Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Focusing the Camera Lens on the Nature of Science: Evidence for the Effectiveness of Documentary Film as a Broader Impacts Strategy

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Focusing the Camera Lens on the Nature of Science: Evidence for the Effectiveness of Documentary Film as a Broader Impacts Strategy

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Scientists' involvement in education has increased in recent years due to mechanisms such as the National Science Foundation's "broader impacts" expectations for research projects. The best investment of their effort ties in sharing their expertise on the nature and processes of science; film is one medium by which this can be done efficiently. In this article, we illustrate this approach through the development of Upward and Outward: Scientific Inquiry on the Tibetan Plateau, a 20 min educational documentary film for school science classrooms and teacher professional development. The film portrays the intellectual and human processes of science as seen through the work of an international team of scientists on an interdisciplinary geoscience research project. Evidence gathered from pre/post classroom assessment responses by 350 students in grades 6-14 indicates that students absorb a variety of messages about the intellectual and social processes of science. These ideas contrast with their prior knowledge, counter common stereotypes of science and scientists, and broaden students' notions of the scientific method. The film aligns with national and state standards on scientific inquiry and the nature of science. © 2011 National Association of Geoscience Teachers. [DOI: 10.5408/1.3604825]

INTRODUCTION: SCIENTISTS' ROLE IN MODELING INQUIRY

Leaders in U.S. science and education have called for scientists to participate in improving public understanding of science (Alberts, 1991, 1993, 2009; Bybee, 1998; Colwell and Kelly, 1999; Dolan et ah, 2004; Fraknoi, 2005; Obama, 2010). U.S. federal agencies that fund scientific research have provided incentives or stated expectations that scientists contribute to science education and outreach. For example, NASA's Science Mission Directorate requires that all missions have a "robust and substantial" commitment to education and public outreach activities (NASA, 2008, p. 1). In reviewing research proposals, the National Science Foundation weighs the "broader impact" of researchwhich may include activities to educate and inform students, teachers, policymakers or the general public (e.g., NSF, 2003). We refer to these activities collectively as education and outreach (E/O), following Franks et ah (2006), where education is the teaching and learning of knowledge, skills, and cultural beliefs through formal (in school) or informal (self-directed, out of school) activities. Public outreach activities generate awareness and interest, and may also support education.

These activities are motivated by concerns about public understanding of science. A majority of Americans are interested in science, but "do not give correct answers to questions about basic factual knowledge of science or the scientific inquiry process" (National Science Board, 2010, p. 7-4). Widespread misconceptions about the nature of science and scientific knowledge contribute to contention rather than informed debate over issues such as climate change, stem cell research, and the teaching of evolution in schools (McComas, 1996). School textbooks may reinforce these myths by portraying "the scientific method" as a standardized, linear, four- or five-step process, in contrast with the complex, nuanced, and question-driven process described by scientists (Reiff et ah, 2002; Harwood et ah, 2002). Such portrayals address neither the inherent uncertainties in scientific knowledge, nor the iterative and social construction of that knowledge. These notions become problematic when they lead to overreliance on science to provide definitive answers or, conversely, to loss of confidence in science as never getting anything "right."

Many people also hold stereotypes of scientists that may interfere with their understanding of science or their beliefs about its usefulness or reliability. One tool used to measure these ideas is the "Draw a Scientist" test (DAST) (Chambers, 1983; Finson, 2002; Sjoberg, 2000). …

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