Thursday, September 24, 2009

Understanding Science--and writing?

This year, in order to coincide with Darwin's birth and publication of On the Origin of Species, the University of Bristol is hosting the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology's annual conference (also follow the link for a nice slideshow of Bristol pics). So yesterday I went to the Town Hall Meeting on Evolution and the Evolution and Science Education workshop for Educators. Okay, so I mostly went because my husband helped organize both events, and was also presenting at both. But the discussion of how science is taught in classrooms is one that is very dear to Phil, and as a former (and hopefully future!) teacher, myself.

Two of the most popular and exceptional resources to emerge lately have been from the University of California, Berkeley, which has created two websites, Understanding Evolution and Understanding Science. The workshop consisted primarily of introducing these sites to teachers, demonstrating hands-on classroom activities, and sharing tips for teaching evolution (the e-word, I heard it called).

But as an educator and writer, one of the aspects of the Understanding Science website which I find most interesting is their creation of a flowchart to describe the scientific process:

Click on the image to see it close up. This image is accessible for classroom handouts and posters, and is intended to supplement the traditional linear scientific process most of us were probably taught in school (hypothesis, experiment, etc). Sorry I can't get the picture any bigger. For a view of all of its nooks and crannies (and to share this with your favorite science teacher), visit the Understanding Science website.

The big revolutionary thing is that it's non-linear, which in fact, most science (actually, most thinking in general) is. Sometimes experiments fail, so scientists will go back to "Exploration and Discovery" to consult with colleagues or literature resources. Sometimes "Community Analysis and Feedback" questions an idea, so scientists return to other stages of the process. Sometimes Community can spark another idea and start the process all over again. The point is, there's no beginning or end point, but it's all circular and cyclical.

So yesterday I listened to all these scientists and teachers talk about how to share this with their students. Students can create their own charts of their process by drawing lines through the diagram, teachers can guide classes through famous scientists' processes, teachers can of course even show their own processes. The idea behind it is to encourage multiple tests, rethinking, questioning, dialogue. And also to encourage future scientists--science is not straight forward and easy for really smart people like Darwin or Hawking. Everyone goes through these processes in their own way.

And I sat there quietly thinking: this is so true for writing, too. The good news is I think us writers are much more cognizant of this than most scientists. I mean, we're creative, non-linear people to begin with, right? But I think the reminder that everyone has their own process, their own twists and turns, is really important for us to recognize.

A few weeks ago I blogged about some of the process that led to my idea for my current work in progress. Maybe, like the scientists, we should all make a point of describing these convoluted stories, twists and turns, as a way of supporting each other, and especially as a way of supporting kids as writers. What do you think?

Of course, plenty of us already do just that. Here's a post I just recently discovered from the blog Jade Hears Voices called Directions to Editing Hell.

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