Evaluation of
Science-In-Society, Society-In-Science: A Workshop on Critical Thinking
about Science & Technology in their Social Context

Critical and Creative Thinking Program
Graduate College of Education
University of Massachusetts-Boston
July 26, 1999

Steve Fifield
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Delaware
Newark, DE 19716

August 2, 1999


I was invited by Peter Taylor to offer my views on the quality of the workshop and, based on this evaluation, to make recommendations concerning future workshops. In what follows I briefly summarize the sessions Iattended. I then describe what I believe were the strengths of the sessions and offer suggestions for improvements in future workshops.

Session Summaries

I attended six of the nine workshop sessions. The following are summaries of those sessions.

*Douglas Allchin, "Complex Case Studies from Simple Consumer Goods"

Douglas Allchin, an independent scholar in science studies, focused on activities designed to raise students' awareness of the environmental implications of the daily decisions they make concerning consumer goods. He led participants through the use of case studies at two levels of complexity. The first was a relatively brief activity in which students map out the steps in the production of simple consumer goods, such as a loaf of bread or pair of blue jeans. This activity reveals the multiple sites in the production of consumer goods at which environmental impacts can occur. The second was a much more elaborate case study of the environmental consequences of the emissions from an automotive plant located in a predominantly residential area. This activity is onAllchin's website and the participants received a handout of the case to adapt for use in their classrooms. Allchin involved the participants in individual and small group activities at several points in the session.

* Peter Taylor, "How do we Know There is a Population-Environment Problem?"

Peter Taylor, of the Critical and Creative Thinking Program at UMass-Boston, explored some differences between simple and complicated accounts of the environmental impacts of human population growth, and how more complicated (and authentic) accounts can be used to foster conceptual change in learners. Taylor presented an example of a simple (i.e.,decontextualized) account and a complex (i.e., contextualized) account of the mechanisms and implications of human population fluctuations, and then led participants toward framing their own activities to open up the complexity of cases they might teach. Taylor used student-centered techniques such think-pair-share, freewriting, and role playing in the workshop, and by doing so he modeled student-centered teaching for critical thinking skills.

*Charlene D'Avanzo, "Teaching Student-Active Science"

Charlene D'Avanzo, a professor of environmental science, presented a noon-time keynote talk on a project funded by the National Science Foundation at Hampshire College to increase the use of student-active teaching and learning in undergraduate science, math, engineering and technology education. She stressed in particular the vital need to make undergraduate science courses more compelling and effective in order to recruit and train future K-12 science teachers who will go on to use innovative methods. D'Avanzo employed a conventional lecture format, but she responded to numerous questions throughout her talk.

*Diane Paul, "Genetic Testing as Disguised Eugenics?"

Diane Paul, a historian of science at UMass-Boston,presented a history of eugenics that focused primarily on the United States. The extent of eugenic research and social policy in the early 20th century surprised many of the participants, including biology teachers, who said they associated eugenics with the Nazis, Hitler, and the Holocaust. The participants' lack of familiarity with the role of eugenics in science and social policy in the U.S. in this century is indicative of the need for a historical perspective in science education, including science teacher education. Unfortunately, time ran out before Paul had the opportunity to address the question posed in the session title, that is the degree to which current developments in genetic testing share scientific, ideological, and policy roots with eugenics. Participants received a bibliography of references on eugenics and genetic testing.

*Arthur Millman, "What Would Environmental Justice Be?"

In this session, Arthur Millman, a philosopher atUMass-Boston, described how the study of environmental problems and controversies provides a context within which principles of social justice can be applied and elaborated. He cited racism, imperialism, and Native Peoples' rights as examples of justice-related dimensions in environmental controversies. To critically analyze these issues students must employ thinking skills, such as the use of multiple perspectives, metacognitive awareness, and the identification of assumptions. Millman began this session with a presentation of these ideas. Near the end of the session, the participants briefly discussed a case study of a conflict between an environmental advocacy organization and a Native American tribe that received permission to harvest one individual from an otherwise protected whale species. The case illustrated how a current news story can be the foundation for very challenging questions of justice, ethics, and environmental and social policy. The participants received a handout with three short case studies as well as a list of references related to environmental justice.

*Closing session

Taylor led the closing session in which participants and session leaders summarized each of the prior sessions for those who could not attend. Each participant then described what she or he had gained from the day's activities. The comments ranged from general insights about new ways to imagine science education, to specific activities they experienced in the sessions, to the pleasure of spending time in a community of people committed to implementing new and better visions of science education. Finally, Taylor shared what he as the conference organizer had learned about helping teachers explore new ways to teach and learn.

I did not attend the following sessions:

* Barbara Waters, "The Apple: Applying the Constructivist Model to Learning and Teaching Science Concepts"
*Brian White, "How is Scientific Knowledge Generated?"
*Nina Greenwald, "Search for Solutions to Life's Messy Problems"

Strengths of the Workshop

Based on the sessions I attended, and on participants' comments about the remaining sessions, the following strengths stand out:

1. The workshop modeled cross-disciplinary perspectives on studying science in context. The workshop included session leaders from a variety of academic disciplines. This led to a strong sense of cross-disciplinary thinking and collaboration. A number of the reforms advocated in Science For All Americans (AAAS 1986) and theNational Science Education Standards (NRC 1996), the leading science education reform documents in the U.S., call explicitly for a softening of disciplinary boundaries and for cross- disciplinary perspectives in teaching and learning science. By its very nature the Critical and Creative Thinking Program at the UMass-Boston entails these sorts of academic border crossings, a characteristic that was reflected by the participation of presenters with experience in primary through postgraduate education, and with training in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. For example, Douglas Allchin brought biology and environmental science together with an analysis of public policy making. CharleneD'Avanzo made explicit the connection between how college and university science faculty teach and the prospects for educating innovative K-12 science teachers. The concern for teacher education is typically a left solely to professors of education, but, as D'Avanzo made clear, reformat the K-12 level cannot succeed without complementary initiatives in undergraduate education. Arthur Millman drew conceptual tools from philosophy to illuminate the nature of environmental controversies in ways that are simply not possible if science education sticks exclusively to facts and concepts that have been torn from the circumstances of their development and application. In these ways the very design of the workshop modeled the kinds of cross-disciplinary thinking and collaborations that are necessary when teaching about science andtechnology in their social contexts. The participants, I believe, were likely to come away with the realization that the isolation of science from other disciplinary perspectives in K-16 curriculums is an artifact that interferes with students' (and teachers') abilities to find meaning in science for their own lives. The workshop also provided instructional and curricular models to place students back in active contact with science and to place science in contexts that make it meaningful and exciting to study.

2. The workshop modeled active learning techniques. Gettingparticipants involved in experiential learning was a stated goal of the workshop and, indeed, many of the presenters used techniques to activelyi nvolve the participants in individual and small group learning. Drawing learners as members of learning communities into active engagement with each other around challenging, complex problems is a central goal of national science education reforms (AAAS 1986, NRC 1996). The workshop was again, therefore, an effective implementation of a leading vision ofscience education reform. An example of this experiential learning was Taylor's use of several different techniques to engage participants as individuals and members of learning groups. Following an initial presentation he used a think-pair-share activity. He asked participants to individually formulate a reaction to his presentation and then to share their thoughts with one other person. This activity paved the way for a whole-group discussion. He used a role playing activity in which participants worked together in groups of four or five to formulate a response to a dilemma based on identities they had been assigned. Finally, he used freewriting, in which individuals write as much as they can about a topic for several minutes. These responses then serve as the basis for small and large group discussions. This movement among various activities and group structures is not only an effective way to keep studentsattentive and engaged, but each of these instructional techniques can be viewed as a different thinking tool that may foster new perspectives on a topic. Pondering one's own thoughts, writing them out, sharing them with others, and listening to others' reactions are all ways to create shared understandings in a community of learners. In this way, instructional techniques are much more than just ways to deliver information or to keep students busy, they are themselves models for critical and creative thinking. When used in teacher education programs such as this workshop, active learning techniques not only model effective teaching, they give teachers firsthand experiences as learners in a setting of innovative science instruction. The knowledge, or more properly the feeling, of what it is like to be an active science learner is an important element in helping teachers make sense of and move toward this kind of learning in their own classrooms.

3. The workshop made practical resources available to theparticipants. All of the session leaders made instructional resources available to the participants, although some sessions had more elaborate and refined resources than others. Douglas Allchin, for instance, handed out a well developedcase study to the participants. Arthur Millman offered three brief cases that he had not yet used with students. And Diane Paul gave participants a bibliography of sources on eugenics and genetic testing. When we consider K-12 teachers, in particular, if the goal of a workshop is to encourage them to implement new approaches in theirclassrooms, it is vital that they receive practical resources that they can immediately adapt to their circumstances. Many teachers are expert adapters of materials, but they often lack the time and resources to develop activities from scratch. It is not enough for a teachers to get a few good ideas out of a workshop, they need actual instructional materials that they can use, adapt, and elaborate to suit themselves and their students. Most of the sessions I attended included these kinds ofresources.

Recommendations for future workshops

1. Consistently foreground active learning and criticalthinking. All presenters should use student-centered, critical thinking techniques in their sessions. Even sessions that are structured primarily as conventional presentations ought to model techniques to keep participants engaged as active thinkers rather than passive listeners. Most of the sessions I attended were excellent examples of student-active learning, but Paul's and Millman's sessions slid rather too comfortably into the sage on the stage approach that is common in academic talks. There are surely times to hear from experts, but even primarily didactic presentations can incorporate brief interludes that turn the focus from what the experts have to say to the sense that participants make from what they hear. To model lectures that actively engage students is certainly a worthwhile goal in a teacher education workshop.

2. Strongly represent the interests and circumstances of K-12teachers. Careful attention to the realities of K-12 classrooms is necessary to build and sustain an audience in the K-12 community for teacher education workshops. Although it is surely valuable to draw workshop participants from across the K-16 spectrum so that people who rarely meet one another can begin to identify work toward common interests, the danger is that the perspectives and experiences of postsecondary scholars will come to dominate the workshop. The realities of elementary and secondary classrooms are in many ways far removed from what professors experience in their classrooms. It is therefore vital that K-12 teachers be well represented among session leaders, and that the academics who lead sessions understand something of the daily circumstances with which K-12 teachers must contend. Although, on the whole, I believe this workshop effectively served a diverse audience, some sessions lost contact with the experiences of K-12 faculty. Quite simply, some session leaders did not adequately consider how particular information or activities might be meaningful and practically useful to K-12 teachers. Sessions in which K-12and postsecondary faculty collaborate as co-leaders is one way to both draw upon diverse perspectives, serve diverse audiences, and foster enduring connections among K-16 educators.

3. Link workshop topics to state and national science educationstandards. The ways in which the workshop could help teachers meet state and national science education standards was not made explicit. The standards movement has a tendency to be interpreted as a push toward "the basics" (i.e., decontextualized facts and concepts), but it is important to make clear that the study of science in social context is a component of national reforms and most state standards. Workshops such as these can therefore serve to resist the slide toward antiseptic teaching of science "basics" and ensure that the opportunity presented by science education standards documents for teachers to broaden what it means to teach and learn science is seized. Some teachers will encounter resistance to their attempts to broaden the meaning of science education, so it is important that they know how to use to national and state science education standards to advance new visions of science education.

4. Don't forget about student assessment. Curriculum (what is taught/learned), instruction (how it is taught/learned), and assessment (determining what students make of what is taught) are three interwoven dimensions of science education out of which new visions of teaching and learning can be crafted. As I noted above, many of the sessions modeled excellent visions of science curriculum and instruction. But teachers must also assess the understandings that students construct. Focused discussions and practical suggestions concerning student assessment were notably lacking in the sessions I attended. As we encourage teachers to move away from traditional topics and methods of teaching, assessment takes on greater importance. Conventional forms of assessment, such as worksheets, multiple choice items, and short answer items, are unlikely to do justice to the sorts of understandings we hope students develop from the complex and open-ended problems they investigate when they study science in context. We therefore need to help teachers develop assessments that are authentic to the sorts of learning their students will do.

4. Solicit participant feedback in writing before the end of theworkshop. Participants were asked for their comments and feedback during the closing session, and they were invited to make written comments via e-mail if they wished. In addition, I suggest that a standard written evaluation be used in all future workshops. A one-page sheet included in the workshop materials and filled out before participants leave usually ensures a higher rate of response than an open request for feedback. With a standard evaluation form it is possible to collect comparable data across workshops, to focus on particular dimensions of the participants'experiences, and to collect feedback on individual sessions.