Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Discovery and Discussion

Recollections from my tenure as a secondary school science educator filter through my memory after many years. My chosen teaching fields of physical and earth science enabled me to help students already equipped with delight in the natural world to intensify their level of interest. Perhaps a greater responsibility was helping  students with less intrinsic natural curiosity develop their powers of observation and understanding. 

The introductory course in chemistry was exciting for me as a teacher. I hoped my students would share the excitement and fascination. The introductory course in chemistry provoked a measure of satisfaction for my students as they discovered elements, compounds, and atomic structure, among other topics. The astronomy and weather units provided a ready-made observational laboratory. 

Ideally, the joy of discovering foundational principles in chemistry launched my students toward achieving advanced knowledge and application skills. Many students were on the college preparatory track. Seeds of curiosity were planted for further college education and possibly graduate school. Some students would pursue science careers bolstered by inspired teachers and supportive parents.

Each teacher develops a store of individualized pedagogical trade secrets. In chemistry many “how to” books on fascinating classroom demonstrations are available. In the spirit of discovering “Science can be fun!” we may demonstrate instant color change experiments by mixing appropriate chemicals. A spectacular leap beyond such simple demonstrations is delayed color change: a clear mixed solution flashes black after a delay of perhaps 30 seconds. It is called the iodine clock reaction. We pretended to control the reaction by “mental power,” while secretly timing the reaction. Yes, science can be fun, but we must be sure the stage is set for goal-directed learning. Are we merely having fun? Or is meaningful learning taking place?

One item resting on my classroom library shelf was the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. One summer institute workshop instructor suggested students purchase this volume. Currently, its 95th edition (2014) contains a mind-bending 2693 pages of information. Over the decades this volume has morphed from practical to increasingly technical. My citation of this Handbook suggested additional wonders of chemistry and  scope of knowledge yet to be discovered by students. One humorous assignment related to their memorization of chemical constants in the 44th edition CRC volume. Students soon realized their teacher was not really serious.

As a teacher I approached other physical and earth science subject matter with personal reverence for the Creator. The public school setting did not afford explicit worship opportunities but our earth and physical science courses provided opportunities for metaphysical student discussion on occasion. Where did the universe come from? Did our universe originate by itself, naturalistically? One student asked, “Do you believe in God?” My answer was, “I certainly do!” I disclosed my personal belief that, “The Big Bang was the initial supernatural creation event in the cosmos, in keeping with the text of Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” The discoveries of science point to the events of the Big Bang as the divine initiation of time, space, matter, and energy. “The heavens and the earth” is accurately translated “all that exists.”

The truths of chemistry, physics, biology, and earth science all point to a cosmic Designer and Creator, the God of Genesis 1:1. These truths are not completely proven by physical evidence. As a public school science educator, I believed evidence of a theistic Designer, the Creator of all things, was powerfully indicated.