Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Week 1 Memo

Week one: Galileo (1638), Lehrer (2009), Hazen (1991)
            This weeks readings explored the history and nature of science in both their content and language.  Published in 1638, Galileo’s discourse on “Two New Sciences” acts as an example of the beginnings of the scientific method as peer-reviewed experimental research.  His now famous findings on terrestrial constant accelerated motion (known today as gravity) are presented here as a conversation between three contemporary scientists.  The character Salviati presents Galileo’s hypothesis, along with the observations and experiments that support his theory.  The characters Sagredo and Simplicio act as surrogate students for the reader, presenting competing theories and allowing Galileo to disprove the popular concept that constant acceleration was a function of distance traveled.  Galileo uses language that would have been accessible to his peers and the greater educated public to present his hypothesis, observations, and experiments, thus establishing the format for presenting ideas still used today as well as the importance of science as discourse. 
            Jumping forward 371 years, we see Galileo’s formatting at the base of Lehrer’s presentation of his theory on the potential for modeling to produce greater engagement and understanding in the classroom.  Lehrer presents his hypothesis in the context of contemporary literature and alongside competing theories (science as logic v. science as modeling), going on to present observations and experiments in support of his hypothesis and discussing its application.  Reading Lehrer together with Galileo, we see that scientific practices have become relatively well established and the question becomes how to present and teach science in a manner which promotes in students the same curiosity and relationship with inquiry that allowed scientists like Galileo to understand natural processes and relationships in the first place. 
             Hazen’s chapter on Knowing ties Lehrer and Galileo together in his discussion of the history and core values of scientific study.  In relatable prose, Hazen presents examples from the early scientific endeavors of Newton and Galileo to emphasize the beauty in the simplicity of natural laws and the importance of the capacity to see and share trends throughout scientific disciplines.  Hazen establishes Newton as an example of what science should be- simple governing laws based in observation and open to potential relationships, like that of the apple and the moon.  While nature in actuality may not be as predictable as Newton envisioned, Hazen emphasizes the importance of evolution of theory and scientific humility- the ability to listen to what the data is telling you and alter your hypotheses accordingly, and to feel comfortable in the chaotic theory that there exist systems with variables outside of currently measurable realms.  

            Across the three readings, the theme of scientific language and discourse especially struck me this week.  While Galileo and Hazen were both conversational and clearly had a thoughtful relationship with their chosen audience, I struggled to define the audience in the Lehrer piece.  Was his goal to present his findings to teachers or to peers in his specialized branch of research?  Though I have a background in reading scientific papers, I found his diction, especially in his introduction of terms and contemporary literature, to be pretentious and alienating, far too entrenched in the specialized language of his field to feel relatable to the average classroom teacher.  This all spurs many questions for me; what does is mean to ‘know’ in your discipline?  What is the required language, and should one exist?  When did science abandon clean, conversational, logic-driven prose? Reading Lehrer and considering my own relationship with niche research, I wonder if science has become too specialized and insular to discover the relationships between disciplines Hazen points to as critical in the understanding and advancement of knowledge.  How important is perspective in the ability to draw connections?  Hazen describes science as a seamless web of knowledge, but I wonder if specialization, with its distinctive styles, organizations, and languages, is inhibiting scientists from accessing this web to its greatest potential.      


  1. I think Lehrer’s goal was to offer a suggestion about how to successfully design an approach that would be most beneficial to the students learning a certain discipline. I think when he talks about what it means to ‘know’ in your discipline, he is really trying to get at the idea that gaining knowledge empirically is better and more beneficial for student growth than reason or memorization. Lehrer writes, “The importance of what it means to know is highlighted by the distinction between learning about the products of a discipline--what is often called content knowledge-- and learning how disciplinary products are produced, modified, and sometimes ultimately abandoned” (760). This reminds me of how Galileo and Newton threw away what was considered “content knowledge” at the time and they used experimentation and observation to discover new knowledge.

    Lehrer writes, “I emphasize the disciplines of mathematics and sciences because I am most familiar with them, but the considerations I raise can be extended to pedagogy in other disciplines” (760). I definitely agree with you that he probably alienated the average classroom teacher. Even though he says why he focused on math and science, if he was trying to extend modeling throughout different disciplines, he should have given examples of what modeling would look like in a literature or art class. I feel as though since science is so entrenched in the natural world, it makes sense that the best way to gain true knowledge in a scientific discipline is empirically. However, I struggle to see how his ideas could easily be translated to non-scientific disciplines.

  2. Wow, in Lehrer’s paper I completely overlooked that aspect of him being “too scientific” for the average educator. He describes working with students and the teachers a lot but his wording was often convoluted, especially with the organization of his points in how to design a science education. I mean, “entrée to modeling through physical microcosm,” is that really clear or conversational? I think the most relatable points he described were in his ‘representational models’ section, in which he uses children’s drawings to explain the differences in inscriptions based on interpretations changing. A question to think about though is whether his intended audience was even for the average educator. Perhaps he wanted to inspire the scientific community to take up teaching or to emphasize the importance of this complex learning environment.

  3. Laura, I liked how you further discussed the importance of the formation and revision of models in the process of knowing in all three articles. In particular, I would really like to hear more about your view on the Hazen article. While he kept stressing simplicity and “common sense” for many of the concepts and kept emphasizing that the world was predictable, which to a certain extent it was, I felt as though he was slightly exaggerating. In the end, Hazen determined that there are some chaotic settings and unpredictable events, such as the weather forecast or the stock market, making the field of science a much more complex field, which Caitlin touches upon in her memo. While he is not outright stating that science is straightforward, he does not clearly show its complexity. All the “simple” ideas formed by Newton and Galileo are pieces of bigger more complex ideas and concepts. Finally, some these supposedly simple concepts that scientists have come up with and proven have been debunked by knew findings. In this case, while Hazen does show this in his writings, he does not adequately show the time and effort it took to come to those conclusions, which I think is critical for students to understand. However, on the other hand, by teaching these simple laws, teachers can focus on other more fun and engaging activities and can apply those laws learned for effectively into their everyday life. Thus, what should you teach instructionally in the class and what should you leave, or should I say slightly guide, the students to discover themselves?

  4. I completely agree with you about the Lehrer piece being difficult to read at best, inaccessible at worst. It seems counter-intuitive to me that his emphasis on modeling in the context of open communication and group experimentation is, to a degree, obscured by his own writing. I, like you, found the Galileo piece and the Hazen piece to be enjoyably conversational in tone, and was much more inspired to think and talk about modeling and the scientific method after reading those than I was after wrestling with Lehrer. Only when Lehrer began describing the types of model by example did I begin to relate to and desire to incorporate his message into my own conception of science teaching.

    I also see where you are coming from with regard to the seemingly clannish nature of advanced scientific research, and have sometimes wondered whether a greater degree of openness and a more generalized understanding of science would benefit the community at large. I don't know, however, that I agree with you about Hazen's beliefs about science as a seamless web of knowledge. The final section of his paper, in which he describes and stereotypes the members of the various scientific branches, communicates to me a deliberate, if humorous, oversight of the continuous spectrum onto which scientists and scientific knowledge fall. Perhaps my own ongoing search for a scientific-academic 'home' is coloring my perception here, but I think that Hazen's description of science is more akin to Disneyland than anything else, where each region's inhabitants look the same and do not aspire to bridge the gap between the sciences.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.