In this issue, we focus on the strategies and techniques science teachers developed throughout the pandemic. The ingenious nature of some of these science educators knows no bounds, as you will see within the articles. Whether through creative uses of cell phone technology, makeshift lab equipment, or the use of virtual laboratory and virtual field trip events, our students were able to experience science in new and powerful ways.
When the press laments that the students “lost” a year of instruction, I wonder how many members of the press have been in science teachers’ classrooms—face to face, hybrid, asynchronous, or synchronous. There is no doubt that younger children were affected by the lack of social interaction; however, to label the entire academic year as a loss is totally unjustified from what we have seen. Science teachers adapted and shared their ideas, using social media groups such as Facebook’s “NGSS Chemistry Teachers,” “NGSS Biology Teachers,” and other science teaching groups. Myriad ideas flew around the internet at light speed, providing ideas to one another as well as providing support.
From what is causing this illness to where it is originating to the recognition of COVID as a pandemic to the development of a vaccine to the Greek naming of the COVID variants, the science and understanding of COVID was constantly changing. When science changes its opinion, it does not lie to us: Science simply learned more. Yet, the naysayers continue to exist. During early June 2021, Dr. Tenpenny, an Ohio osteopathic doctor, claimed during Ohio Statehouse testimony that the COVID-19 vaccine caused magnetism in our bodies. She stated that people who had been vaccinated were walking around capable of having spoons attached to their bodies. The CDC had to spend valuable time addressing this audacious claim by stating:
Receiving a COVID-19 vaccine will not make you magnetic, including at the site of vaccination which is usually your arm. COVID-19 vaccines do not contain ingredients that can produce an electromagnetic field at the site of your injection. All COVID-19 vaccines are free from metals such as iron, nickel, cobalt, lithium, and rare earth alloys, as well as any manufactured products such as microelectronics, electrodes, carbon nanotubes, and nanowire semiconductors. In addition, the typical dose for a COVID-19 vaccine is less than a milliliter, which is not enough to allow magnets to be attracted to your vaccination site even if the vaccine was filled with a magnetic metal. (CDC 2021).
The scientific illiteracy of this claim and others like it must be the focus of our science instruction. Knowing the parts of a squid or dissecting a worm have their place in a science class but should not be all that our students experience. If our students are to grow into scientifically literate adults, we must provide them with the abilities to analyze science stories in the news, in scientific journals, and all the information spinning throughout social media. If we choose to only teach science as a pile of factoids, the students will continue to be swayed by outlandish claims like Tenpenny made in Ohio.
In Michael Shermer’s book Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, he states “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons” (Shermer 2002). We want our students to be smart people who are not gullible to illogical thinking, schemes, and premises. We want them to look behind the curtain, as in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy looks behind the curtain to see that no wizard actually exists. Science prevails. No, science is not perfect, but no other methodology has surfaced to help us understand the natural world in a better fashion.
Are we, in our science classes, stressing the way science works enough? Sure, there is the introductory chapter of most science textbooks that describes the scientific method. But often it is written in such a way to illustrate science as a linear process, which it is not. It is an iterative, beautiful, creative process. The textbooks often depict how science is written, but not how it is done. Our students continue to see science as a plethora of vocabulary and formulas that do not relate to their everyday lives, do not seem relevant, and are a set of classes to just get done. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Students are taught what to think, but not how to think. Our mission as science teachers is clear: We must help our students think critically and to be skeptical of the information spewing forth each day. Are we up for the challenge?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2021. Myths and Facts (Updated June 3, 2021) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html
Shermer, M. 2002. Why smart people believe weird things: Pseudoscience, superstition, and other confusions of our time. https://michaelshermer.com/sciam-columns/smart-people-believe-weird-things/
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