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Boxed Scientists February 21, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Information, Lifelong Learning.
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Scientist   There is a neat little site on the web called “Who’s the Scientist?? in which seventh grade students describe a scientist and sketch one, then visit the Fermi Lab and meet working scientists. The descriptions shift from nerdy and geeky to cool and interesting.

I think that such a transformational shift is something that educational technology, specifically Information Communication Technology (ICT), can and should be doing in the classroom. When you can bring “in? to your classroom a scientist, explorer, politician, professor, executive, police officer, or actor using a web cam or e-mail then why not do it? The benefits to the students might be a slightly better understanding of a process, theory, policy, or career but the overwhelming benefit would be the opportunity to interact with a human being.

We tend to box people, staple labels onto people and ignore their years of life and experience to make the label stick and work for us. When I was a young teacher, I was Mr. Poetry then I began teaching a class in Science Fiction writing. I became Mr. Sci-Fi. When I began teaching more Special Education classes, I became Mr. Special Ed. It did not matter who I was or what I had been interested in, for people who were meeting me for the first time, they had to print up a mental label and pop me into the box. Now I am Mr. Technology. That is fine with me since the label allows me the opportunity to enter seamlessly conversations of my peers.

Students receive boxed and pre-packaged views of what people really are. They base these views upon what they do now and what we see of them. Get to work alongside a scientist for a while and you will see the person the scientist is. This theory goes for anyone. Work with a custodian and you will learn about that person. Work with a police officer, a doctor, a mechanic, an artist, and you will find out about the person. It seems basic, I know, and too simple a concept, but when students try to find their way in life they are always startled to learn that career people are not the career caricature promoted in the media. We cannot blame the media; the stereotypes are shorthand. They are colors in a writer’s palette. The simplifications help the writer to guide us to the message at the heart of the story faster.

The problem with stereotyping is that there is less “gray? and more absolute. There is one opinion and there is the opposite opinion. There is very little “in between.? When you enter for the first time the world of the caricatured scientist or career person, you have cognitive dissonance and you try to match your preconceptions with the new data hitting your senses and your mind.

When you think of the act of bringing in a guest speaker from that perspective, it makes the Adopt a Scientist programs [more links here and here] even more important. You may be cracking a young person out of a stiff and distorted view of the world and making those young people a little more sensitive to new ways of thinking and giving them the opportunity to use their brains.

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