Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Why Is This Important?

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Why Is This Important?

Article excerpt

At some point in each teaching unit I try to remind myself to ask the big questions: "Why should we care about this? Why is this topic important?" Perhaps this is just my way of avoiding that nagging student question, "Why do we have to know this?" Still, it is a good question, whether posed by teacher or student. In an age of exponentially increasing content information, where one study showed over [10.sup.18] bytes of new information being produced annually (Lyman and Varian 2003)*, the question of what is important to learn is one we must continually ask. It is a very difficult question with no single correct answer. A useful strategy can be to look for and include content that connects science with technology and human culture.

The Science, Technology, and Society (STS) approach begins with the question, "Why is this important?" By starting with issues that connect science with technology and society, the rationale for STS activities becomes immediately accessible to students. A simple answer can be given to why we need to learn a concept: Because it has important implications for human society and the planet's future.

Although technology is sometimes understood as simply a product of science, the reverse is equally true. Throughout the history of science, new technologies have made possible new scientific discoveries. John Dalton's atomic model was more sophisticated than the 2,000-year-old model of Democritus at least in part because of the development of sensitive mass balances; further improvements in the model were made possible by new technologies like cathode ray tubes, spectroscopes, and particle accelerators.

Without the technology innovation of good optical instruments, Copernicus and Galileo would almost certainly have been unable to disprove the geocentric view of the universe, and Leeuwenhoek and Hooke could not have established the cellular basis of life. The x-ray diffraction technology used by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins made possible the discovery of the DNA structure by James Watson and Francis Crick. Fifty years later, technological advances in automated base sequencing led to the completion of the Human Genome Project. Big technology projects like the Hubble and Chandra space telescopes produce new data and important discoveries on an almost daily basis. Using technological tools like magnetic resonance imaging, brain researchers are producing important new knowledge about how learning occurs, with important implications for teaching. …

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