Tag Archives: science as a humanity

Science as A Humanity: A Metaphor

29 Jan


I just finished reading Legitimating Lived Curriculum: Towards a Curricular Landscape of Multiplicity by Ted T. Aoki and while I know he was using the examination of Science as a Humanity as a metaphor for relating the official “Curriculum as Plan” to the “Lived Curriculum”, I was struck first by the fact that I always approach science as a humanity in my classroom.

When I look at the official science curriculum for my grades, I see a dry, fact filled exploration of scientific knowledge which I am to impart on my eager students who will learn it, memorize it and know it forever. Being aware of the “lived curriculum” in my classroom, I know that will not happen if I deliver science to them in that manner.  I am always framing my science units within a story of humanity.  I even most often have an actual story in the form of a novel to go along with it.  I know that in order to engage my students in the knowledge and facts part of science I have to give it a real world context, a human context.

Here are some examples of what I have done in my classroom to teach Science as a Humanity.

1. The first project that I did came shortly after returning from New Orleans and seeing the devastation that was left from Hurricane Katrina even three years later.  At that time there was still a unit in our grade 7 Science curriculum called Structures. My student’s task was to redesign the New Orleans Levee system.  As we started the unit, I noticed that the part of the project that was engaging them the most were my stories of the people and the tragedy that occurred during the flooding.  I realized that in order to sell them on the importance of their project I had to make them love the city as much as I did and make them want to help the people.  In Science we leaned about racial tension, inequality, poverty and human struggle as much as we learned about the strength of a triangle  and the properties of concrete. I acknowledged the curriculum that was alive and growing in my classroom and used it to teach the document. It was a break through for me as a teacher.  The success of this project is what inspired me to investigate cross curricular teaching.

2. The grade 8 Science Curriculum includes a unit on Cells and Cell Systems.  Last year, I used this unit as a jumping off point for an examination of racism and genocide.  How did I go from cells to genocide?  I used the cell unit as a starting point to talk about race as a human social construction not as a genetic predetermination.  We learned about animal classification and how humans were once classified according to the colour of their skin and ordered according to intellectual superiority (I think we all know who was at the top).  From learning about the origins of racism in scientific history we looked at power relationships in the world and how they have allowed genocides to go on unstopped throughout history.  To teach this I also used many Outcomes from both the grade 7 and 8 Social Studies curriculum.  We read the novel Shattered by Eric Walters (which we had used as we examined poverty and homelessness before Genocide) as a starting point. The students also read various novels about Genocide such as “Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You and Alive in the Killing Fields.  It was a heavy year for my kids but I think it was an important eye-opening experience for them and it took them out of their protective bubble of privilege for a little while.  I sought out to trouble them and I succeeded. The culminating project was a digital textbook of sorts: The Milliken Genocide Project

3.  This year we are working on a two-part project with our students on disasters.  In the Grade 7 curriculum there is an Outcome relating to the Earth’s Crust. Through this Outcome we have been learning about Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tsunamis.  This could be a very simple unit to teach but we (my two colleagues and I) wanted again to put into a human context to engage their empathy.  We have framed this unit around the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, the Haiti earthquake and the Iceland Volcano (which centers more around economic impact than loss of life).  We have learned the science of how these natural disasters occur but most importantly we have learned about the impact on humanity that they have.  Again, we have used the novels of Eric Walters; Wave and Shaken to frame this portion of our learning. Shaken also has a heavy religious over tone that addresses a whole other spectrum of humanity.

Following our look at natural disasters, we will be using the Gulf Coast Oil Spill to teach density, buoyancy and viscosity.  We will be tying our Literacy into this unit by examining through reading and writing the impact that humans have on our planet.  We will be reading the novel Empty Suzanne Weyn as well as newspaper articles and other writing to learn about the world’s dependence on oil and the effect it has on our environment.  This part of the project also allows us to meet both Grade 7 and 8 Social Studies Outcomes on Stewardship and Sustainability.

In our grade 7/8 classrooms in our school, there are very fine lines drawn between three very different, separate official curriculum documents. We have read our students (the lived curriculum) and know what we need to do to engage them into caring about what they are required to learn (the curriculum as plan). To do so we need to “smoosh” the curriculums together and seek or invent contextual commonplaces .  Perhaps that is something that should be looked into and taught in university education programs Smooshing 101: Cross Curricular Planning for Curricular Multiplicity. That’s a class I would take!