Teacher duet plus librarian relate science and values
When a trio of New York City teachers sacrificed several months of lunch periods to design a high school ''Science and Values'' course, they had two objectives in mind.
The first, they say, was to introduce ethics as a link between secondary education and ''the real world.'' The second was to challenge the specter of monotony in the classroom.
''All three of us were a little frustrated in our teaching and wanted to try something new,'' explains Barbara Hull, library director at Samuel Gompers Vocational High School in the Bronx. ''We got tired of doing things in a lock-step way.''
Her colleague, science teacher Ron Kappraff, elaborates: ''As much as we don't like to teach the same things year after year, students don't like to sit in rows and respond the same way to the same material. The three of us wanted to do something special involving kids in higher cognitive work. I looked at 'Future Shock,' where students had to deal with science concepts.''
At a time when an increasing number of educators warn of declines in science teaching, Mr. Kappraff says: ''Just to teach routine science alone isn't enough. It isn't fair to the students. There had to be a way to fill the vacuum.''
Mr. Kappraff, Barbara Hull, and English teacher Ronald Bronk, who now teaches at Lakeland High School in suburban Westchester, developed ''Science and Values'' in 1980. The course is an interdisciplinary program that began in honors classes in one New York school and traveled with two of its initiators to regular classes in a second.
The scope and structure of ''Science and Values'' is ambitious. The curriculum is divided into three subject units: nuclear energy, computerization, and genetics.
In the case of nuclear energy, students take on roles as ''presidents,'' ''Cabinet members,'' and ''experts.'' Actual authorities on the issue - a representative from the Atomic Industrial Forum and a doctor speaking on behalf of Physicians for Social Responsibility - have been brought in to present divergent views. The classes see the film ''The Last Epidemic.''
Following investigations of the issue by the students, a persuasion and decisionmaking scenario is staged. According to the teachers, discussion held before the final polling on the nuclear issue can at times be heated.
''If we had it to do over, I'd rather put computers, a less-stress, more-informal unit, first,'' says Ms. Hull. ''I would want to start with an easier mental load than nuclear energy. Nuclear issues they didn't know at first. As they learned, there was more tension than with computers or genetics. Computers were fun and serious at the same time, and everybody knew everything about them from the start.''
The ethical considerations of computerization center on what the teachers call ''quality-of-life issues.''
''Some students thought video games were the greatest in the beginning,'' Ron Kappraff explains. ''They were asked to think about them in relation to friends, family, books. One of their conclusions was that machines can't replace people.''
''Some of them had never really thought about where they'd be in a few years, and the tremendous changes computerization would be making in work and leisure time,'' Ms. Hull adds.
The genetics unit was originally created to spark a large number of students taking nursing training at the school. Mr. Kappraff, who is enrolled in a doctoral program in science education at Columbia University, says he would eventually like to have students apply ethical questions to the automobile (i.e. , rules of the road, the auto industry, and robotics).
''The interdisciplinary approach in this has been interesting for me,'' observes Ms. Hull, who is a licensed science teacher. ''Our English teacher didn't know science, but he understood organization, and he brought skills like reading and analysis - making science available to the lay person - to our efforts. I've personally found this good because school libraries aren't usually included in this sort of project. The three of us became serious collectors of related material, especially material that adapts science for teen-agers.
''We acted as critics and supporters for each other in this triad,'' she continues. ''Very, very seldom do I have a colleague looking over my shoulder, asking, 'What are you doing there?' It's been important.''
The unusual format of the course demands initial adjustment on the part of all concerned, the teachers agree.
''There's a certain risk for teachers and students. Our students had to be willing to try out new ideas in front of their peers, and that isn't easy for a teen-ager to do. For the most part, they did it, and they did it well,'' says Mr. Kappraff.
The teachers suggest the risks have been justified. They say graduates of their first course went on the next year to dominate the school's student government. (''They'd had it in them, and just hadn't realized it,'' Ms. Hull says.)
In addition, there have been varied inquiries from other educators. The New York Board of Education Curriculum Institute has asked for an enlarged version of the nuclear unit, to be used as a prototype for other schools. A junior college has consulted with Mr. Kappraff and Ms. Hull on the bibliographies used for ''Science and Values.''
A Nobel-winning neurobiologist, Roger Sperry, in the recently published volume ''Merging Mind, Brain and Human Values,'' writes about his discipline in the context of morality. Other distinguished scientists, such as Norbert Wiener and Erwin Scrodinger, have likewise asked society to consider spurts of progress in science in terms of a larger ethical field.
And at a vocational high school in the South Bronx, citizens and potential scientists of tomorrow are likewise grappling with this era's most complex and compelling questions.
''There isn't any easy right or wrong here,'' says Barbara Hull. ''This is what true knowldge is all about.''