From Serendip


Science and non-science:
Bridging the two culture gap

C.P. Snow's 1959 essay was used as a starting point for conversation about how sciences and mathematics are currently handled in the curriculum, and how one might imagine improving it. Participants wrote comments in an on line forum area, which were than transcribed to yield the discussion given below.

"I believe the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups. When I say the intellectual life, I mean to include also a large part of our practical life, because I should be the last person to suggest the two can be at the deepest level be distinguished."

"Literary intellectuals at one pole - at the other scientists ... Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension - sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding."

"This polarisation is sheer loss to us all. To us as people, and to our society. It is at the same time practical and intellectual and creative loss, and I repeat that it is false to imagine that those three considerations are clearly separable".

C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures, 1959

How do you personally feel about "science"? Is there a "two culture" gap in our educational system? In your teaching?

Aliya A. CatanchHill-Freedman Middle SchoolFrom:
Date: Tue, 25 Jul 2000 20:58:51 EDT
Subject: Re: BBI00: thanks, pictures, and ...
Doc PG.... I want you to know that you have single handedly changed my outlook on the science subject. It was not as drastic as me wanting to be the next Einstien, but enough to make me at least like it... C ya around doc Aliya
Karen CohenAbraham Lincoln High School My personal view of science for many years was, well, summed up with one word, "Yuck!"; in primary school it was undistinguishable from the morass of general information we learned from uninspiring textbooks and well-meaning, but insipid teachers. Middle school was worse: sterile classrooms in which science was lectured at us, and labs were limited to teacher demonstrations with very little student-centered learning. Then came the nighmarish annual science project to which I responded with anxiety and dread until the moment it was submitted. In those days, most of the projects were limited to plant growth studies and the making of battery-operated electrical contraptions. My parents were useless, more befuddled than I, so many times I had to team up with a friend who had parents with mechanical talents. High school, hmm, I remember that my biology teacher had come to us from the outside world; he actually treated us as mature, thinking individuals. I sort of liked that, and put my heart and mind into understanding animal anatomy. Dissecting pigs, frogs, worms, now that was fun! My science grades began to look was respectable as my English grades. Chemistry, well, not too bad. The teacher was casual, friendly, we had frequent labs. I got a 90 something on the Chemisry Regents, to the shock of teachers and friends alike. I opted not to take Physics--just the name alone scared me. I took advanced biology, and LOVED it, actually was passionate about the course.

Along with college pretty much came the exit of science from my life. With the exception of one course in human biology in my freshman year, science ceased to exist. And that's the way it was until I grew up and realized that science breathed in and around and through me, and that's when I woke up and started making myself aware of all the things I had inadvertently ignored for many years.

Two culture gap? Yes, there still is, but it isn't as wide as it used to be. At least in high schools, there has been an attempt to teach across the curriculum; however, I don't know if these efforts are the result of professional motivation and personal conviction, or just a response to school district mandates. On the college level, the gap is almost as wide as it used to be (I think). This is a shame.

In my teaching: science plays an auxililiary, but useful part in that I try to incorporate other curricular subject matter in whatever I do, even if it is an article that somehow relates to a piece of literature or a historical event which arises in a poem, novel, or drama. I WANT TO DO THIS MORE, especially after BBI opened a new world to me just a week ago!

Carolyn FitchettCW Henry School Personally, I love science. It is responsible for my being and enjoying a more comfortable and exciting life. I am amazed at the science accomplishments of many African Americans because many such as Benjamin Banneker, Lewis Latimer and Garrett Morgan did not have an equal opportunity to learn science in a formal setting. This was mostly discovery. There seems to be two cultures in science however the cultures are gradually intergrating. My niece, a recent grad from Princeton U. with a major in Electrical Engineering is enployed in a setting where she is the only minorty. The two gap in teaching is being address by the state with programs for Women and Minorities. My teaching is integrated with equal emphasis for all.
Nora A. KasperFather Judge High School Paul, Thank you, thank you, for the many ways that you encourage, support and empower all educators. We should have the interest of our students as our primary objective. Oftentime, some of us forget that, although we touch the future, the present is what will affect what the future will be.

My experiences, for the most part, as both a student and a teacher have seen the gap between science and the other disciplines. Being a former science phobe, I can relate to the anxiety that some experience just thinking of science. This allows me to see others, particularly my students in a different light. I try first to take the fear and mystery out of the science course, show the real-life applications, and then try to make it fun. Five years ago, I taught my first environmental science course to at risk students with nothing more than a text book. Thanks to the institutes at Bryn Mawr and support from my administrators, it has evolved into a full roster program with outreach field work in the community and recognition for my students. I oftentimes hear from some of my hard core science colleagues that you cannot teach content and teach science across the curriculum. I don't have to say anything in defense because the success of my students in terms of their enthusiasm and interest says it all to me.

Janet MiddletonAda Lewis Middle School When I think about science I imagine something unknown waiting to be discovered by ANYONE. In the past I would have stated that science is discovery performed by highly trained and specialized people. This was parttially due to my phobia of science as a subject. It was something you had to take in class and you had to make sense of it. The discovery piece was missing. Science came from a textbook with very little experimentation or discovery because all of the answers were written on paper, you just needed to read and understand them. Through further educational and teaching experiences my beiliefs have changed and my phobias are disappearing. I have discovered there still exists a cultural gap in our educational system as it relates to science. There are teacher preparation programs that continue to steer clear of the sujbect unless you have declared science to be your area of certification. So we know where that leaves the K-8 educator. This in turn becomes apparent in some classroms where we continue to breed agroup of young people who are phobic about science because the person doing the standing and delivering is not comfortable with the subject matter.
Ayotola O. OrontiFeltonville Academics Plus School Science has always been regarded as a very different approach to life. In fact I used to think that it was a way of life for some weird people. Actually people see scientists as nerds in the society.

Right now I am having a change of heart about the way I see science.I used to think it is supposed to be different from other subjects that I teach but now I see it as part of everything and even as a basis for all the other subjects.Thanks for the eye-opening institute of brain and behavior.

Babatunde Ade OrontiOlney High School If there is any split between the Scientists and the Litterary groups, it's only imaginary. It can't be real because the "two" Worlds exist one in the other and can't be separated.

Browsing through the list cognitive skills we came up with yesterday, I found out that all of them exist in both Science and Non Science disciplines. In the real world, we solve scientific problems using litterary skills and litterary problems using scientific skills.

I want to suggest that a method of instruction dissemination be devised that will incorporate the "two" disciplines from the onset so that by the time the students grow up the "two" World will gradually be inseparable one from the other.

Frances PeaglerDobbins/Randolph The culture gap in education between science and non-science is vast. One only has to talk to a non-scientist to see this. For example, students and non-science teachers frequently feel that most science classes are challenging if not intimidating/anathema. It is not unusual for students to say they love their English and history classes but hate their Biology and Chemisty classes. The very terminology we use when discussing the different education classes creates a gulf between science and non-science. We have the humanities and then we have sciences. Their is very little interaction between the two.
Claudette StoneGirls' High If there is evidence of a two culture gap in science, I believe educators can be the link to bridge a connection. Science is a knowledge which surrounds and empowers us for survival, success and stability. Our existence is based upon the study of life, how to make it work, how to grow, how to teach others, how to share and how to step out of your comfort zone to explore the unknown and develop familiarity.

In high school, I struggled with chemistry and physics because my mathematics skills were weak. I didn't understand the connection because there was limited time to review basic mathematic operations relative to chemistry and physics. For the first time in thirty years, a colleague explained to me the steps and order of operation for balancing equations and the relativity of physics to life in fifthteen minutes. She explained, to engage her students in science she used basic mathematical terminology, step by step as she was taught. It gave me a new outlook. I have gained a new respect for the subject.

Maxine TumaineBeeber Middle School I am in a seminar group at this moment with a topic in the art about the polarization of the scientists and the literary sect. How do you feel about science is there a two culture gap in our educational system? My immediate thoughts were of Leonardo Da Vinci who used art as a vehicle to explore his scientific avenues medicine,fligt, warfare, alchemy. Unknown to many, he was also an accoplished musician,and gymnast,who in his youth was considered as fair as a woman, and often cross dressed hence his invention of the handkerchief.

Such examples are in the curriculum,however,not every teacher pulls them out to set the students in a mind frame of global knowledge.We may see pictures in a book to illustrate time references or acquaint with personalities but never a bombardment of theories applied to relate the cuurent theory with personalies of the time to past personalities . The human interest becomes lost in the sciences as if the eccentricities devalues the imput of the scientist Don't we giggle when we first think of Einstein? Therefore the scientist places a front where his credibility must stay intact.The reason why I enjoy reading into cryptozoology is the front comes down and the process is more evident.I feel it should become a part of the curriculum in science because it challanges the imagination and teaches to probe.

Nayjuana WoodberryAda Lewis Middle School Science is a wonderful discovery; however, most students from the inner city do not have the opportunity to experience the experiments the textbooks suggest. For example, when discussing a unit on plants, students were asked to list as many flowers as they could in their neighborhood and collect them. Unfortunately, students commented that there weren't any flowers. In fact, most students had not even heard of anything, except for a rose.

The way science is taught, is definitely biased. There have been other instances in which students were not able to relate (like gathering samples from a creek).

Paul GrobsteinBryn Mawr CollegeTwo cultures or one?
Science as "getting it less wrong"

What is "science"? In what ways is it like "other things"? In what ways is it different?

Karen CohenAbraham Lincoln High
Carolyn FitchettCW Henry
Nora A. KasperFather Judge High
Janet MiddletonAda Lewis Middle School
Ayotola O. OrontiFeltonville Academics Plus
Babatunde Ade OrontiOlney High
Frances PeaglerDobbins/Randolph
Claudette StoneGirls' High
Maxine TumaineBeeber Middle School
Nayjuana WoodberryAda Lewis Middle School

Paul GrobsteinBryn Mawr College

What is "hard" about science? Is "universal science literacy" important/achievable?

Karen CohenAbraham Lincoln High
Carolyn FitchettCW Henry
Nora A. KasperFather Judge High
Janet MiddletonAda Lewis Middle School
Ayotola O. OrontiFeltonville Academics Plus
Babatunde Ade OrontiOlney High
Frances PeaglerDobbins/Randolph
Claudette StoneGirls' High
Maxine TumaineBeeber Middle School
Nayjuana WoodberryAda Lewis Middle School

Paul GrobsteinBryn Mawr College

What can be done (from both sides) to achieve univeral science literacy, to bridge the two cultures gap?

Karen CohenAbraham Lincoln High School Unfortunately, the public school system is subject to political, economic, socio-economic and cultural trends, so it has suffered over the years from inconsistencies, "start and stop" methods, and lack of vision for the future, all of which has inevitably led us to the place we are now. That's not to say that the bastions of education--the "elite" private academies, colleges and universities haven't been guilty of another egregious error: that is, maintaining the status quo in keeping the disciplines distinctly separate and apart from one another in order to achieve what they believe to be academic integrity. The problems existing in both the realms of the "common man" and the "privileged" are sort of axiomatic "givens".

Paul, I honestly don't have enough information to pose an intelligent solution or method for bridging the gap. It is already "cliche" to use such terms as "teaching across the curriculum", "inter-disciplinary", "multi-disciplinary","holistic", words that have been tossed about like candy livesavers, but have not been consistently, deliberately, and meaningfully made an integral part of every teacher's mission or credo. I'm at the point now where I can envision a revolution in the way schools are run because there are too many students still failing, and there are a growing number of students who are just clearly not engaged in the learning process, even at the best of schools. The nature of the outside world, global, ever-changing, technological,needs schools that provide a microcosm that reflects the dynamics and overlapping arenas of the real world.

I am particulary frustrated that, even under what appears to be the best of circumstances at my school, that is, the reorganization of our school into small learning communities, in which there is generally one or perhaps two teachers for each academic discipline, and among whom planning time (not enough and not at strategic times) is allotted for curricula planning and development to insure that the two cultures are conjoined, at least for a portion of the year, the human tendency is for things to fall apart after a while. With every change in staff and administration, with budgetary changes, with acceptance or non-acceptance by other teachers (being part of the "in" or "out" group) educational goals are compromised.

Bottom line? You can change what you do, but you can't expect to change others. Thus, I am doing all I can to make meaning in my English classroom and build bridges to other disciplines whenever and wherever possible. There is the occasional history or science teacher who meets with me over a period of time to develop a cross-curricular project or unit; sometimes this happens by chance--for example, when I realized the social studies teacher in my community was covering the Renaissance reasonably close to the time I was reading Shakespeare, and that the 9th grade science teacher liked me well enough to want to work with me, we created a very rewarding unit which resulted in the publication of a newspaper that included articles, editorials, cartoons, poetry, graphic art, games, science discoveries, all related to the events and the literary genre and style of the time period. Is this view that of a realist, a pragmatist, or a defeatist? You decide!

Carolyn FitchettCW Henry School Science should become a prioty. When supplies are ordered an equal amount should be ordered for science. Our classrooms should be science ready. There should be k-12 science articulation. T.I.M.S. (Third International Math Science Report showed our 4th grade scored well on the international report.

Our classroooms should be science ready. Teachers who will teach science should invovlve themselves with professional development that will increase the depth and scope of their knowledge. Science should always be integrated(k-12). Students know that science is FUN to learn. Science lessons should be taught "hands-on-minds-on". Appeal to students learning styles.

Nora A. KasperFather Judge High School Bridging the gap between science oriented and non-science oriented individuals is problem.

I can hope to affect change in this area by working to adapt the science curriculum as a discovery process through the diversity of the students that are before me.

I include the students in choosing the areas of interest on the topic.

We gather whatever information the students know on the topic. We discuss what is important to learn and how it relates to their own lives. We brainstorm on the methods that we would like to use in researching the topic.

Although my students have choice through structure.

Janet MiddletonAda Lewis Middle School Before I can think of a universal solution I need to address local solutions. As an educator it is my duty and responsibility to learn as much about science (middle school topics in my case) so that I can EXPOSE my children. On the other hand the scientific community also has the same responsibilty and duty so that any discoveries, concepts or ideas that impact our lives are not held in isolation This can be done through community outreach and teacher training.
Ayotola O. OrontiFeltonville Academics Plus School In view of the different eyeswith which we all see science some things have to be done to bridge that gap between science and the non-science disciplines.

First and foremost I will suggest it all begins from top-down. This means it should start with our school districts' administration.The discriminatory treatment and employment of science departments and staff should be revised and stopped gradually. This will affect the way people see science from the beginning.

Also I am of the opinion that the outside world has to be educated about and discouraged from disciminating between science and other disciplines when they award grants for educational purposes. For instance I am in the process of looking for grants for my 4th grade class so we can do more in academics this year but to my amazement I discovered that most available grants are in the science area.

Finally, coming back home,because charity begins from home,I think ALL teachers should get a chance to experience some mind-turning,eye-opening, heart-changing classes or workshop to divorce them of previous erroneous feelings about science.According to the old English adage,what you do not have you cannot give. If teachers have the correct perspective to science then they will be able to take students to a safe harbor concerning the subject and then the gap between science and non-science will be bridged.

Babatunde Ade OrontiOlney High School The approach to solving this problem has to be initiated from all possible angles. That is all those involved have a vital role to play.

Educators in general(Sience/Non Science).

  • It's imperative that we educators are encouraged to attend Workshops, Seminars and Institutes such as the ones we are presently attending in Bryn Mawr in order to update ourselves on how to develop lesson plans that integrate all discplines ( cut across curriculum).
  • There's a serious need for each "class" of educators to stop seeing each other and themselves as distinct from the other. This will help to erase the feeling of inferior/superiority complex presently being experienced in the "two" groups for one another.

    Students. The phrase that comes to my mind right now is "catch them young". According to a research, a child's brain can be put to the optimum use at the age of 5. This according to a research on brain development is the best time to expose the child (his or her brain) to as many stimuli as possible for optimum use. It makes sense also to believe that if after this stage, the rate of growth of the brain is not as cataclysmic as it was in earlier stages of develoment, then the best time to make the ideal impression on the child will be between 3-5 years of age.

    This is part of the arguement being put forth (I believe) by those who are pushing forward the following mode of teaching;

  • Balanced Litteracy
  • Read America
  • 100 Book Challenge.
  • Frances PeaglerDobbins/Randolph The extensive terminology or the "language of science" is enough to intimidate the bravest of souls. The primary problem with science teachers is that they feel students need to know all of the terminology in order to understand the subject. What I, as a science teacher, am currently struggling with is how much of the terminology is necessary to understand the science and at what point is it toxic. For example, I feels students should have a basic understanding of aerobic respiration, but how much information do they really need about glycolysis,the krebs cycle and the electron transport system? How important is it for them to know about adenosine triphosphate? How does this terminology, as educators/learners, make you feel? I Think one of the goals as a science teacher is to remember "KISS".
    Claudette StoneGirls' High To achieve universal science literacy, scientific and education communities must engage in conversation and curricula planning. The symposium should include interdisciplinary workshops, lectures and interactive activities for scientists, educators, and student participation. Lesson plans and lectures should include interest inventories, pre and post assessments, questionaires, a pacing schedule and a universal reading list. In addition, the opportunity must be provided for the learner to demonstrate an understanding of science and the successes achieved in a fun manner. Discussions must always include a time to review and to work through limited areas which create strongholds for the learner.

    Instructional strategies must be ongoing and concurrent with material introduced. Workshops, professional development and support programs can not be implemented in a "one shot" deal.

    When the stakeholders, i.e., students, educators, and scientists are actively involved in the planning stages, all will benefit.

    Maxine TumaineBeeber Middle School Tearing down barriers,destroying phobias,reversing predjudices against the haute science cult. What is the vocabulary of the enemy? How can we decode their messages to learn their battle strategies, if any . Why do they feel superior when we know divine intrevention is on our side? Aren't these the thoughts facing us when we the "inspired" face those who are out to categorize all the beauty and splendor of the universe? Those who seek to solve all the mysteries of the world to make it easier for us to understand why we feel a rush when looking at the sunset through a cold atmospheric mist. Are they being cold and crude when they probe, taking away our dreams and fantasies ? Perhaps they are challanging , the literary us to imagine more to inspire them where to search for anwers, perhaps they are mapping the roads that we travel to help us retrace our routes to a different bend. Oh, if we became scientists with sentiment and excitement of fantasy as well as of "truth" what a world, what a universe!
    Nayjuana WoodberryAda Lewis Middle School
    Bridging the Gap

    From both sides, I think we should incorporate contributions from all races. Karen reminded me how I had to actually do research to find out who scientists like Benjamin Bannecker and Garrett Morgan were. I think their names, and works (as well as others) should be included in today's texts. A thought also came to mind after we recognized a common theme; I thought about inviting various speakers from a variety of races to talk about a particular topic. I think that this is a step toward bridging the two cultural gaps and including diversity.

    Paul GrobsteinBryn Mawr CollegeBiology 103: Basic Concepts
    Biology 202: Neurobiology and Behavior
    College Seminar 1: Human Understanding and Aspiration in a Material World
    Interactive Physics
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