Student Perceptions of the Common Ground of Science & Culture

Student Perceptions of the Common Ground of Science & Culture

Although there are tensions and debates in regards to if there is a separation between science communication and science education, both parties can agree that the role of science educators is critical in encouraging further understanding of science. To put it in the words of the authors from their conclusion, "Teachers have an important role to play in bridging divides between different ways of knowing, acting as cultural brokers and travel agents, teaching science in a context that encourages students to incorporate it in their worldviews".

This paper addresses and provides a solution to the bias of science coming from and favouring a western viewpoint. The bias can be jarring to students of different backgrounds or prevent those learning science to appreciate other cultural and global views of the world as being viable channels of knowledge. Through this, we create the dichotomy between science and culture.

In a classroom each student has a different cultural background, which is important to acknowledge when teaching science. This paper dives into the literature to provide information about the cross-section of scientific knowledge and cultural knowledge and how students from these different backgrounds perceive the two forms of knowledge and most importantly if they see a common ground between them.

The study was based on year 7-9 students at seven schools; six being from Western Australia and one based in Malawi. The schools were picked to represent a variety of cultural background with a significant number including Aboriginal students. The school in Malawi is used to provide comparison to Australia as it was colonised but has a predominantly indigenous population and a science curriculum that integrates indigenous knowledge.

The paper defines "Aboriginal" referring to Australian Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples and the term indigenous for referring to the first peoples of an area in an international context. I will be using these as well to help with consistency a flow between the paper and my discussion of it.

Personal meaning maps (basically a mind map) were used to asses perceptions of science and culture. They allowed the researchers to look at the level of knowledge formed in a hierarchical structure with ideas coming off from the centre idea, either science or culture. This method lowers the tendency for students to appeal to what they think is wanted of them.

Three parameters were used to analyse the meaning maps (they felt a lot like NCEA).

Extent (achieved): do they understand the concept

Breadth (merit): showing a deeper understanding of the concept

Depth (excellence): how they interpret the concepts and the connections between them

The findings that I think are most interesting and would be great for discussion below are:

• That indigenous persons can find learning science challenging as it’s western view can dissociate it from their everyday lives influenced by their culture.

• They didn’t find much of a difference in scientific-based knowledge from years 7-9. I think it might be due to higher level science concepts being taught from year 10/11 onwards.

• Schools where teachers related the subject to the local environment around them and the cultures present scored higher in both the science and cultural knowledge in extent and breadth.

• “For multicultural education, students should be made aware of how cultural knowledge informs science and that cultural knowledge is valid and dynamic way of knowing” – I agree with this but I hold concern that culture doesn’t always fit into the context of science and it could be challenging to the student’s worldview. What do you think?

• Fundamental parts of cultures across the world, like music, food, dancing and clothing where the most common connectors between science and culture.

My final thoughts on this are that the teaching of science is vital and that the educator has the most significant influence on the student’s perception of science. These educators may benefit from teaching science as a culture and concept not just a bunch of ideas and facts. Science knowledge should be taught as a way to understand the world alongside the cultural differences because there is value and a need for both. I know this is hard as teaching is dictated by curriculum and norms of the schools so we as communicators should push and help to change our systems.

This post is a review from the article: Scientific and Cultural Knowledge in Intercultural Science Education: Student Perceptions of Common Ground.

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