucial difference between scientific knowledge and the scientific process. It is easy to be excited about scientific knowledge, but great mental discipline is required to be excited about the scientific process. A first step in changing science education in this country would be to teach students why the scientific process is such a profoundly inspiring concept. Science education should teach a student that the answers to questions are not granted, they are created, and that by resolving to organize one's inquiries in a certain fashion, by doing a few things that may feel a little pointless or dull, the answers to new questions can be found.

Wil Franklin's picture

beyond the dull

I would go further and try to do away entirely with any activities that have a particular "correct" answer. I would suggest that the only activities that truly reflect science are the ones that are open-ended with no apriori answers in mind, except a logically constructed prediction based on evidence.
Anna Melker's picture

Anna Melker

I really liked reading this article because it relates to something I was thinking about today. One of my 'interdisciplinary' classes, "Environment and Society", has many students from different majors and today we had a discussion about how to define terms like science, social science, and humanities. We found that it was quite difficult to separate science from humanities, because both disciplines use similar techniques to view the world, its hard to say which is more subjective and and which is more objective.
A big argument arose between an english major and someone representing a science major. The english major stated that science is not as subjective as reading a poem, for instance. Many interpretations can be made about the author's meaning, the time frame it was written in, and the time frame it is being analyzed in. On the other hand, the science major was arguing that science is more subjective, because the questions a scientist poses, the experiments he/she performs, and the data that one decides to keep and to throw away is quite subjective.
The stubbornness of the english major to accept that science is not just number crunching or mixing chemicals reminded me how much people take science as a dry and dead subject, that one can only study the subject and not live it, not research or create as the humanities do.
I remember that America is something like 48th in the world in science and I try to think back to a time before I was born when the race for space was new and exciting and everyone wanted to be or marry an astronaut. What Greene says, "We rob science education of life when we focus solely on results and seek to train students to solve problems and recite facts without a commensurate emphasis on transporting them out beyond the stars" really rings in my ears and I feel badly that people are not inspired to create and observe the natural and physical world as well as that of the mind and human experience.

Wil Franklin's picture

us versus them

Thank you for sharing an interesting debate from your other class.  I've had similar debates and beleive all quests for understanding are essentially the same. (see similarities and differences between science, humanities and arts and specifically this response by Dr. Grobstien.)
Kristen Magnuson's picture

Science, Truth, and the Inquiring Mind

In response to Dr. Franklin's question about truth, I would say that science is about looking at the world in different ways. 'Truth,' in science, is dynamic, changing throughout time as technology advances and as new questions are asked. Scientific 'truths' must constantly be challenged in order for us to understand the world better. Think back to the 1400s, when people, including the scientific community, accepted the notion that the world was flat; to those individuals, the world being flat was a truth. We look back now, and think of how silly such a notion was, but scientific history is filled with many more stories of once widely accepted 'truths' proven false. But it is only because of the scientists who dared to question the standard way of thinking that we have a better understanding of our world. The so-called 'process of continuing inquiry' is an essential part of science. Not only does the scientific community need to challenge accepted truths, it needs to ask new questions. The more questions one asks, the more benefit there will be to scientific understanding. For this reason, it is more important than ever for young people to get involved in science and technology. The world needs more scientifically inquiring minds--a number of people, each bringing a new perspective and a fresh question to investigate, and each person challenging his or her peers to ask more questions. By looking at a problem from multiple angles, we are more likely to find a solution.
That said, I believe more often than not, schools do not encourage students to think dynamically; schools are more focused on teaching the accepted truths of our time. While it is important to understand what has happened in the past in order to grow and look to the future, students must also be encouraged to stray away from the curriculum and explore their own curiosities, and they must always be encouraged to ask questions and challenge ideas. If teachers could get students more actively involved in science class, rather than only lecturing and having students memorize, students would not only learn more, they would develop a greater appreciation for and interest in the sciences. As others before me have mentioned, this problem is not unique to the field of scientific academia, but it extends to a number of subjects and is a result of numerous factors. Hopefully we can overcome these obstacles, and everyone can become an inquiring mind.

Wil Franklin's picture

Not just lecturing

I am taken by your comment that science classes should do more than lecture. I agree and when you study the "biology of learning" during the first week you will hear more about this.  My question for now is, would all subjects (humanities, social sciences etc) benefit from less lecturing?  And is the primary reason for less lecturing that other activities are more engaging?
Anceline Eustache's picture

Science is a Mind-set

It is interesting to read articles concerning the unpopularity of science if only for the reason that I have never considered it in that light before. I suppose I too took science for granted. I thought that curiosity, the desire to solve problems and the drive to gain knowledge was something everybody engaged in however I don't think I ever classified those behaviors as being scientific. Looking back at my high school experience it is obvious that science was not taught in the most beneficial way. Instead of instilling in students the impulse to question all things further we were taught that once outside the classroom it became okay to take everything at face value. Science was treated as nothing more then a class to be passed and dismissed at the end of the year.

I think for many people, the concept that the process of scientific questioning and reasoning can be implemented in everyday life simply doesn't occur. In my mind the statement that the older we get the less inclined we are towards discovery for ourselves rings extremely true. I think it is in part because the older we get the more aware we are of social expectations and the need to go with the majority's opinion. I believe if science were presented as a mind-set or a way of living life and the desire to pose questions and go against the flow of the majority was reaffirmed from an early age many more people would feel comfortable forming their own opinions and conclusions based upon there own beliefs and findings.

Wil Franklin's picture

against the flow

Interesting idea about losing curiosity as we age.  I think you are on to something.  We don't like to rock the proverbial boat as much.  I've noticed this in politics as well. My parents become more and more conservative each year.  Maybe they have more and more to risk?  Is science risky?
Jeanette Bates's picture

Greene is right...

I agree with Greene on the way science education is taught today. I don’t think that giving students tons of technical details is the right way to approach it; in fact, I think that it simply bores the children. Until my 7th grade biology class I was never particularly interested in science because I found it too cold and uninteresting. Though the class wasn’t really taught differently, I found the subject matter interesting and pursued science from then on. Unfortunately, many children are not as curious about science as I am. Consequently, they are turned off to science completely because of their classroom experience. I don’t think that there are any real excuses for not teaching students the bigger picture or amazing discoveries, though I do think that Sarah may have a point about the lack of school funding. In order to improve the educational system there needs to be more funding, particularly in a state like mine (CA).

I would like to quickly add that there have been many programs that I have loved that helped explore the greater concepts of science. The show NOVA, for example, first made me realize that I wanted to become a scientist. I still remember one show I saw that told me that many of the stars I see may already have “died” millions of years ago. A statement like that definitely put me in awe. There are also radio programs such as Radio Lab that cover recent and relevant discoveries and important concepts. Radio Lab recently had Greene on and he was able to talk about the possibility of multiple universes and what would go on in them. These sorts of things amaze me and I am sure that they amaze other people and young children. Is it really so difficult to integrate concepts like these into the classroom?

Wil Franklin's picture



What do you think about the statement above, "In this important sense, science is not about finding "truth" but instead is a process of continuing inquiry"?

What is it about if not "Truth"?
Emma Condy's picture

"Put A Little Science In Your Life"

I found this article interesting because I personally don't understand how someone, as a student, could AVOID asking the big questions when studying in the field of science.

However, I do understand that in the current education system there's a definite degradation of science as a discipline (although that can be said for most subjects). In Dr. Greene's article he said, "in teaching our students, we continually fail to activate rich opportunities for revealing the breathtaking vistas opened up by science, and instead focus on the need to gain competency with science’s underlying technical details." Coming from New York I really see this problem occuring in the school system because teachers have to teach to the regents exams, so there isn't much room to ask the big questions. The students are too busy memorizing diagrams and charts to make any real inquiries, and I think that Dr. Green is correct in saying that this system is obviously flawed.

Wil Franklin's picture

No Truth?


What do you think about the statement above, "In this important sense, science is not about finding "truth" but instead is a process of continuing inquiry"?

What is it about if not "Truth"?

Sarah Maley's picture

An early start

Thinking back to elementary school, I remember that my school focused a lot on making science fun. We would perform experiments, that thinking back were very simple, but as a 4th and 5th grader, they were incredibly interesting. However, there was so much to learn, that it's really difficult for schools, especially elementary schools, to do anything other than wet one's appetite for future exploration in science. For some students, this is enough to keep them interested, and leads them to study science in high school, and into college. But for many others, science just isn't interesting enough to keep the students interested. Unfortunately, it is this way with many subjects in school.

With language, My elementary school would do alternating semesters of Spanish and French, in hopes that it would keep students interested in learning a language. Unfortunately, It didn't work for all students. However, the schools did the best they could with the limited funding and time that they had available to them.

It's unfortunate that not everyone can have the desire to study everything, but realistically, most people just don't have the time, or motivation. Instead we choose early on in life what we feel we are most interested, and with any luck there will still be the opportunities later on in life (such as at college) to explore other subjects, whether they be science, history, of a foreign language.

I am just thankful that I had teachers from early in my education who motivated me to further explore science.

Bailey Baumann's picture

The Flip Side

This article got me thinking about the state of science education and education in general, in the public school system.

Coming from a family full of elementary school teachers I understand both sides of this issue. As a high school student I was constantly frustrated by the lack of interest and attention that was paid to the sciences. I was also bored by the courses because they all seemed to be just readings straight from the book and the labs that were never innovative or "cool" enough to really keep me interested. I was especially miffed by the AP sciences courses I took because everything we learned was taught so that we could get a better grade on the exam and raise the school's statistics. I can understand why sciences are getting lost or forgotten by a majority of teenagers and I wish that everyone could appreciate what science has given us.

On the other side of things, I know the struggles that the teachers in public schools are going through. Teachers become teachers because they're passionate about their subject and they really want to educate the future of this country. Unfortunately, money and politics are getting in the way of our teacher's ability to teach. The sad truth is that most schools in this country do not have enough money to invest in science courses and make them inspiring and engaging. It is also difficult for schools to get science textbooks and lab supplies because they are very expensive. There's also standardized testing that restricts most teachers curriculums. When the money a school receives is based on a set of numbers, the teachers have to teach to that test, which is sad.

I hope that in the future, the school system in this country will change drastically because it would be devastating if our generation grows up and forgets about the importance of science.

Wil Franklin's picture

What to do?

What changes would you like to see in science education?
Urvi Mittal's picture

Science in India

I completely and totally agree with Anonymous above. In India, Science is given a completely different approach. Till the 10th grade, we learn the very basic principles of science, and without even bothering to understand them, we're made to write exams, which are so objective, there's no way of telling whether the child has understood the concept or not. Science is a chore to most children, but some, like myself, do develop a deeper interest in it. So what happens to these children? I, personally, hated the Indian system of education, so I transferred schools, and joined the International Baccalaureate, where my whole perspective to Science was changed. My Chemistry Higher Level teacher actually told us to forget everything we had learned till the 10th grade, because it would not help us at all, and now I'm here, in the USA, a potential Biology Major. I have friends back home, who are equally interested in Science, and their career path is set for them. They went to "junior college" where one learns nothing in the classroom, and relies on help outside the college professors and then goes on to study Engineering or Medicine. Some people get into these professions only because they are under pressure from their families to do so. They have no idea about how interesting Science could be, if only taught correctly, or taught the right things. I have no idea how Science is approached in the USA, but I speak for India when I say that Science is way more interesting than it's made out to be in India, and if people don't realize that soon enough, India may have hoards of engineers and doctors who don't even like the profession they're in, and that would be a shame, since Science can change the way we view the world we live in.

Wil Franklin's picture

What is science?

Indeed.  And curious that Americans are worried that Indians will come to dominate us in the sciences.  Your experience seems to suggest that American students and Indian students share many of the same issues around science literacy.

What do you think about science as a process?

Anonymous's picture

Bring Science Back

I really liked the article about putting science into your life. Mr. Greene has written what many believe, that science is not being given the acknowledgment it deserves. Today students are required to take science but are only taught the basics and not why they need to know about plants growth or the stars, just that their there and cool to look at. Along with science in schools being looked over society has also forgotten the importance. Today on TV, it is the celebrities that receive recognition. There are no scientists dressed in the latest fashion, getting their pictures and gossip stories placed in 17 magazine or vogue. Children only see actors, models, etc. going to parties, buying a large house and latest technology. It's unfortunate that all kids want to be an actor or singer and live a life where they entertain instead of helping change the world. It is only when a potential problem to life like global warming or nuclear wars where science is even given some recognition and it is only people yelling at scientist to fix the problem instead of trying to help. It is already known that other countries are way ahead of the United States in math and science and that needs to change. It will not be easy to make science popular because most children and myself included sometimes look at a math or science problem and groan. We just have to try and bring back a spark of excitement to science and hopefully people with grasp that importance of pursuing a science career.

Wil Franklin's picture

written by Morgan Currie

written by Morgan Currie
Stephanie Vrakas's picture

Science education started in

Science education started in my school system at the elementary level. I spent my K-5 years constructing volcanos, eco-systems and tornados out of two soda bottles. Science education was used to engage the students' curiosity, and show them the scientific applications of what they were experiencing in real life. I believe that in the elementary years students were very "into" science. It was not feared as it was as I progressed through the education system. It was really in high school when science was broken down in to bio, chem and physics that students became aware of its "problems". Bio was too much memorization, chem had too many equations and physics had too much math. The practical applications of science had been lost by those who explored it. I believe that in HS biology if my teacher had given the class one of the volcanos we had made in second grade, the connection between science and life could have been recaptured. It is very important as a student of the science to maintain a clear connection between real life application and the concepts that are being explored. If that bridge is not being made it is easy to become lost in science and develop a negative perception of it. As a chem major i appreciate the small subtle aspects of science and I take advantage of them on a regular basis. For example just the other day i needed to get permanent mark off of a surface and just by thinking about what would dissolve permanent marker I was able to figure it out. Science is involved in everything, but it is often overlooked.

Wil Franklin's picture

What's your name?

Well done. What's your name?

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