Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

A Coral Reef as an Analogical Model to Promote Collaborative Learning on Cultural & Ethnic Diversity in Science

Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

A Coral Reef as an Analogical Model to Promote Collaborative Learning on Cultural & Ethnic Diversity in Science

Article excerpt

A word search of the National Science Education Standards found that the term diversity appears 17 times, and within that publication the textual meaning is almost evenly divided between diversity of the student population and student needs and biological diversity. Program Standard A (coherence and consistency) and Program Standard B (curriculum) specifically state "All dimensions of a science program adhere to the principle of science for all. Themes and topics chosen or curricula should support the premise that men and women of diverse backgrounds engage in and participate in science and have done so throughout history" (National Science Education Standards, 1996).

Merriam-Webster defines diversity as "the condition of being diverse [variety]" (Merriam-Webster Online, 2006). However the word diversity has a more specific meaning that is dependent upon the context in which it is used, scientifically or culturally. For example, Biology-Online.org defines biological diversity in terms of ecology as "the number and variety of species present in an area and their spatial distribution" and cultural diversity as the "coexistence of numerous distinct ethnic, racial, religious, or cultural groups." In conversation, in the workplace, and in many official documents, diversity often compasses class, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, or the physical and mental ability of an individual (Wheeler et al., 1999).

Students often draw on past or related experiences to help them interpret new concepts. Through the use of analogs, learners are able to make certain assumptions which they use to help them understand new concepts (Goswami, 1991). In this situation, "something familiar stands in for something unfamiliar" (Petrosino, 2003). Analogy is also used in various situations involving deductive and inductive reasoning (Sowa & Majumdar, 2003). It is important to remember, however, that there is a risk that certain analogies or models may lead to student misconceptions (Frazier, 2002; Goswami, 1991). Thus, careful selection and discussion of analogies is important.

Biological Diversity Exercise

We have noted that first semester college science students often fail to realize that individual scholarship is an intricate component of global scholarship, and that scientific advancements represent the scholarly contributions of many different individuals. In an effort to engage these students in critical thinking and active conversation about gender, diversity and ethnicity in science, a two-pronged approach was taken which used a naturally-occurring ecosystem, a coral reef, together with scientific biographical and historical references (Figure 1). This novel pedagogical approach also facilitates certain elements of student reasoning such as the consideration of multiple view points (Swartz & Swartz, 1983), synthesis of new ideas, and application and integration of knowledge (Wolcott & Gray, 2003; Foundation for Critical Thinking, 1996).

Figure 1. some examples of biographies, historical chronologies,
and handbooks.

Asimov, I. (1982). Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and
Technology: The Lives and Achievements of 1195 Great Scientists
from Ancient Times to the Present Chronologically Arranged.
Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Asimov, I. (1989). Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery.
New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Bailey, M.J. (1994). American Women in Science: A Biographical
Dictionary. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Bailey, M.J. (1998). American Women in Science: 1950 to the Present:
A Biographical Dictionary. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Carney, J. E. (2001). Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A
Biographical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Franck, I.M. & Brownstone, D.M. (1998). Wilson Chronology of
Women's Achievements from Ancient Times to Present. New York,
NY: H.W. Wilson.

Hellemans, A. (1988). Timetables of Science: A Chronology of the
Most Important People and Events in the History of Science. … 
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