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Why Do People Resist Science?

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The Science After School blog links to an article that asks the question: Why Do Some People Resist Science?

Indeed, a very good question.

As K-12 schools search for better ways to improve math and science education, this is a question that must be asked and answered from classrooms to the highest levels of education research and policymaking. If educators, researchers, and policymakers don't truly understand where that resistance and lack of motivation comes from, they will have a hard time figuring how to get more kids fired up about finding a cure for cancer or understanding the causes of global warming.

Even though I grew up in a family of scientists (my father and older brother), I, unfortunately, became resistant to sciences, much like most folks. I am hoping my children take a more active interest in the sciences than I did. Scientific ignorance, in today's world, is not bliss.

What do you think are the reasons for this resistance? And how do educators change student attitudes about the sciences?

13 Comments

As a science education professor, I have seen numerous times students are turned off from science because of the teaching methods. When a teacher portrays science as a body of facts that must be memorized and regurgitated back on a test, students become disenchanted with the lack of curiosity and sense of wonder that makes science exciting. If science is seen as a way of knowing about the natural world, in which scientific explanations are based on observations and facts, then science becomes a method of inquiry (i.e., a process of knowing). Facts are an important part of science but are only known through the process of inquiry. What is so sad is that many students see science as a memorization of terms, definitions, laws and theories. If students are passive members, which do not critically think, search for answers, or solve problems, then those students will not truly understand the true aspect of science. Teachers should not try to force the students to learn or do all the “work” for them, but rather should invite, encourage and motivate students to be actively involved in understanding the process of science through methods and strategies that are inquiry-oriented. The science teacher is a facilitator of information (and not just science information) by helping, motivating and encouraging the students to process information and concepts through a variety of methods, strategies and assessments. The teacher should not give a student an answer to their question but rather challenge the students to find or solve the question or problem. This will empower the students to become part of the “authority” of scientific facts, because they will design and direct their own tasks so they can interpret, explain, and hypothesize such concepts. The student constructs concepts about science, and a teacher should assess students’ understanding in light of numerous facets. If learning science is seen as a process, then inquiry teachers will allow the students to direct their own learning process to build on prior knowledge, solve problems, critically think and reason, explain complex problems and concepts, encourage meaningful reading and writing, integrate math and technology, and tackle real-world problems. Students should have the opportunity to be active in the science classroom by using the body of scientific facts (some of which will be memorized) to help guide their own inquiry method. If science is taught this way, then I believe that people will not be resistant to science, and will gain knowledge so that they cannot only function in this world but be productive citizens.

People resist science because science is hard. Science requires long hours of study. Most students would rather party than study for a week before a science exam to get a passing grade (not necessarily an "A"). Also science GPAs tend to be lower than other majors. A low GPA doesn't look good when a college graduate applies for a job. Science courses also don't tolerate BS very well -- especially in lab reports and essay questions. Science students and scientists need to know their facts and have a good command of the skills required for competency in the sciences.

People tend to resist science because they have not had positive experiences learning science. This is a symptom of the real problem -- the way science is taught in our schools. When asked to what extent classroom science should reflect what scientists do, most teachers give a blank stare..... they don't know what scientists do. Teaching science means reading from a text, doing a few activities for interest, & memorizing facts and information.

Science is a way of knowing, thinking, and acting. It is steeped in inquiry and investigation with understandings and conclusions based on evidence. Science links directly to technology and society -- to what is happening in the lives of students. When seen as relevant, science is exciting and meaningful. When taught through inquiry, thinking skills are used to make sense of science concepts.
As a former science teacher and science educator, I had very few students who did not enjoy (and even love) science.

The main way to excite students is to relate science to their lives...by inquiry, exploring their prior knowledge, and by giving them stories where they can see the scientific theories coming to life. These stories can be current problems that need to be solved or by engaging stories illustrating the concepts.

One of the problems children have experiencing science in the middle school years is the difficulty of the vocabulary being introduced. The three or four syllable words may be the most difficult words they have encountered to decode. In addition the words may have different meanings for them in their normal experiences. For example, the word "property" for 7th graders is ecognized as "land", "house", or (can you believe it) "community property". Imagine the confusion and blank stares if you don't properly prepare the students for the idea of the "properties of water." There are huge number of these problems with word meaning. There are even words that mean one thing in Life Science and another in Physical Science. The students are learning a new language that is confusing and frustrating if the teacher doesn't take this into account and laugh with them about the new meanings.

I have started writing a series of science books that I see as helping young children have the experiences to navigate the language of science and enjoy those experiences.

www.pathwaysintoscience.com


As a science teacher and science dept. chairperson, I see science from both sides now. I see it through the eyes of colleagues who are resistant to changing from the binge and purge method of imbedding scientific knowledge into adolescent brains to the method of guiding students to make the connection between the scientific concepts and their lives. I see science from the perception of students who have had minimal to no experience with inquiry science classrooms and equate the term science with something they don't have to pass on the standardized tests in order to move on to high school. The lack of value that many school systems place on scientific education when compared to the pressure of high math and language arts scores on standardized tests is discouraging. Science is the least stagnant of all subjects. It is forever evolving to include new concepts and discoveries. Every aspect of our lives is affected by our knowledge of science. Science includes math - computation, problem solving, measurement, formulas. Science includes language arts - a common term used in language takes on a whole new meaning in science, and then may vary from life science to physical science. Science fiction literature has varying degrees of scientific data within the chapters - a potential for interest building of science. I work with the language arts and math department heads to integrate what is currently done in science class to what is being done in their areas. I takes a little time and creativity and coordination, but it works. However, one colleague resistant to this makes it all the harder and in the end the one who loses out is the student. The educator may not lose pay or sleep over it, but the student loses out on learning opportunities that are very hard to recoup. We unfortunately are behind the rest of the industrialized nations in this area due to lack of interest and motivation. It was not always this way. Our students need to be make keenly aware of the significance of this, particulary since it will most profoundly affect their world after our generation has past. We as educators, whether in the classroom or as a parent/grandparent, have the opportunity of changing this by showing our 'students' what science really is, what is has done, and what it may yet do.

As a science teacher and science dept. chairperson, I see science from both sides now. I see it through the eyes of colleagues who are resistant to changing from the binge and purge method of imbedding scientific knowledge into adolescent brains to the method of guiding students to make the connection between the scientific concepts and their lives. I see science from the perception of students who have had minimal to no experience with inquiry science classrooms and equate the term science with something they don't have to pass on the standardized tests in order to move on to high school. The lack of value that many school systems place on scientific education when compared to the pressure of high math and language arts scores on standardized tests is discouraging. Science is the least stagnant of all subjects. It is forever evolving to include new concepts and discoveries. Every aspect of our lives is affected by our knowledge of science. Science includes math - computation, problem solving, measurement, formulas. Science includes language arts - a common term used in language takes on a whole new meaning in science, and then may vary from life science to physical science. Science fiction literature has varying degrees of scientific data within the chapters - a potential for interest building of science. I work with the language arts and math department heads to integrate what is currently done in science class with what is being done in their areas. I takes a little time and creativity and coordination, but it works. However, one colleague resistant to this makes it all the harder and in the end the one who loses out is the student. The educator may not lose pay or sleep over it, but the student loses out on learning opportunities that are very hard to recoup. We unfortunately are behind the rest of the industrialized nations in science due to lack of interest and motivation. It was not always this way. Our students need to be made keenly aware of the significance of this, particulary since it will most profoundly affect their world after our generation has past. We as educators, whether in the classroom or as a parent/grandparent, have the opportunity of changing this by showing our 'students' what science really is, what is has done, and what it may yet do.

I teach 4th grade - all subjects. We are trying to integrate science into the areas of language arts, math and social studies. One thing I do is to compare the scientific method with the steps to solving a problem in math. Also, if we examine the writing process, it is quite similar. I point out these similarities so that there are no "mysteries" and so that students can see that none of these are just subjects to be studied in isolation.

We also use picture books and other books to provide students with opportunities to visualize many of the processes that are difficult to witness. There are interactive sites on the web that can be used to assist students in learning. We do use some inquiry based materials with the students.

I don't believe that the emphases on reading and math are meant to shut out other subject areas. There are varying views on teaching/learning today. I feel that there needs to be some knowledge base present before the higher level learning skills can be achieved by the average learner, let alone those with learning disabilities.

As someone mentioned above, there are science terms which are difficult for 7th graders to read. These terms need to be introduced correctly in earlier years in order to build listening and spoken vocabulary prior to the reading vocabulary.

To me, the bottom line is that students who are well-prepared to read and to perform mathematical operations as well as to make decisions about the appropriate mathematical operations, will be better able to deal with science in the middle school years.

Given the amount of time in class during the school day, elementary teachers are being given an ever-increasing load of content that is being taught at younger and younger grade levels. If it is difficult for 7th graders to read, think how difficult it is for emergent readers!!

It might make some sense to realize that the elementary grades need to prepare the students for reading both fiction and non-fiction and for the middle school and high school language arts classes to focus on more technical and non-fiction books. There has been a tendency to teach social consciousness through literature, but little effort to teach scientific knowledge through literature. Possibly the middle and high school educators should consider incorporating more of this through their curriculum, leaving the inquiry processes to the science labs. We have to realize that schools have a given time frame for teaching an ever-increasing body of information to our students.

Students resist science because it is infested with and made unapproachable and boring by math. I love science, always have. I read the entire children's science department at the public library before I was 10 and my favorite Christmas presents were my chemistry set and a book called The Human Body. I also read a book my father had called "Understanding Surgery" and every science article in Readers Digest before I finished elementary school, many by the third grade.

But I could not go beyond Biology in high school because high school science became infested with math. I failed chemistry because we were forced to do gas law problems. I never made it to Physics.

Students will flock to science if it is practical and hands on and never involves working noxious math problems. The learning will be authentic, lead to higher learning and stimulate the curiosity that NCLB has squeezed out of children and replaced with test taking skills.

I am not saying that the courses cannot be "rigorous", but "rigor" has been interpreted as "difficult" and there is nothing more difficult than a math course or a science course into which math has been injected. Rigorous courses create independent learning. They make students think, analyze and evaluate. They encourage students to learn independently and develop and justify their own conclusions.

Science done right will be hands on, functional and lead to more science learning. It will relate to life as it is, was and should be. It will help students regain their curiosity and develop the ability to change the world. Math is just there. It should be used as one way of many to describe what a student learns in science. Math does not change. You can use the same math book for 20 years and nothing will change except the illustrations. Math and science are not related except to collect data. Neither should they be. Science is more akin to social studies and language arts. It grows and changes. It is about life. This is why there is so much controversy about teaching evolution. Science is about society and history, not math.

Treat science as a study of life instead of a vehicle for learning math. Make it hands on and purposeful and students will want to take it.

Wow, how can you remove math from science. Science is not a vehicle for learning math, math was invented as a tool for understanding science. The reason higher math such as Calculus exists is to prove concepts that are observed in science. Without this proof, the concepts are just ideas, the proof is what makes them Theories and Laws. You cannot teach science without using math. Sorry.

Because science often tends to undermine literal interpretation of religious literature, scientists are often portrayed by parents are religous speakers as evil. Because of this, it's not surprising that science is avoided by a good proportion of children in the United States, or at least in greater numbers than in countries where religion is more superficially accepted. By the way, National Education Association had its meeting in Philadelphia this week...and some of its _members_ had an anti-evolution booth for lobbying other teachers. Even teachers promote science as evil, in the U.S.

My 10 year old daughter's scientific imagination was captured by a 3rd grade student teacher who let them play with matches! Cool experiments capture interest. There also needs to be role models in science especially for girls. My daughter has decided she wants to be a marine biologist. Do you know that there are NO fiction books out there featuring women scientists? This is a huge ommission, so I am writing one! :)

I think most students resist science because it is often taught improperly. Science teaching in the United States is poor because our teacher preparation to teach science is lacking. In a great many teacher education programs, like the one I am the head of, the only science courses required in elementary education certification are one course in Biology and a science methods course. When teachers do not understand the concepts of science themselves, they are unlikely to do a good job of teaching science to children. In many classrooms the teaching of science is ignored!
Teacher educastion programs need to require more coursework in the preparation of teachers and more solid strategies in teaching science. Teaching science through inquiry is , by far, the best method that I have found to capture the interest of students of all ages. Teaching using inquiry demands more of the teacher and many are simply ill-prepared or not willing to devote the time to preparation.

Children are natural scientists. They love to explore and wonder. As teachers , we snuff out the wonder by forcing students to sit in desks and do worksheets. I believe this style of teaching is popular because it serves as a method of behavior management.
When science is properly taught, it is a state of controlled chaos. Many teachers are hesitant to give up straight rows and a quiet atmosphere to enable children to learn.

I don't know about Teacher education programs in Science because I only recently decided to teach. With a Master's Degree in Engineering Technology and an undergrad degree in Applied Sciences/Electrical Engineering from a major US engineering school I was not able to be certified to teach ANYTHING in middle school--not science, not math, not even technology! So I took the state's Middle Grades Integrated Curriculum exam and now I can teach EVERYTHING!! To me, it is a joke. Those of us who have the hands-on experience and want to bring this to kids to spark their interest in Science are prohibited by senseless and, in my opinion, arbitrary standards.

My kids love my science class because we don't memorize, we talk about terms and concepts and I show them that what they are learning is only names for what they already know by being alive. We do lots of hands-on and inquiry-based learning. In fact, I personally helped push my district to adopt the CPO Science course for our 8th graders. It is almost entirely hands-on, as well as journaling to reflect on what they have experienced. Excellent program. Problem is, the teachers in my district are afraid of it. Too hard to learn how to use all the lab equipment!! As if using a photogate was some kind of rocket science!

Forget about motivating the kids. Motivate the teachers. If Science is truly ever-changing, then we need to be ever-learning. We can't be afraid of technology. We can't be afraid to do labs in "controlled chaos". We can't be negative about what kids can do and can't do. These kids are more technology-savvy that we are. They can do a whole lot more than we think, if we lay it out there properly. But that takes work on our part, and we like our laminated lesson plans.

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