25 No. 1
January - February 2003
Ellis Bell (IUBMB) (left) and Professor Rodolphe Toussaint
Workshop on Science Education
The First Inter-Union Workshop
on Science Education, entitled "New Directions in the Teaching
and Learning of Science," took place during the 17th International
Conference on Chemical Education held in Beijing, China, in
August 2002. The workshop, which was funded by generous grants
from UNESCO and the International Council for Science (ICSU),
arose out of an inter-Union collaboration exploration meeting
held at the IUPAC Secretariat in February 2002, involving
representatives of IUPAC, the International Union of Biochemistry
and Molecular Biology (IUBMB), the International Union of
Biological Sciences (IUBS), the International Mathematical
Union (IMU), and the International Union of Pure and Applied
Physics (IUPAP). <www.iupac.org/projects/2001/2001-054-1-025.html>
At the workshop, various aspects
of science education were discussed. Professor Ellis Bell
(University of Richmond, Virginia) represented the IUBMB,
and Professor Rodolphe Toussaint (University of Quebec) represented
IUBS (co-author with Professor A. Giordan). Unfortunately,
representatives of the other scientific unions were unable
Professor Peter Atkins (IUPAC)
opened the Workshop by describing its motivation: to find
a forum at which representatives of different Unions could
share their approaches to the problems of science education.
According to Atkins, the meeting was intended to allow members
of IUPAC to become aware of problems, practices, and solutions
in other sciencesperhaps to recognize common ground
and perhaps to appreciate new ideas.
Professor Bell addressed the
role of education committees in academic societies, pointing
out that IUBMB had been increasingly successful at having
sessions integrated into its full meetings. As a consequence,
the status of the education committee had been raised. In
his view, the major problem facing education in biochemistry
and molecular biology is how to prepare for a multitude of
different interests in the light of the recent explosion of
knowledge such as that emanating from the genome project.
According to Bell, the education
committee of IUBMB has decided to focus on skills and information.
Most of the important skills are not discipline specific.
There is of course a core of knowledge, but the focus should
be on a toolkit of key principles. As Bell explained, a common
problem with too much information has been the tendency to
compartmentalize, which is the opposite of multi-disciplinarity.
Examination systems commonly encourage this compartmentalization.
Professor Bell remarked that
a "research paradigm of teaching," with programs built around
research projects, is IUBMBs current focus. The aim
of this mode of education is to encourage thinking like a
Concurrent with this focus
are a range of emphases:
- use many different styles
- employ different ways of
evaluating student learning
- evaluate a range of outcomes
and escape from the crudeness of one-dimensional grades
- use student portfolios
- explore service learning,
such as production of outreach information pamphlets
- participate in outreach
- research internships
- offer career mentoring
Pedagogical practices being
encouraged in the classroom include the following:
- developing Web sites
- providing realistic laboratory
- creating research projects
using pre-defined skills
- integrating laboratory
components from different courses so that students experience
the same concepts in different settings
Professor Toussaint argued
that it is possible to develop a scientific culture within
the realm of the school curriculum. Courses should inculcate
the cultural characteristics of biological sciences and thereby
allow the student to interact intelligently with the scientific
community. Courses should offer enough data and rationalization
for students to become good critics of science and technology
and hence to be able to judge the effects of science on society.
Moreover, they should be encouraged to become participants
rather than spectators in scientific activities and should
learn to view the biological sciences as a common human enterprise.
Toussaint went on to argue
that the obligations of a biological education included the
- Scientific conceptualization
should be expressed in and related to particular social
- The problems studied must
integrate ecological, biological, economical, ethical, and
legal components. Genetically modified foods are a particular
- Problems must be studied
in the context of their technological ramifications.
- Material in the public
domain of debate should be taught and, conversely, should
be part of the public debate.
- History of the technological
basis of knowledge and its applications should be included.
Professor Toussaint expressed
a belief that courses should build self-confidence in making
judgments, a desire to explore and discover, an ability to
criticize, an ability to exercise creativity, and an urge
The ensuing lively discussion
showed that there were numerous common problems and attitudes,
and all the participants considered that a similar discussion
should be planned in other venues. The point was made that
the circumstances seem ripe for the various Unions to cooperate
in IUPAC projects that address common challenges.
is professor at the University of Western Australia, in Perth.
last modified 17 December 2002.
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