Monday, 12 January 2009
No, we didn't always have computers:history in the atmospheric science classroom
Hall 5 (Phoenix Convention Center)
Atmospheric and related science classes are, of course, about science. However, students are often left with the impression that the science they are studying came about following a clearly defined path somehow perceived in advance and with no false steps taken. Although there is always room in the curriculum for honoring those viewed with esteem by disciplinary practitioners, there is a difference between making note of someone's contributions and placing them on a pedestal so high that students either think they never made a mistake or took a wrong turn, or that some of those students become discouraged because they aren't there yet. The advantage of interweaving some historical perspective into the lesson is that students come to understand the influences behind the “discovery”: who provided the money and why, the controversies surrounding it and how they were resolved, and how the discipline's practice has changed over time. In particular, secondary and college students should be given more insight into the messiness that surrounds scientific development—not only does it make the subject more interesting to weave it into a story, but the sanitized version will not prepare them for the hard realities of a scientific career should they wish to pursue it. Although science teachers and professors may be wary of leaping into the historical fray, possibilities for introducing science-in-context content include reaching out to historians of science who specialize in the atmospheric sciences, calling upon personal knowledge of disciplinary debates in one's own specialty, and viewing historical and biographical sidebars often found in textbooks with more than a little skepticism. Historical literature in the atmospheric sciences, while not as extensive as for physics, chemistry, and biology, is available and typically very readable. A list of available sources will be provided.