Ragged Clown

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Science is only a model

Seed Magazine has just announced the winners of a competition that invited contestants to answer the question:

 What does it mean to be scientifically literate in the 21st Century?

One of the winning essays, Camelot is only a model, praised the ability to know how to use models and when to discard them.

Understanding that our scientific knowledge is “only” a model is the key to true scientific literacy. Knowing this tells us that our science has built-in limitations, but that it does resemble reality in very fundamental ways. More importantly, that understanding gives us permission to use our models when they are useful—and permission to discard them when they no longer meet our needs.

How do you teach that in middle school?

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3 responses to Science is only a model

Steven Saus September 27, 2007

I’d do it with models.

Seriously – you could talk about basic Newtonian laws, and show how a cheap toy car, a building brick car, a plastic model car, and the cars in the parking lot are all different and similar.

I’ve run into a lot of people who became very anti-science simply because they found out the simple model they were taught in middle school isn’t the most accurate model out there. Then they feel (and perhaps rightly so) that thier science teacher lied… and they lose all trust in those trying to teach them more science.

Oh, and I’m glad you liked the essay.

Kevin September 27, 2007

Hi Steven,

Thanks for stopping by!

My question was rhetorical -I was riffing on a previous post that said that kids should be taught physics earlier in school because there are more opportunities to learn to build models and learn from them. There is less opportunity for building and discarding models in early biology and earth sciences. Physics first!

Steven Saus October 1, 2007

Ah. That’s the damned problem with rhetorical questions – someone might just come along and answer them differently. 😉

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