Monday, May 19, 2014

Western Culture and the Scientific Method

    For the first paper I ask my students in Environmental Studies to write about the connection between the Scientific Method (SM) and Western Culture (WC). The main idea that I am seeking in this paper is the understanding that we know the world we live in through a logical process based on experiential information, what one can label as "experimental observation."
    Leading my students to first recognize the historical importance of the Greek philosophers as the founding minds behind reason and logic I set a context based on values center on the idea of truth. Then in class we have a conversation about objectivity and subjectivity and why technology emerges from the need to parametrize information. Thus units of measurement come to exist and methodologies are developed not only to measure but to produce goods.
     Later we see how after the middle ages with the renaissance Descartes and Galileo among others established a system that we now call SM in order to contextualize and create a frame of reference for the ability to predict phenomena based on observation more than on the calendar. Just to clarify, many predictions before the scientific method were based on calendars created on past experiences. Such a predictability was based on the assumption that natural phenomena was unchangeable but at the same time there were some natural phenomena like the weather that seemed unpredictable.
    In this day and age being able to predict has become even more important, though much of the research done today is still on the phase of understanding how things work. What I want to teach my students is the intrinsic value of knowing the truth about something, and to understand that there are levels of knowledge about everything we see around in the world.
    What would be of the world if we were not interested on the truth?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Science You Need to Flourish

     The first paper I ask my students in Environmental Studies PHS 100 is to write about the relationship between Western Culture (WC) and the Scientific Method (SM). In this paper I expect students to define WC and to explain what the SM is. Then I expect them to see why they are intrinsically interconnected and why we couldn't have the modern society that we have today without having means to find what is the truth about the reality in which we all live.

     The first thing we find when looking for definitions of WC is about its origin in Greece where Greek philosophers used reasoning to find the truth about reality. We could argue that this was not the base for eastern philosophies were insight about physical reality came through meditation. A later development of the "logical" reasoning was the development of the SM where experimental or experiential knowledge was used to understand nature and thus be able to control it. The best and simple example of this is the knowledge developed around gas behavior (in particular steam) that was the base for the industrial revolution.

     Knowing how things work, how nature works has been, is, and will be of such an importance that one can't disregard the impact in our society's wellbeing. Of course these ideas, the use of the scientific method is not by any means exclusive of the physical sciences one can find examples in other areas of human endeavor such as business or social work; but the physical sciences represent the best examples of how our society has moved and progressed to have better technologies and improving the standards of living in our society.

     Looking at those who have flourished and created empires in the business world we find that most of them were producing a new product, a new way of doing based on a more profound knowledge of our society. Perhaps in some cases this knowledge was not apparent or exterior but was intuitive. I am thinking now of Mark Zuckerberg creator of Facebook or Jim Wales co-creator of Wikipedia.

     Now at Warner Pacific College we are focusing on helping our students to "flourish." We are doing everything possible to enable them to lean in a way that they can become the leaders that our society needs. We need to help them understand the world and help them to use the knowledge acquired about the world so they can innovate and create, in a word: Flourish.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Revolutionize Education or Replace it?

Our education system was started many years ago with a particular purpose and need. Our society has changed from the industrial type of production to a service type of production. So our educational system has to change or be replaced in order to accommodate the needs of our society today and in the future. 
This video showing an interview with Seth Godin clarifies what is going on and opens the discussion to find what a new system should look like. As Seth said here in this interview -it is not about a conspiracy theory- but we have to understand why those in industry and commerce are not longer supporting the education of the general public as they do not need anymore the kind of trained workers they used to require for factory schedules and for providing the income for a consumer society.
I can think of one personal example. As soon as my daughter finished her BS in Physics about two years ago, she started working at Boeing. Her schedule is not based on the production line but on the needs for her team's research. Today for example she had to leave for work at 5:30 AM because the testing required her to do such. Some times she works from home as today we are connected from almost anywhere in the world. In fact I am writing this post more that 100 miles away from my home or my office. Scientists in particular as they are in the very creative endeavor of discovery and analysis must have the freedom to organize their schedule accordingly.

Science students today are feeling the disconnection and becoming very uncomfortable with the traditional classroom setting. They want to have an active participation that in a way the traditional lecture is blocking so we the teaching professors have to change the way we teach. That is why I'm trying to implement Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) and Flipping my classroom.

So can we teach science adding to content-education the flexibility of schedule?