RSS

It’s amazing how difficult it is to get students to define a ‘fact’

20 Aug

ThumbTacksOver the years, I’ve found this idea to be much more slippery than I would have ever expected prior to teaching. As a biology teacher, these distinctions are incredibly important – along with the constant reminder that even ‘facts’ are slippery, changing things. Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA offers, in her recent Edutopia article, ways to establish rules for discussion.

Her article approaches this problem broadly by establishing a number of steps. Here, I focus on just two:

From “Fact, Feeling, and Argument: Helping Students Tell the Difference

Require Evidence

Even when you are discussing hot topic issues, make sure that evidence is required. This is a classroom, not a session of psychotherapy (although it can sometimes feel like that). When discussing particularly dicey issues, remember the importance of citing evidence for every declarative statement.

Explore the Difference Between Fact, Feeling, and Argument

Each about these three concepts and instill argument skills in your students to equip them with the abilitiy to “defend” each.

For example, ask questions to clarify if the student is asserting a fact, a feeling or an argument. How do we know it is a fact? A fact is a specific detail based on an objective truth. A feeling or an opinion is a value judgement that can neither be proven nor disproven. An argument is a way to utilize facts to validate your opinions, it can be considered a fact-filled opinion.

One major difference I see between our views is the ‘provability’ and implied ‘immutability’ of facts. As I said above, I see ‘facts’ as conclusion about evidence as we see it today. I think she has a more absolute view of facts than this.

Galaxies, galaxies everywhere - as far as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope can see. This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is the deepest visible-light image of the cosmos. Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, this galaxy-studded view represents a "deep" core sample of the universe, cutting across billions of light-years. The snapshot includes galaxies of various ages, sizes, shapes, and colours. The smallest, reddest galaxies, about 100, may be among the most distant known, existing when the universe was just 800 million years old. The nearest galaxies - the larger, brighter, well-defined spirals and ellipticals - thrived about 1 billion years ago, when the cosmos was 13 billion years old. In vibrant contrast to the rich harvest of classic spiral and elliptical galaxies, there is a zoo of oddball galaxies littering the field. Some look like toothpicks; others like links on a bracelet. A few appear to be interacting. These oddball galaxies chronicle a period when the universe was younger and more chaotic. Order and structure were just beginning to emerge. The Ultra Deep Field observations, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys, represent a narrow, deep view of the cosmos. Peering into the Ultra Deep Field is like looking through a 2.5 metre-long soda straw. In ground-based photographs, the patch of sky in which the galaxies reside (just one-tenth the diameter of the full Moon) is largely empty. Located in the constellation Fornax, the region is so empty that only a handful of stars within the Milky Way galaxy can be seen in the image. In this image, blue and green correspond to colours that can be seen by the human eye, such as hot, young, blue stars and the glow of Sun-like stars in the disks of galaxies. Red represents near-infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye, such as the red glow of dust-enshrouded galaxies. The image required 800 exposures taken over the course of 400 Hubble orbits around Earth. The total amount of exposure time was 11.3 days,

Galaxies, galaxies everywhere – as far as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope can see. This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is the deepest visible-light image of the cosmos. Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field

As an example of what I mean by this:

Prior to Edwin Hubble’s examination of the Andromeda Nebula, no galaxies outside of the Milky Way were known. So, in the early 20th century, one could state as a fact that the Milky Way was the extent of the (at least matter-filled) universe. Today, we see this ‘fact’ as dated and supplanted by more recent evidence.

However, our solution is the same: Require Evidence.

I’m thinking specifically about discussions that emanated either from our reading of Neil Shubin’s “Your Inner Fish” or just the way that I commonly discuss molecular biology, which adheres pretty closely to Theodosius Dobzhansky’s central thesis from, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” The American Biology Teacher, March 1973:

Are theological principles facts? What about when they are brought up in the classroom as alternative “theories” of life? Interestingly, when I’ve asked for support for these ideas, I’ve been presented with Ken Ham‘s extensive publications for ‘Answers in Genesis.’

Honestly, I could have gone on all semester with this discussion if I had the time for it. This student introduced such a cornucopia of ideas to run with:

  • What is a reliable source?
  • What is good science?
  • What is evidence?
  • How do we interpret evidence?
  • How do we compare or decide between competing interpretations of the same data?

My head almost exploded in excitement about getting down to brass tacks. Fortunately or unfortunately, these ideas have been discussed ad nauseam over the years. On the one hand, a wealth of data was easily found to support or refute any number of claims, on the other, it was impossible for this discussion to ever find new ground.

In the end, we discussed evolution and creation for longer than I think is strictly appropriate in a science classroom, but I felt the conversation was justified in the sense that my students could benefit more from learning about how science is done than they could from knowing details of Kreb’s Cycle (but don’t worry, I taught that too).

If any of you reading this are teachers, have you had these conversations before (not necessarily about evolution, but just about separating opinions from theories, and how to form valid and true arguments, etc. )? If so, please let me know here what you discussed and how it went. I’d love to hear others’ experiences.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: