It was a decade into my career as an educator when I realized something was missing.
The career path I first started down was not originally teaching. Fresh out of college with a degree in zoology, I started doing chemistry work in the corporate world. The job was interesting and wonderfully scientific, but in the end, it wasn’t a good fit for me. The lab work was fascinating, but I missed the human connection. Rigorous conversations and debates that were present in collegiate science courses were sorely lacking in my corporate experience. Nobody was all that excited about science; it was just something we did. It took several years and a healthy amount of struggle, but I eventually found my way into teaching.
When I opened the door to my very first classroom for the very first time, I was elated, to say the least. Here was a place where science could be cultivated. Where everyone in the room could be excited about science on a daily basis. Yet almost immediately, something felt off. In my conversations with people in all tiers of education, it constantly seemed as if I was always running up against a wall. It would happen at conferences, in grad school classes, at staff meetings, when working with other districts, and while exploring teacher resources online. There was just so much information out there for teachers, yet something about the information being presented felt fishy.
Slowly, as my years in education grew, the pattern began to emerge.
Teachers are wonderful. They are an inquisitive, kind-hearted, and hard-working bunch as a whole. They devote their careers to cultivating young minds, striving to become experts in the field just so they can help each and every kid learn. So many teachers out there are keenly interested in problem solving, a major element in science. The issue isn’t necessarily the mindset of teachers. The issue really lies in where teachers go for information to help solve those problems.
We human beings love a good narrative. Throughout human history, we have told stories to teach all kinds of things. In modern day, we tell stories using movies, books, podcasts, news articles, social media, and television shows (just to name a few). Humans are fantastic at the narrative. It is how we draw people in (similar to how I’ve been drawing you in with this story). It shouldn’t come as a surprise that modern day teachers rely heavily on narratives. We tell stories about things in our own rooms. We describe things that happen at the school our own children go to or the building that our friend works at. These stories help us find things we would like to see happen in our own workplace. Narratives are a useful tool, yet they are not (and should not be) the only tool. However, in the teacher-world, the narrative can reign supreme.
Here’s the problem with that. Humans are notoriously bad at seeing things objectively sometimes. Our perception is always impacting how we see things, so our reality gets clouded by how we feel about the situation.
So for years, I have been learning and teaching and struggling to figure out why some of these narratives just stick around. It honestly isn’t because we don’t have anything better than the narrative. It is because we don’t include something. We don’t bring in science.
We actually need science. Desperately. In a recent study, Townsley and Morton (2022) found that the top four publications that superintendents read are trade publications. As the lead learners and those responsible for the long-range direction of this district, this can be problematic.If we looked across the tiers of education, my guess is that we would see similar patterns. Journals are often behind paywalls, and it can be hard for a practitioner (of any level) to know what research to start with and where to go next. Yes, science needs to do a better job of coming to educators. In the meantime, there is a lot we can do.
We don’t need to get rid of the narratives, but we need science to shed more light on if and why they work.
What can we do with a healthy dose of science? Do better things for students. With science, we can work more efficiently. We can focus more on learning. We can stop walking down the wrong path. While I don’t have a study to back up the evidence I have seen, I know a great deal of teachers, support staff, and administrators who use science to do their jobs better. Which really means, they do better things for and with students.
Science has a lot of great stuff to say. We should listen.
Want to Bring More Science Into Your Educational Experience?
Talk About Science To Develop Science Fluency
Learn scientific terms. With my own students, I’m their first official science class. So we have to build scientific muscle, so to speak. The more we talk about science, the more science becomes part of our everyday lives. As you learn more science, talk more about science.
Dive Into Scientific Studies
One of the best ways to truly understand emerging and established science is to dive into peer-reviewed journals. However, for a layperson, they can be daunting to get into (not to mention the fact that they are often trapped behind paywalls). However, if you find an interesting study, go for it. From there, keep reading studies on the same topic to get an overall and balanced feel for the way the research is going. A meta-analysis could also be a good gateway into research, as they are designed to look for overall trends, using data from a variety of independent studies.
Want to know if a journal is reliable?
Want more information? Check out:
- Understanding Research Papers: A Guide For Teachers by The Learning Scientists
Read Science-Backed Articles
If peer-reviewed journals aren’t your thing, look for articles and books that cite scientific studies (note that this isn’t the same thing as “researched-based”). Science is for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that everything is science. Here are some places to start:
Learn To Recognize Anti-Science
We live in an age where false flags and pseudoscience abound. Be aware that these things can sometimes be disguised as science:
- A sales pitch is not science. Companies that are selling something will often loop in scientific sounding terms. Just because it sounds like science doesn’t mean that it is. The main goal of a company selling something is to sell something.
- Using science only as confirmation for what is currently believed to be true. This is also known as the confirmation bias. People will hunt and peck to find something to back up their claim and happily ignore the rest of the information. Science isn’t about backing up what you believe to be true. Science is a quest for the truth.
Want more information? Check out:
What happens when a neuroscientist and a 12-year-old team up? You get one amazing TED talk by Beau Lotto and Amy O’Toole. The duo explores the connection between science and play as well as challenges the assumption that only adults can do science. Also, check out their published peer-reviewed study!
Assessing Journal Credibility. Emory Libraries. (2022). Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://libraries.emory.edu/health/writing-and-publishing/quality-indicators/assessing-journal-credibility
Bird, E. (2020, June 20). There’s No Such Thing as an ‘Objective View’ of Something. Medical News Today. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/theres-no-such-thing-as-an-objective-view-of-something#We-cant-discard-our-perspective
Flannery, M. E. (2021, September 29). The Science of Learning. NEA. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/science-learning
Grant, A. (2022, October 18). Confirmation Bias. Twitter. Retrieved November 10, 2022, from https://twitter.com/AdamMGrant/status/1582379253479354368
Kuepper-Tetzel, C. (2022, February 24). Understanding Research Papers: A Guide for Teachers. The Learning Scientists. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2021/9/30-1
Lotto, B., & O’Toole, A. (2012). Science is for Everyone, Kids Included. Science is for everyone, kids included. TEDGlobal 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://www.ted.com/talks/beau_lotto_amy_o_toole_science_is_for_everyone_kids_included?language=en
Townsely, M., & Morton, B. C. (2022). Leaders Are Readers: What Journals Do Public School Superintendents Read? AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, Summer 2022, Volume 19 No. 2 . Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://www.aasa.org/uploadedFiles/Publications/JSP_Summer2022.FINAL2.pdf
UW Institute for Science + Math Education. (2014). Practice Briefs. STEM Teaching Tools. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://stemteachingtools.org/tools
University of Washington Libraries. (2022, October 12). Identifying Reputable Journals. Library Guides. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://guides.lib.uw.edu/research/reputable
One of the best things about science is that there is always something new to learn. As more is learned, this post will evolve. For now, this post was last updated on November 10, 2022.