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Pissed about Pluto—The nature of science and how do we teach it

Jeff Johnston, Matt Nyman, Megan Jones, and Kaatje Kraft
Sarah is a student in a science class for teachers. The class started working on a scale model of the solar system and when we got to the topic of Pluto, Sarah was distraught that Pluto had been "plutoed." During elementary school Sarah had done a report on Pluto that included creating a model of the planet, for which she received much positive feedback.

After this experience Sarah's interest in science decreased significantly. "Why should I even teach this to my future students if it's going to change anyway? There is no certainty in science." Sarah is spreading her skepticism about the tenuous nature of scientific "knowing."

The dilemma here is related to the dynamic nature of science and that science. How does the instructor explain that this is a good thing?


Responses

Ed Nuhfer and Pat Hauslein
It's good to be dissatisfied when you recognize that not all answers are right or wrong because you are moving toward a higher level of thinking that admits that ambiguity is legitimate and that what we know changes in context based upon what evidence is available. Go to http://www.isu.edu/ctl/nutshells/index.html (more info) and read the descriptions of the various stages of the Perry Model in Nutshells year 2000.

Ask, "What is a non-science example where change proved beneficial? Turn to your neighbor to answer." Then, call on pairs.

Ask how do you think differently now from how you thought when you were a child? What benefit does maturity and expanded experience bring to you?

Next ask: "Why did Pluto's classification change?-- What do we now know about planets that led us to conclude that Pluto is no longer a planet?" What benefit does maturity bring to a science?

Activity—go to the web and look up top 100 scientific discoveries at http://science.discovery.com/convergence/100discoveries/big100/big100.html . Pick one and explain how that changed a prior way of thinking about some aspect of the physical world.


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