Sunday, January 30, 2011

Locating Your Scientific Self

Reflecting on my own personal experiences as an elementary student, I have come to realize how much influence many of the attitudes and beliefs my teachers had influenced me, as well. For example, I have never been very fond of mathematics; however, I have never fully understood why or how I have come to be this way. While thinking back on my very first experiences with math, I can remember being ridiculed in front of my peers by my teacher for not knowing the correct answer to one of the very “simple” problems. This was probably the start of my downward spiraling relationship with math at the highly influential age of seven. In addition, many of my other experiences of math are associated with repeated failures and lack of self-confidence, but I also noticed that they are associated with a lack of motivation and support from my teachers. Often before starting a math lesson, my teachers would make comments about wanting to skip the math lesson, or how math was never their favorite subject in school. These negative comments over the years only assured me that I would never be able to enjoy or be successful in math, as well.
Therefore, teacher’s beliefs and attitudes about any subject, including science, can have a great impact about what student’s think about science, as well. We do indeed teach what we think, and therefore, it is important to locate one’s scientific self before proceeding to teach science to a group of developing and hungry minds. The authentic self is always present ad visible no matter what subject is being taught, and can have a great effect on students. Teachers want to instill a positive outlook on science to students, and to do so, we must recognize how we feel about science. Students are able to notice and recognize how you feel about a subject even if you do not make negative comments, and if you have not confronted your own negativity about science it can lead to discouraging students from pursuing scientific interests. Being a reflective teacher and exploring my experiences from my past with science can only help me to create and modify the classroom environment and lessons to establish new and better contexts for learning science. The ability to be a successful science teacher is largely governed by one’s experiences as a science learner.
I feel that I maintain a very positive outlook on science since I have a great interest in the subject. Therefore, my “scientific self,” is an individual who is interested, curious, excited, and passionate about the subject, and is enthusiastic to teach students to feel the same way about science. I feel that I am most scientific when I am in the lab in my science classes, such as in genetics and chemistry lab. In lab, we make our own hypotheses about situations and divulge in experiments to either support or refute these educational guesses. Creating experiments, such as determining the percent weight of sodium carbonate in a toilet cleaner, or engaging in lab exercises, such as extracting DNA from beef liver, and reflecting on the results is when I feel I am fully using inquiry and the scientific process.
Stereotypes are relentless, and plague the subject and act of being a scientist even in today’s world. When asked to draw an image of a scientist, many people will create a drawing of a man in a lab coat wearing glasses, holding test tubes containing some unknown, bubbling concoction, and sporting a crazy hair style. In fact, I am not immune to this misconstrued idea of a scientist even though I myself am a science major. The major force behind feeding these false ideas and images to students is the media. Cartoons, movies, television shows, and magazines all utilize and play with this idea of a scientist being a man creating chemical formulas in a secret lab somewhere. Unfortunately, stereotypes become part of our belief system and can influence what we think and feel. Women and minorities are usually not included in this stereotype, and these present-day images of scientists demonstrate that this stereotype persists.
As a teacher, I want to show my students the influence that both women and minorities have had in the field of science, and the contributions made by these individuals. I hope to instill a desire to pursue future science occupations and interests in my students, as well. To do so, I plan on introducing a wide range of scientists and contributors to science from history in my classroom. For example, I feel that Rosalind Franklin is a perfect example of a brilliant woman contributor in the field of science, specifically genetics and DNA, whose efforts in x-ray crystallography were both borrowed and overshadowed by two more familiar individuals, James Watson and Francis Crick. Franklin and Maurice Wilkinson worked together to develop fantastic images of DNA using x-ray crystallography, which revealed information about the structure of DNA. Wilkinson showed Watson and Crick the images produced, and Watson, Crick, and Wilkinson were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule. Rosalind was never acknowledged or mentioned for her instrumental efforts in discovering the structure of DNA.
In addition to Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie comes to mind as another great, woman scientist. Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903 for her research in radioactivity, and in 1911 was awarded the Nobel Prize again for her discovery of polonium and radium.
I am very fortunate to be able to observe and explore nature almost daily. Living in the Hudson Valley, I am surrounded by trees, the wildlife of NYS, the Hudson River, the beautiful mountains in this valley, and I am able to do so at the wildlife preservation center where I intern. The Hudson Highlands Nature Museum in Cornwall, NY offers many opportunities to bring science and nature to students of all ages, and influence them to care for their environment. There are various programs offered that demonstrate to students how to respect nature through nature walks, presentations on animals and  the environment, wildlife preservation, interactions with the wildlife in this area at the animal center, and other science related experiences available to the public. It is extremely important to make an impact on children very young to show and educate them why and how they should care for their environment. Therefore, the internship I have acquired at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum offers multiple opportunities for me to interact and observe nature through interacting with the animals (owls, snakes, etc.) at the wildlife center, going on nature walks, maple sugar tours, and educating students about the environment.

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