OISE is one of the places responsible for training teachers in Ontario. It offers advanced degrees (Masters. Ph.D.) in education. I thought this might be a good opportunity to network with the people responsible for teaching science in our high schools.
Here's a description of the forum ...
SMT Forum on Science and Mathematics - (4:30 PM - 6:00 PM)It sounded very interesting.
What is Optimum Knowledge for Teaching Science and Mathematics?: This forum explores the question of what K-12 teachers need to know in order to teach mathematics and science well. Join our panel of teacher educators and scholars as we discuss this important issue in a shifting teacher preparation landscape. Panelists: Professors Larry Bencze, Beverley Caswell, Indigo Esmonde, Cathy Marks Krpan, and John Wallace Moderator: Professor Steve Alsop (York University). Types of knowledge identified in the literature include conceptual understanding of the subject, pedagogical content knowledge, beliefs about the nature of work in science and mathematics, attitudes toward these subjects, equity and social issues, and actual teaching practices with students. However, the literature is incomplete with respect to which of these is relatively more or relatively less important. The amount and character of such knowledge really needed to help children learn is a contested issue..
The audience seemed to consist mostly of OISE faculty members and graduate students in education with a few teachers and teachers in training. I felt very much out of place since I was unfamiliar with the jargon and the philosophy. Much of the discussion was about whether it was really important for math and science teachers to understand the subjects they were teaching (conceptual understanding) or whether it was more important for them to have pedagogical knowledge. The discussion focused on something called "pedagogical content knowledge," which seems to be a combination of the two types of knowledge.
This was too esoteric for me. The biggest problem in science education at the K12 level is that there's not enough of it and it's not being done very well. We are graduating students from high school who are scientifically illiterate even though they have the grades to get into the best universities. The average high school graduate doesn't know what science is and doesn't understand the value of the scientific way of knowing in the modern world.
We're not doing a better job in the universities but this group at OISE is supposed to be studying science education so I expected some insights.
One of the phrases that puzzled me was "indigenous knowledge." Everyone in the room seemed to think this was a good idea but I had no idea what they were talking about. Turns out, they were referring to the local knowledge of indigenous peoples, or native North Americans. Apparently we are training teachers to expose our students to this other way of knowing.
One of the examples was from a school in Northern Ontario that takes students on a field trip to learn from the elders of the local tribe. The students learn, for example, how to filet a fish but at the same time the elder tells them how the fish are getting smaller due to climate change. They were also told that no wild rice grew in Rainy River last year and this is also because of climate change (see Rainy River Cereal – A traditional way today for a description of this "health food").
Now, it seems to me that if science is properly taught, then students will understand evidence-based knowledge and the importance of controlled experiments. They will be skeptical of anecdotal evidence and wary of conclusions based on personal experience. Thus, I would expect a lot of questions from the students on the field trip and I would expect that the tribal elder might be challenged. This will not turn out well.
On the other hand, if the students are taught that there are many different, and valid, ways of knowing then there shouldn't be a problem. The students will respect the traditional folklore of the local indigenous people and incorporate it into their learning experience. It all sounds very correct.
I wish I had heard of some other examples so I could understand better how it's supposed to work. I imagine that when high school biology teachers finish the section on evolution they would invite a local tribal elder to come in a recount the indigenous knowledge of the tribal myths of creation. That way, students would get a dose of difference forms of knowledge about the history of life. Everybody will be happy, except perhaps, the other indigenous people whose myths are being ignored.
I'm still trying to learn about this new (old?) way of knowing. Does anyone out there have some specific examples of how it integrates into science education? How does it work in Scotland? Do they teach Norse mythology and Viking wisdom in science classes there or do they have to go back to the stone age cultures in order to discover the real indigenous knowledge?