I am a science teacher.
I teach chemistry, physics, and engineering. I teach about quantum mechanics, wave-particle duality, and relativity.
The irony is that I am not really concerned with the actual content of my courses. Don’t get me wrong, content is important. My courses are rigorous; so much so that every course I teach to my high school students, counts for college credit.However, content is the method, not the goal. Content is a tool that we use to teach with.
The actual goal of education is to help students develop the ability to use all of their combined skills and resources to solve problems.
My science classes can certainly help students add to their problem solving tool box. Learning how solid metals undergo phase change and ionization during the ionic bonding process allows my students the opportunity to take a complex set of data, break it down and identify trends to predict future outcomes. At least in theory, anyway.
Far too often, though, the science lab can get reduced to performing experiments with predetermined outcomes that the student has already learned about and are being “confirmed” by completing specified tasks.
What we need more of in science is what scientists used to get us here; a good dose of imagination.
How many of our advancements in science came straight out of the pages of science fiction novels? From Mary Shelley to Isaac Asimov, our science fiction writers have served up countless ideas about how we might one day alter the universe around us to meet our needs.
To end the story there, as so many do, would be a travesty. You see it is not the science fiction that is important to future generations, but the fiction itself.
The ability to imagine an entire world or even just a single event is vital to the problem solving cycle that we are so desperately trying to teach our youth.
The subject itself is less important than the shear act of looking at the universe and altering it, even if only slightly, to match our needs.
Some of the most influential courses on my teaching practices were literature courses. From reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis to The Brothers Karamazov to The Hobbit, one learns that the power of fiction to describe reality is, perhaps, without equal.
After all, as a chemistry and physics teacher, I am often faced with trying to describe what can sometimes only be perceived as strange and magical worlds of protons, neutrons, and quarks. If I can tell the tale of quantum mechanics using similar techniques as my literary colleagues, then my students will be better for it.
One the most impactful lessons in my physics class is when we study the screenplay, Copenhagen. It is a fictional retelling of the meeting between two of the most important quantum physicists of the 20th century, Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. Without the humanizing tale of Copenhagen, my students would struggle to tie together the politics, science, and personal relationships that helped shaped the outcome of WWII and the world as we know it.
Simply stated, without a fictional play, my physics class would have less impact.At the end of the day, STEM education is vitally important; but the arts and literature are just as important.
So do me favor…
2013 National Teacher of the Year
ZHS Science Teacher
CWU/EWU Adjunct Instructor in Chemistry/Physics
STEM Coordinator for ESD 105