Tuesday, January 10, 2006

If I teach you poorly, how well are you going to teach?

The first session Makigirl and I went to was the yearly session on how to improve introductory astronomy.

Well, first we had to register. I didn't much enjoy that. Standing in line with a bunch of astronomers makes me very nervous. My tolerance for eccentricity is low, particularly when I'm with astronomers. I guess that I've always been worried that I'm one of them. I am, unfortunately, even if I don't wear t-shirts with astronomical cartoons on it. I also wasn't looking forward to running into people I used to know, and I was very glad that I didn't.

Never the less, I survived and went to the session. It's supposed to be a yearly continuing dialog where all of those people who are interested in improving the way that non-scientists learn about science (through the astronomy intro class) are able to get together and share ideas. That's why the session is on Sunday afternoon before the majority of the attendee's get there. That's why about 50 people show up to a session of about 3100 registered participants. That's why astronomy education never changes. But still, I've been to several good sessions in the past. Typically they focus on one topic out of the myrriad in astronomy education. One year focused on pre-service teachers in intro astronomy. One year was on technology. One year was on active learning techniques.

This year was on, well, it was on what one guy who got suckered into running the session was able to come up with in the 30 minutes after he found out he was running the session. Ostensibly, it was on how the teaching of "science" is done in an astronomy class (as opposed to astronomy concepts), and how we should respond to the intelligent design and creationist types.

We did alot of free form talking without much direction, but there were some interesting things I learned from the session.

-Even among people who are interested enough in the teaching of astronomy to come to this session, there is very little knowledge of the pseudo-science that exists out there. Most of the professors had a very limited understanding of creationist and ID claims, and even fewer felt comfortable responding to those claims. Largely this is a function of subject matter. Most ID/creationist claims happen in the biological world, and revolve around genetics and bio-chemistry. We aren't taught a whole lot of that in grad school. Still, most ID claims aren't that well thought out, and a only a fairly basic understanding of biology is necessary (as well as a good grasp of google). It seems that a basic evo-bio session would be a good thing to do in future AAS meetings.

-Astro professors are very mushy when it comes to dealing with ID/creationist students. There weren't many PZ Myers or Dawkins in this session, at least. Is that based on belief of teaching method, or lack of exposure to a more strident style? Which is truely better in an educational setting?

-Creationist claims about astronomy are limited. No one really seems to no of any arguments. Is this because astronomy is too hard for the IDers? I think I might spend some time catologing these in the near future.

-Many new astronomy professors need good professional development and mentoring as they begin teaching, and they aren't getting it.

-Makigirl teaches a hell of a class, compared to what goes on in other places. Every time someone got up to say what cool thing they were doing in their class, Makigirl was already doing it. She's the bomb.

Time to go back to the meeting now.


At 10:48 PM, Blogger maki-girl said...

Don't sell yourself short hoagie boy--my class is good because you helped me make it good. But seriously, it is sad if, after teaching astronomy once or twice, my class stacks up well with (or exceeds) "master astronomy" classes.

By the way, I love visiting you and Mrs. H. Thanks for coming to the geek, oops, astronomy conference with me.


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