But It’s Only a Theory! A Case for Great Science Teaching in Elementary School

Today’s blogger is Lauren Madden, an Associate Professor of Elementary and Early Childhood Education at The College of New Jersey, whose recently published article Teaching Science Is a Sacred Art” appears in the special issue of The Educational Forum on educator activism in politically polarized times. In that article, she argues for enhancing elementary science and offers tools to help teachers in this process.

So often, when the public or political sphere engages in debate about scientific ideas, “it’s only a theory!” becomes a popular refrain from those denying the existence of evolution, the pattern of climate change, or the efficacy of vaccines.

Once the term theory is mentioned, somehow an enormous body of visual, mathematical, and practical evidence gets equated to a guess as to which Kardashian sibling might be pregnant.

As a result, the public begins to question the expertise of actual scientific experts, and science becomes politicized.

Well, so what is a theory? In science, a theory “is an explanation of some aspect of the natural world that has been substantiated through repeated experiments or testing” (Ghose, 2013). Some theories that are not [yet] controversial include cell theory, or the idea that all living things are made of cells, and the theory of heliocentrism, the idea that the earth revolves around the sun. These are not simply guesses—they are critical ideas that explain the way in which our world works. Knowing what theories are, along with other aspects of the nature of science, is essential for unpacking political debates about science and necessary for building a scientifically literate citizenry. And this process must start with the youngest students at the elementary years.

Then where do we start? In a recent essay in a special issue of The Education Forum dedicated to educational activism, I outlined a broader argument for enhancing elementary science teaching and offered tools to aid teachers in this process (Madden, 2018). One such tool is Lederman’s (2014) guest editorial in Science and Children, which provides straightforward suggestions for elementary teachers to help their students better understand what science is (and isn’t).

Teachers do not need to be experts on everything, but they do need to know what makes science science and how to help students learn to be good consumers of scientific information.

For teachers looking for tools specific to science topics that have become controversial, KDP offers some excellent ideas. For example, the UNESCO guidelines for teaching about climate change can be found at KDP’s climate education resource center.

Teachers are sometimes seen as change agents, but at a simpler level than that, teachers are knowledge agents. Elementary teachers hold the key to helping future generations understand the scientific process and navigate a highly politicized world. And perhaps in the future, we can look forward to eye rolls at the misuse of terms like “theory.”

What strategies do you use to help students unpack politicized nonscientific information?

Leave your ideas in the comments, and let’s work together to build a scientifically knowledgeable populace.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the special issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through September 30, 2018.

 

References

Ghouse, T. (2013). “Just a theory”: 7 misused science words. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/just-a-theory-7-misused-science-words

Lederman, N. (2014). Nature of science and its fundamental importance to the vision of the Next Generation Science Standards. Science and Children, 52(1), 8–10. doi:10.2505/4/sc14_052_01_8

Madden, L. (2018) Teaching science is a sacred act. The Educational Forum, 82(3), 303–308, doi:10.1080/00131725.2018.1458360

10 Quotes About Teachers to Inspire You This Week

KDP staffers have put together a list of 10 quotes to inspire you this week. Share your favorite quotes in the comments section below!

1. “A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.” – Brad Henry

2. “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” – Henry Adams

3. “Teachers can change lives with just the right mix of chalk and challenges.” – Joyce Meyer

4. “I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.” – Lily Tomlin

5. “I touch the future. I teach.” – Christa McAuliffe

6. “The duties of a teacher are neither few nor small, but they elevate the mind and give energy to the character” – Dorothea Dix

7. “I think the teaching profession contributes more to the future of our society than any other single profession.” – John Wooden

8. “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” – C.S. Lewis

9. “Everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system.” – Sidney Hook

10. “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” – John Steinbeck

Celebrating World Teachers’ Day

If you ask a teacher why he or she chose a career in education, chances are that the answer will be to make a positive and lasting impact on the lives of students.

While those of us in education share in this desire and have witnessed the difference a teacher can make in the lives of their students, a 2016 study by the United Nations revealed just how critical the role of teachers is in making the world a better place. In monitoring the progress toward achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals—goals that aim to realize a world with no hunger, no poverty, gender equity, peace, and more—it was determined that without achieving the goal of quality learning for all and lifelong learning, none of the other 16 goals will ever be realized.

World Teachers’ Day is October 5, a day to recognize and celebrate the committed educators around the globe who help youth and adults to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to live a happy and productive life.

Celebrated since 1994, it has become an occasion to empower educators, to assess the state of the teaching profession around the globe, and to consider ways to address the remaining challenges, especially the acute shortage of teachers. According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, if we are to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030, the world needs 69 million new teachers.

In today’s world, teachers are more important than ever before.

While we add our voice in acknowledgment of teachers on World Teachers’ Day, in the KDP community, we celebrate teachers every single day.

KDP strives to continually support its educators through professional development opportunities, networking, online resources, publications, and financial assistance. Just as we understand our students need differentiated instruction, professional development and resources also need to be tailored to differing needs of our educators; so resources, such as our monthly newsletters, vary by professional position. Whether you are a preservice teacher, a teacher preparation faculty member, or practicing professional, we strive to meet you where you are. We are united by a shared commitment to excellence in education and to one another’s professional growth.

As the world celebrates teachers on October 5, we know one day of recognition isn’t sufficient given the critical role of teachers in society.

So, KDP celebrates teachers each and every day. We applaud you, thank you, and cheer you on because you are indeed making the world a better place.

Faye Snodgress is the Executive Director of Kappa Delta Pi.