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Posts Tagged ‘citizenship’

What should the “nature of science” look like in the school curriculum?

March 3rd, 2010

(I have more questions than answers.) 

I’ve just read an article sent to me by a UK colleague who shares my interest in making changes in the way we teach genetics at secondary school. The paper is about “Biological Citizenship”. It was written by Nikolas Rose and Carlos Novas. They are sociologists whose interest in the “nature of science” links it to work done on how the public interacts with science, not to the school curriculum. But I think the things they write about raise huge questions for those of us who work in the school sector. You can access the whole article here.

In this paper they set out to describe and discuss what biological citizenship in the 21st century looks like and how it changes who we are – how we think about ourselves, how others might look at our potential “biovalue” and what we do when faced with a biological issue that impacts on our life (or others might expect us to do). Here are two excerpts from the many examples and ramifications Rose and Novas explore (I added the italics):

… while patients’ organisations and support groups have been around for many years, today we see one notable innovation: the formation of direct alliances with scientists. Patients organisations are increasingly not content with merely raising funds for biomedical research but are seeking an active role in shaping the direction of science in the hope that they can speed the process by which cures and treatments are developed. (p.24)

 …a key feature of the Internet is that it does not only give access to material disseminated by professionals, it also links an individual to self-narratives written by patients or carers. These accounts usually offer a different narrative of life with an illness, setting out practical ways of managing a body that is ill, the effect and harms of particular therapeutic regimes, ways of negotiating access to the health care system and so forth. That is to say, these narratives provide techniques for leading a life in the face of illness. They have a further distinctive feature which relates to truth itself. Strategies for making up biological citizens ‘from above’ tend to represent the science itself as unproblematic: they problematize the ways in which citizens misunderstand it. But these vectors ‘from below’ pluralize biological and biomedical truth, introduce doubt and controversy, and relocate science in the fields of experience, politics and capitalism. (p.14)

Reading this discussion raised huge questions for me about what we teach in school and why – questions about content itself, but most especially questions about what we mean by the “nature of science” and what difference we expect it to make to the ways we teach content. One question I have is “whose nature of science?” I’ve read a lot of research literature that explores NOS as an idea. I’ve come to the conclusion that much of it is a deficit literature. It talks about what teachers don’t know and won’t do. But this is mostly in relation to what we might call an “epistemological” view of NOS that focuses largely on questions of how experts come to make definitive knowledge claims – what Rose and Novas would call ‘from above’ versions of NOS. I think the ‘from below’ actions they describe have huge implications for how we think about what we mean by NOS for the school curriculum. My own position on this is not yet well resolved but I do see it as helpful that the NOS strand of the curriculum is linked closely to the key competencies by the way the sub-strands have been named and developed. I’m especially thinking about “participating and contributing” here. The participatory two-way nature of interactions citizens have with science really jump out of the above descriptions. (By two-way I mean that ordinary people who interact with a biomedical issue can influence the science that happens, not just be influenced by it.) Bullet point four of the science learning area statement implies a focus on current and future participation too (but not necessarily the more radical “two-way” dimension):

By studying science students will … use scientific knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about the communication, application, and implications of science as these relate to their own lives and cultures and to the sustainability of the environment. (Ministry of Education, 2007, p.28)

If we really mean to help students reach these sorts of outcomes (actually do we?) what might we need to do differently? How could you, while still at school, learn to “be” a person who is ready, willing and able (to borrow Margaret Carr’s framing of key competencies) to do the sort of things Rose and Novas describe? What science do you need to know? What sort of NOS might help and how? Who helps students bring the pieces together (social sciences not just science)? Assuming we can imagine some answers, how can we even make it possible for these sorts of changes to take place? What might happen if we don’t change? (Rose and Novas are not writing science fiction – these things they describe are happening already.) It would be good to share ideas because these won’t be easy questions to answer.

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The future focussed issues project

June 23rd, 2009

Josie Roberts and I are beginning a new research project called “Future focussed issues in New Zealand education”, or FFI project for short. We’d like to use shiftingthinking as a forum for developing and sharing some of our thinking as we get into the work of this research. If you’d like to be part of this thinking (or at least take a peek at where our thinking is going), please read on!

The backstory to the FFI project lies partly in previous contract research work in two areas of “future focus”: education for sustainability, and education for enterprise. If you’re familiar with the New Zealand Curriculum, you might recognise sustainability and enterprise as two of the four “future focussed issues” mentioned in the section on Principles for New Zealand curriculum. (The other two FFIs are globalisation and citizenship).

Original drawing (c) Josie Roberts 2009

Original drawing (c) Josie Roberts 2009

Although some work has been done to support futures thinking in New Zealand education (for example, Secondary Futures), our experience suggests that many people within the education sector still have reasonably limited familiarity with the idea of futures thinking in general, and of these four particular FFIs in the New Zealand Curriculum in particular. We think there is something very important in these ideas, and we want to spend some time exploring them, looking at the relationships between them, and researching their relevance to (or possible contribution to transformation of) curriculum, teaching, learning, schooling, and communities.

As educational researchers we spend a lot of our time looking at what is happening within the formal education sector. But lately we’ve become interested in looking at pockets of innovative thinking and development that are occurring on the margins of the formal education sector, and in the spaces where education intersects with other sectors. We want to explore these pockets of thinking and innovation to see whether they could provide us with new insights that might also speak to audiences within the formal education sector.

One of our initial aims is to look for examples of what we’re loosely labelling “self-generating networks for knowledge building, learning, and change”. We are interested in how such networks form around the future focussed issues in both formal and non-formal education, with particular emphasis on how new knowledge is generated in these networks, and in connection with learning beyond school (i.e. with business, communities, youth groups, web-based social networks, etc). (We’re working with a few groups and networks as mini-case studies, but we won’t be talking about them here unless we have permission from the people and groups involved)

At the same time as we are working with these people/groups/networks, we are also reading as much as we can to help braid together our own understanding of what we mean by a “self-generating network for knowledge building, learning, and change”. Over the next few months we are going to try to post blogs about what we’re reading and what we’re thinking. If you want to follow this thread, look for blogpostings that start with “FFI”.

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