Saturday, April 17, 2010

Affect in Science

When I was twenty-five, I was thoroughly confused about the direction of my life. I knew things I liked to do, I knew what I didn’t like to do, but I didn’t know which way I should head. So, I sat down and, in line with my science background, analyzed my life. I wrote about the accomplishments in my life that gave me the most satisfaction. I analyzed each event to determine the personal and strategic skills that helped me accomplish those life goals. I theorized about the personal qualities I value in friends, my ideal work environment, and what kind of role I wanted to play in my community. At the heart of this analysis was figuring out my core values.

This in depth period of self-reflection has helped me live a fuller, meaningful, purposeful life. It required a continuous flux between detached analysis and a more emotional awareness. The flux between these two different frameworks has helped me better understand life in general. I still have a ton to learn… but I have learned that perspective, and combining multiple perspectives is vital to see any spec of truth.

Why do bring this idea up in an education blog? Well, I am a science teacher. I was educated in an environment that propagated the belief that science is truth, that science is objective, that science is unemotional. Science can be all of theses things, but it can also be so much more. To ignore the personal element, the societal implications, and the humanity of science is dangerous. I am a firm believer that if one goes to any extreme, the opposite factor will create radical effects. It is extremely important to be aware of all of the influences affecting something or someone. There are numerous examples of science that was once accepted as truth despite shoddy logic because of society’s need to maintain a particular worldview.
I forgot about this complexity while I was studying science in college. In college, science was really truth. We were taught to be objective. We never wrote in the first person. The list goes on and on.

Now, as I am becoming a secondary science teacher, I am awakening again to affective side of science. I love the study of logic. I love learning about the facts and laws of nature. But, I also love finally seeing how complex science really is. It is wonderful to watch that spark go off in a student eyes when they finally understand a particular procedure or why we believe a certain fact. How students feel about their ability to be successful in science is just as important as their actual ability to be successful in science. It is extremely important to me to provided students an opportunity to realize that they can do well in science. If students feel they are capable of success, they can be successful. My goal in teaching science is for every student to feel that science education offers relevant, useful methods of thinking in addition to essential natural phenomena understandings. Every student and teacher needs to have an awareness of the relationship between affect and learning. This relationship does not stop at the classroom, it continues throughout life. It is sooo exciting when students start asking the hard questions, seeing the gray areas, and start feeling excited about their world.

Science education does require students to learn certain facts, laws and theories to be literate in a continuously technological global world. It also requires students to learn how to think about the application and consequences of these facts. I want my students to understand the core, factual knowledge so that they can start to understand how science is inherently integrated within our society. I want them to see how the cyclical, connected process of energy, organic materials, and inorganic materials effects how national policy and complicates conservation efforts. I want them to understand why scientist must always evaluate the ethical and societal implications of new discoveries. I want students to understand that knowledge truly is power and that every action may unintended consequences. I want them to be excited that they live in a world where innovation is not only possible but also highly valued.


  1. Meghan, this is an important aspect of the science teacher, to provide the impact of the learning to the students' lives. Always allow for the discussion based on their questions. Pay attention to the news and feed it into your lesson as often as possible. I have had students say, "Well, but I wouldn't explain the science of this or that to people around me." "Too bad, they may want to know. But important is that in you "head" you will understand the science of what you read and hear in the news and be more critical of the general reporting. You will question the facts." Everyday life is the "workings of science", form cooking to brushing our teeth. Students just need to be reminded without preaching. Good luck, you will be awesome.

  2. I agree with Susan, especially her concluding point, and I find this posting to be extraordinarily heartening, Meghan. You display a nuanced and well-rounded stance with regard to the possibilities of serious engagement with science, and I see you making a powerful case of taking scientific inquiry seriously when we talk about mastery over key scientific concepts. Your stance will have special resonance because of the personal journey that you've taken, and I would think that any school would be delighted to have science educators on their faculty who are articulating this kind of vision for what it means to be scientifically literate. There's an authentic, inter-disciplinary spirit to this statement that is also noteworthy, and I would strongly encourage you to be sure that what you're describing here is part of any conversation that you have with a would-be employer...and I suspect that it has been ;-)