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December 3-5

Embracing the Future: Astronomy Teaching and Public Engagement

ASP2020: A Virtual Conference

ASP2020: A Virtual Conference
Preliminary Schedule

Click here for the Schedule-at-a-Glance
An Improved Method for Teaching the Scientific Process
A significant goal of introductory science courses is for students to understand the process of science. For non-science majors, this provides a foundation for evaluating information in everyday life, while for science majors this provides a career-critical skill. However, our current lecture-lab paradigm is ill-suited for this goal due to the use of "verification labs" and the absence of opportunities for students to practice inquiry learning. We will discuss an additional weakness: the hypothesis/theory language and the lack of emphasis on the role of assumptions in driving scientific discovery.

Our proposed approach centers on the idea that scientific models are built up from a web of observations of the world, assumptions about things we cannot or have not yet observed, and the connections between both. Benefits of this approach include an easier entry for non-science students, who already engage in this kind of model building in day-to-day life. Additionally, it offers a clear explanation for the difference between hypotheses (assumption-dominated models) and theories (observation-dominated models). Finally, this framing is simply a good representation of how science if actually practiced.

This teaching strategy has been employed at an online astrobiology course at Arizona State University, an in-person astronomy course at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, and a physically augmented online physics course at the University of the Virgin Islands, as well as in Ukraine and Indonesia for shorter modules. We will review how this approach can be taught and reinforced through curricular design in any science class. Preliminary results from multiple offerings show that students are better able to differentiate between hypotheses and theories in terms of definitions, the level of confidence they should have in each, and the ability to categorize models as hypotheses or theories. Additionally, some interesting cultural differences become apparent between universities.
Conference Strand: Online K-16 Teaching & Learning