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Environment, Science, and Society
(Critical and Creative Thinking in Science and Technology, CCT640, Sp 01, 02)
The goals for this course are described in the Course description and Objectives (see syllabus). It would be a course for environmental educators, formal or informal. Like CCT611 (see 4 above), it would operate on three levels:
The course material, activities, and teaching/learning interactions provides students an opportunity to learn new science and approaches to interpreting science, a set of models for their own teaching and educational work, and a basis for discussions and reflection about practices and philosophies of education.
Because the content level dominated in CCT611, I prepared activities that involved design of lesson plans and problem-based learning units and I would encourage curriculum course projects, not only research papers.
As a critical thinking course, it would also explore a number of "critical heuristics"-propositions that place established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives. In particular, it would address a tension between using simple themes, including the critical heuristics, to open up discussion and producing more complex accounts of the factors influencing environmental problems or the construction of scientific knowledge about the environment.
Challenges and Responses
The teacher-oriented changes from CCT611 were reasonably effective, but ironically the teachers in the course said they would have been happy to focus on stirring up their thinking and to leave lesson planning till later. At the same time, discomfort was expressed at various points about having so much opened up to question, especially, about the social influences on someone's science, without a firm framework or conclusion to hang onto. When students found out about my book manuscript and other writings, they expressed interest in reading a more complete exposition of my science-STS framework. I prepared some handouts, but persisted in activities intended to lead them to formulate their own responses to two key tensions: between taking scientific knowledge (or critiques of science) literally and interpreting them in terms of social influences; and between simple themes and more complex accounts.
Another challenge was that students' proclivity for discussion often meant I had to leave out a planned activity. This was still the case, but less so, when I distributed specific activity guides. At the end of a long day-for the students as well as for me-it was difficult to be strict about staying on task and time. Students' interest in discussing their ideas about environment, science, and society meant they did not use their thought-pieces as much as I intended for weaving the course material into their own thinking. I used my comments to make connections, but since most of the students had not taken CCT courses before, revising and resubmitting did not come easily.
The experience in this course and ED610 in Spring '01 has led me to adjust three requirements in CCT611 and ED610 for Fall '01, which I plan to continue in CCT640: a) "thought-pieces" (which to many students connoted off-the-cuff thoughts) have become "mini-essays" and I will emphasize the need to refer to class material and reading; b) journaling and workbooks have become "a professional/personal development workbook"; and c) homework tasks will be given explicitly in the early weeks to stimulate active use of the workbooks.
I plan to continue activity-based classes around critical heuristics and encourage students to develop related activities of their own. I plan also to: a) provide summaries of the heuristics that emerge beyond those given in the syllabus; b) provide a reading on my larger framework at the outset as a way to scaffold the approach I use; and c) make available for those interested my publications related to teaching critical thinking about science and the manuscript of The Limits of Ecology. Perhaps the appointment of Hannah Sevian to teach secondary science education might eventually allow me to focus on the content level (science and its social interpretation) and make progress on the website and text described in the personal statement.
Finally, I plan to continue to promote this course among environmental science students-half the Spring '01 students came from outside the GCOE-and support proposals for an environmental studies M.Ed. track into which this course would fit.
This summer I updated the course so it
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- uses readings from my 2005 book, Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (which is referred to above as The Limits of Ecology);
- starts with Problem-based learning to get students into the swing of exploring their own interests and going well beyond the course readings;
- uses online tools (wikis, diigo, password protected readings); and
- serves as a Research preparation course for the Honors Program.
Students are... introduced to a range of perspectives and tools for developing research questions, writing, and collaborations that support inquiry and action. Each 2.5 hour, once-per-week course session includes time for students to practice applying the new perspectives and tools to an environmental topic of their own interest. These tools and perspectives include guided freewriting, personal/professional development workbooks, problem-based learning (PBL), annotating and sharing bibliography entries online, diagramming and mapping complex connections, the dialogue process, strategic participatory/ stakeholder planning process, peer commentary and cooperative group work, historical analysis of key terms (e.g., nature, science, environment, society, critical), dialogue around written work (revision in response to comments), and more.