• facilities (laboratory equipment and computers, classroom and laboratory space, and demonstration equipment), and

  • parallel sections that require some uniformity of coverage and examination.

In some circumstances, teachers must use methods that emphasize the imparting and acquiring of basic information and skills. Time constraints, class size, or course goals may lead to an emphasis on factual knowledge at the expense of developing a conceptual framework. Students are usually encouraged to accept facts from some authority (e.g., the instructor or the text) without questioning. If all their learning is rote learning, however, students seldom associate the new facts with concepts or models already part of their pictures of the world (A Private Universe, 1989). Chapter Two presents some methods teachers can use to promote active learning in a lecture setting.

What can be done about the many options, goals, and competing pressures? Current practice is not to prescribe one teaching style as best for a given course or type of student. Various methods for engaging students are applied successfully in a wide range of institutional settings. Some of these methods are discussed in more detail in the next chapter, and references to others are given to help you make an informed choice of style.


How teachers teach is influenced to a great degree by what they teach and by how their courses are organized. The usual focus in organizing a course is the content. A syllabus typically includes the organization of topics into an outline of the course of study, readings, exercises, examinations, and grading scheme. These features are important, but it is equally important to identify the goals of the course (content, student responsibilities, and desired outcomes) and to work both forward (from the starting point of the

Connecting Science to the Social Sciences

Daniel D. Perlmutter of the University of Pennsylvania has developed a course called "Perspectives on Energy and the Environment." The goal of this course, which was taught for the first time in the 1994-1995 school year, is to provide nonscience majors with a quantitative understanding of science and technology. The course fulfills the University's Physical Science requirement and is open to students who are not science, math, or engineering majors. It emphasizes applications to current energy and environmental issues and focuses on techniques and approaches to problem solving. Men and women who do not have professional interests in science and engineering still need to become informed in these areas in order to function effectively in a complex world. This course approaches the matter of technical literacy from the point of view of a curious and motivated newspaper reader, for whom reports are available on a daily basis that provide a mix of engineering and public policy issues.

The material draws heavily upon information from recent news reports on subjects having to do with energy or environmental matters. In each case the technical and policy issues are summarized and where appropriate brief calculations check the assertions of the reporter or experts cited in the article. Having seen such examples, the student will be sensitized to the relevant scientific questions that bear on an issue, and may recognize how technical limitations on what is or is not possible can form bases for preliminary judgments on the merits of a controversy. Most important of all, when information is lacking for a full assessment to be made, the student will have a framework for asking appropriate questions that can serve to elicit the necessary additional details.

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