Teaching Better Science!
An important aspect of this topics is that Science Teaching is traditionally centered on teaching rather than learning. The ruling setup of an omnipotent teacher and a flock of passive pupils is most generally detrimental for the active assimilation of new concepts and the development among students of critical thinking, which is so much needed in a research and development environment.
It seems thus imperative to prepare better the next generation to a multidisciplinary Research and Development environment which is the preferred way to approach the challenging questions emerging in modern Science and Technology.
Better interfaces between mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology teaching at all levels of education (from primary school to graduate research) seem to get a high priority for development. These include:
- providing a broader scientific background to students and especially teachers/instructors, by implementing the knowledge of educators in parallel disciplines (e.g., quantitation and modeling in natural sciences for math teachers, applied maths for science teachers, etc.);
- promoting a bidirectional transfer of information from specialists in one field to educators in the same, or better yet in another field (specialists must speak the "language" of the educators);
- establishing active, continuing connections and partnerships between individual science teachers and scientists.
Shifting the emphasis from teaching to learning, and from disciplinary to holistic by developing
- comprehensive Learning Strategies and tools in Science and Technology disciplines;
- student empowerment and self responsability, promoting a more active approach to learning;
- efficient instruction in laboratories.
Establishment of a working program for teachers at university research labs in which they can spend some time on mentored, short-term research projects with scientists and graduate students in complementary fields. This will allow for:
- a better mutual recognition between both parties, encouraging scientists to invest more in communicating challenges, methods and results of their own research to teachers by providing both opportunities and training;
- teachers to get familiar with current research approaches, concepts, and technologies;
- teachers to experience practical manipulation, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills used in research;
- scientists to get a better appreciation of the education given to their future undergraduate and graduate students, and an opportunity to directly influence it in feasible ways.
This frame may host diverse activities, instrumental in reaching the above mentioned goals and for which much experience has accumulated in departments of the Faculty of Sciences at the undergraduate level:
- research projects for a teacher in the specific topics of the scientist's lab;
- joint development of interactive, introductory hands-on modules in the teacher's field (theory and practice) using complementary input from the scientist, directed towards groups of other teachers;
- joint development of similar modules designed for direct implementation and application in high-school classes;
- establishment at the university of a common pool for materials, equipment and instrumentation representing the logistic basis to support practice modules in [ii and iii], and serving as a model transferable to schools.
To my belief, the conventional undergraduate teaching programs in Cell Biology often suffer from over-emphasis on the structural side at the expense of functional and quantitative aspects. The latter are usually treated in general Biochemistry courses which, on the other hand, concentrate on isolated systems and tend to underestimate the role of intracellular dynamic organization in living processes.
Consequently, since these two major fields in modern biology have significantly diverged over the last decade, the average, freshly graduated, biologist often must "evolve" in one of these directions, with no sufficient tools to integrate both the approaches.
Development of an "interface module" between biochemistry and cell/ molecular biology at the undergraduate level. This includes:
- cellular organization, its consequences on metabolic function and regulation, and mass/energy transfer between cellular (micro-) compartments;
- basic concepts in cellular enzymology with emphasis on protein traffic and assembly of cellular and supramolecular structures;
- analysis of protein structure by sequence and/or geometric analysis;
- development and operation of teaching tools in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology using the Internet as both an information resource and an interactive medium for self- or directed- education.