In May, I was asked to contribute a chapter for a book on pedagogy in Environmental Science undergraduate courses and the integration of EcoJustice. This task made me think deeply about values and how they can be not only taught, but modeled and explicitly discussed and practiced in science classrooms.
What do scientists value? How can we demonstrate those values in undergraduate courses?
To answer these questions, my chapter focuses on five 'scientific values' I identified through my experiences and through a informal survey of scientists at Ecosystems Center at MBL:
If scientists (especially scientists who are also teachers of undergraduates) place value on these aspects of their practice, how can this be demonstrated and discussed in the classroom? In this chapter, I promote the idea that they be integrated into the course design: assessments, activities, discussions, rubrics, etc. EcoJustice - a theme of the book - stands for inclusion of diverse ideas, equity, and sustainability. It was a personal challenge to weave these themes together, but the more I worked on it, the clearer it became in my mind.
How do you promote equity and inclusion in an Environmental Science classroom when you are talking about biogeochemistry of forests? Practice these values through collaboration and communication: discussions in the classroom can be arranged to ensure all student voices are promoted and listened to, ideas are constructively critiqued with different perspectives and goals in mind. Do not allow lazy classrooms where only the presenter is made to have an opinion. Keep students highly involved in the direction of the class.
As a teacher, with each year I realize more and more that I am an informed guide to learning, not a dictator on content and its presentation. Student learning requires individual agency. Students learn so much more through making mistakes, traveling down their own rabbit holes of inquiry, and being driven by their own interests within the sphere of a topic, than they do being lectured to for 3 hours a week. So my goal as an educator is to think of new ways (with the students - nothing behind the scenes!) to guide their learning.
Writing about these topics was surprisingly fun, and really brought me back to teaching high school. It is heartening to read about how undergraduate biology programs are being restructured to be more student-driven and inclusive and creative. While that was not my undergraduate experience, I can only assume it will draw more students who may be timid about biology (and science in general) to take the plunge and learn about the natural world in college.