Science Autobiographies: What Non-Science Majors Tell Us about Science Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

Scientific literacy is essential in an age where science impacts life on a daily basis. Consequently, science education (K-16) is critical to provide all with the background they need to be educated in an increasingly technological world. Student perceptions and experiences in their early science education shape their attitudes about science. Science autobiographies are one method to anecdotally assess a student's attitude as a reflection of their science education experiences. Students' comments from science autobiographies are presented and provide some clues as to why many students' attitudes and perceptions about science change throughout their academic careers.

"Everybody starts out as a scientist. Every child has a scientists' sense of wonder and awe."

-- Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan's quote is an important one for science educators. It appropriately points instructors/teachers/educators to our charge, which is not solely to provide new information to students, but to maintain our students' pre-existing interest in the world. This quote also illustrates that our students' relationship with science is a deeply personal one, one which impacts theft cognitive and emotional responses to the world. Paying attention to these types of personal responses, then, can be an important indicator of their relationship with science. Below we provide an analysis of our students' personal experiences with science based on a written Science Autobiography.

As part of the Towson University General Education Requirements for graduation, non-science majors are required to take a course that falls into the category of Science, Technology and Society. We team-teach a course in this category called Women in Science. For a detailed discussion of our course, see Galupo & Gasparich (2000). As one of their required assignments in our Women in Science course, we ask our students to complete a Science Autobiography. Students are asked to trace their science history from their first science experience onward, relating specific memories and pinpointing specific influences in their scientific development.

The Science Autobiography provides a point of reflection for individual students, helping them to understand the development of their current relationship with science. Initially, many students are reluctant to begin their autobiographies, often expressing a belief that they have no relationship with science worth documenting. Through this exercise, however, they are surprised to find that they have more to say about the topic than they had first thought. Many begin to recognize that their autobiographies do not reflect a random sampling of isolated experiences in science. Rather, their autobiographies are their stories of scientific development and these stories have a direct relation to their current attitudes. Through this Science Autobiography assignment, many students also remember how much they initially enjoyed science and how many of their earliest science memories were positive. This serves as motivation to understand the cultural and educational influences that led them to their current attitude. In discussing their autobiographies in class, students express relief to hear common experiences among other classmates. All these revelations are important to our students and serve as a personal reference point when approaching course topics throughout the semester.

Our discussion of student responses to the Science Autobiography is organized topically. In general, student comments follow a chronological order beginning with earliest science memories, which were often located prior to the onset of formal education. Beginning with elementary school and continuing through college, science experiences were recalled largely in the context of the classroom. As educators, this is an important and humbling point. Our student narratives indicate that, for them, the world of science is limited to the academic. …