Engineering as a Way to Humanize Science Teaching

In earlier posts I have talked about the humanistic science paradigm of learning, and have indicated that this paradigm has the potential of increasing the interest that students have in science, as well as helping students comprehend and understand science.  In one post I made this point:

What has emerged in science education is a major trend that is a departure from the traditional view of curriculum. Instead of starting with science concepts (as the Standards do), the starting points for teaching are contexts and applications for the teaching of scientific ideas. The traditional approach to science teaching attends chiefly to the structure of the discipline of science and its subject matter. We might call it scientist-centered.

This alternative trend gives priority to a student-centered point of view, and to citizens as consumers of science and technology in their everyday lives. Some have called this the science-technology-society (STS) approach; others, including Judith Bennett have used the concept context-based to describe this trend. Glen Aikenhead describes this approach to science education as the humanistic perspective. We might call it humanistic science education.

The evidence to support a humanistic science education is very powerful. Aikenhead’s book, Science Education for Everyday Life, provides an “evidence-based practice” approach to humanistic science. For example, in a synthesis of studies of humanistic science, Aikenhead reports that students are motivated to high levels if the science content being learned is associated with social or cultural relevance. Although this approach led to greater complexity, student motivation led to greater science understanding.

Two days ago, I received an email from Dr. Bill Hammack, professor Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois.  The email that I received linked me to one of his sites entitled  In this very rich website, Dr. Hammack explores ways that the engineering profession might reach out to the public to help citizens become more aware of how engineering concepts are a part of their everyday life.  He goes on to explore how that might be done, and how new media might aid in this endeavor.

For science teachers, Dr. Hammack’s ideas provide many examples of context-based, and humanistic science.  In one  paper on his website, entitled Three Fundamental Questions to Ask About Scientific Outreach, Dr. Hammack makes the case for engineers and scientists to work with the public to help them understand scientific endeavors.  In my own view, Dr. Hammack is describing the role of the science teacher in civic life.  It is the science teacher that tethers between the worlds of science & engineering, and world of adolescents.  Dr. Hammack has devoted his professional life to helping the public understand engineering by using a variety of public outreach media: radio, video, and public  speaking.  At his website you can access archives of his radio shows, his videos, and papers that he has presented to various organizations.

The examples that you will find on his website are good examples of context-based teaching.  For example, he directed me to this video, which you can see below.

The video shows how we can use a context-based approach to humanize science and engineering.  This video is one of many videos that will be a great resource for science teachers.

I recommend you visit his site, and explore the radio shows, videos, and papers that should help us understand more fully how we can make science teaching more relevant to our students.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.