“Science Wonder”

Develop Critical Thinking Skills by Evaluating Sources of Information (DSTSESI)

Resources for DSTSESI: PBS Science and Nature Videos and my Blog (www.sciencewonder.org)

Randy Sweeney  (January, 2016)

I have been working with PBS science and nature programming for many years, both with the growth and development of my own children and grandchildren and as a science teacher in LAUSD. Working with PBS in our home over the past 30 years I’ve seen my children become a neuroscientist and economist, and my students in LAUSD began to think more critically about the larger world in which they exist. I adapted the Harvard developed “See Think Wonder” approach to my instruction and it is through this avenue that I incorporated the PBS videos into my instruction. Shortly after my retirement from teaching, I began the development of my blog www.sciencewonder.org, where I organized the PBS videos into subject areas categories, and provided links to other interesting resources. Currently the blog facilitates smart phone access to PBS Science and Nature programming. It includes titles, and in some cases descriptions of programs that no longer are available through the internet but could be purchased if there is a particularly interested in that subject.

This blog serves as a valuable resource in a science curriculum. Beyond that, it focuses on and extends my involvement with science education to include the Critical Analysis of the Source(s) of Information. In particular it serves to build an understanding of world in which we reside. This critical analysis I have defined as Develop Critical Thinking Skills by Evaluating Sources of Information (DCTSESI). It is a sad reality that our National discourse regularly questions the validity of science, and many people seem to feel they can interpret scientific facts to serve their own personal perspectives on life. The Scientific Method is certainly still the most powerful tool in our modern society, as is Peer Review in evaluating the quality and reliability of information (Facts) gained through scientific investigation. The critical analysis of information on which we base the decisions we make on a daily basis is the most important issue we could address in education in our modern world. The Internet, where floods of “information” is available, has much information which is of questionable quality and validity.  These modern electronic media can serve to confuse a young mind’s effort to sort out their life’s options and make decisions that will help them build a future based on factual reality. Science students will certainly be asked to describe and discuss the evidence that justifies their position in thought that they are taking as a result of an experience or presentation of a situation. It is this critical analysis of information and ideas that is the most important component of becoming educated, and should be at the center of any educational process. PBS Science and Nature videos can communicate important ideas based on a high quality factual reality. These videos can provide virtual experiences of the natural world and how it operates that can be used by anyone to build their knowledge base about science and nature.

The following is a brief overview of how I might structure a unit of instruction and interact with a class of students:

Goal 1:  Students develop an understanding of the Scientific Method.

Goal 2:  Students become aware of the difference between good and bad resource material.

Goal 3:  Students develop skills in observing, thinking, questioning and wondering about issues presented in research information.

Step 1: In day one, after reviewing the Scientific Method,  an assignment would be structured with the students where they would be tasked with finding both good quality and poor quality information related to an important current issue in our society, for example The Acidification of the Earth’s Oceans.

Step 2:  The students look up the Scientific Method (in Wikipedia), and describe the process in their own words.  They should study the graphic in Wikipedia.

Step 3: Through a period of several weeks, I would meet with the students, possibly in a seminar format once or twice a week, where we would discuss the quality of information students were able to uncover about Ocean Acidification, where they found this information, and what they felt were good quality resources as well as the sources they felt were of poor quality.   Students should also reflect on why they made these distinctions.  References would be analyzed related to sites they felt were reliable as well as references for information they felt was of questionable quality. We would discuss the quality of information they found in the sources, and how a person could go about verifying the validity of this information.

Step 4: At the conclusion of Step 3 meetings, I would assign one (or several) PBS online videos that they could access with their cell phones using my blog (www.sciencewonder.org), and  Related to Ocean Acidification, the following NOVA would be assigned:

PBS Video Link on Ocean Acidification:  NOVA – Lethal Seas 

Click Here to View Program

After enough time has elapsed for the students to have watched the program(s), we would gather together again to discuss what they have learned in the video(s) about the subject, and the quality of the information in the PBS programs.

Step 5: Each student would conclude their work with the writing of a paper in which they described what they have learned about the subject of focus (Ocean Acidification) as well as what they have learned about the quality of resources related to the subject, both good and bad, and the understanding of the subject they had developed from their research.

Exploring Ideas in Science through PBS Science and Nature Programming
An Interactive Blog and Learning Environment (2012-2014)
Randy Sweeney, Science Educator

This blog is designed to help structure a person’s exploration of developing issues in science through viewing Public Broadcast System (PBS) science and nature programming. The goal of this blog is to inspire students to think seriously about science and to facilitate interactions among laypersons and scientists. By contributing your own thoughts and commenting on other’s thoughts about issues raised in these online video programs, all participants will enhance their awareness of developing issues in science. PBS has made NOVA, Nature, and many other science and nature programs available online to the public through their web site (www.pbs.org).

Instructions on how to view these programs within our informal “instructional” format is outlined below.  PBS has a large variety of science programs available online, but this blog will focus on a few of these at a time, and assist with our interactions about what you WONDER when you view a program. In one of our instructional formats, the PBS program will be the topic for blogging and discussion for a period of 2 weeks. During the 1st week, participants should view the online video and note what the program has cause them to WONDER, elaborating on the thought questions provided in the introduction to the program. By the 2nd week, participants should have posted their comments (thoughts/notes) into the blog and commented on the posts of other participants.

The Next Generation Science Standards are very interesting and very detailed, and worth a careful examination by all who wish to help our youth get a good handle on science and the role it will play in future societal activities.  I feel that the videos that are linked to in this blog will serve these standards very well.  Anyone trying to sort out, and think through, these new standards must have a base of experience with nature in order to fully take advantage of these new goals for growth of our youth.  The Children & Nature Network, for example, tries to get youth to venture outside and into natural settings, and these goals will serve the new standards very well.  But there is  so much of nature that is beyond to capability of kids to personally experience there must be other means to gather information that can be used to construct meaningful relationships with science and an individual’s personal future.  I believe that this blog provides an excellent environment for endeavor.

This blog will also contain an “Ask an Expert” section where questions that participants have that remain unresolved in the PBS program can be asked of experts in the field.

The blog is structured as a place where participants can interact with one another, with Randy (the Science Educator and owner of the blog), and with our experts. By the conclusion of the 2 week cycle participants will be encouraged to post a reflective piece that tells how this blog has influenced their awareness of important current topics and issues in science and increased their general wisdom as to how our earth and it’s systems operate.

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