Science and Controversy

This summer, I taught a high school science course for the PEOPLE Program at UW-Madison. This course was my first opportunity to completely design and implement my own curriculum, and I absolutely loved the freedom and the challenge to do so! I decided to focus the course on improving science literacy through the lens of pseudoscience. In the course, I developed two main learning goals:

  1. Students will be better able to distinguish science from pseudoscience.
  2. Students will be able to explain and apply the process of science.

Based on science education literature, I hypothesized that curriculum that focuses on the process of science (i.e., forming hypothesis, designing experiments, collecting and analyzing data, peer-review), would help students be able to better distinguish everyday examples of science from pseudoscience. With this in mind, I developed student-centered curriculum that involved several problem- and team-based learning exercises, case studies (autism + vaccines, global warming, and genetically modified organisms), and hands-on experiments (testing ear candles). I set up the course to address my teaching-as-research hypothesis with pre and post assessments for both learning goals and received IRB (institutional review board) approval for my study. I am currently working through the data to see whether this course approach is effective.

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This experience was invaluable to me as an instructor! Teaching this course challenged me to work hard to motivate 16 high school students to learn who understandably were more interested in enjoying their summer vacation then having to take yet another three weeks of classes! I also developed better classroom management skills, strategies for building community in the classroom, and teaching approaches that embrace diversity. In all, I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful teaching opportunity, and I hope to be able to teach another PEOPLE Program course next summer!