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More Than Facts & Gadgets: Biber Lecture on Teaching Science

Posted by Nicholas Gray on September 13, 2012
Jenny Ingber teaches science to educators at Bank Street Graduate School of Education
Jenny Ingber teaches a science course for educators in the Graduate School.

Each September, Bank Street’s Graduate School of Education welcomes new students to the college with a visit from a leading educator who has made a compelling mark in her or his field. These talks comprise the annual Barbara Biber Lectures, and on September 5, science education expert Hubert Dyasi, Ph.D., headlined the event that marked that series’ 18th year.

Dr. Hubert Dyasi with the Graduate School's Nancy Gropper
Dr. Hubert Dyasi with the Graduate School's Nancy Gropper 

Dr. Dyasi is an acclaimed specialist in science education who has championed the role of experiential learning in teaching science. While teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels at City University of New York, he directed science teacher development programs benefitting the city’s school districts.

In her introductory remarks, Nancy Gropper, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the Graduate School, stressed that real science literacy—teaching children to question, explore, and interpret—is essential to the country’s stability and commitment to social justice. She noted that Dr. Dyasi’s approach is “the personification of how Bank Street approaches teaching and learning.”

What’s More Important Than Facts is How We Come to Know Them

In his presentation, Dr. Dyasi unpacked what’s at the heart of science education:

“When we combine laws, principles, and facts, in science we call that theory. But what’s more important than facts is how we come to know them.”

He spoke of the infinite possibilities that emerge when children work their ways through facts and concepts, process them through their own cultural filters and assumptions, and learn to ask questions and arrive at their own conclusions.

Finally, Dr. Dyasi urged science teachers to ask what knowledge the children can bring to the classroom. Rather than sticking to activities in a textbook, he suggested asking,

“What do kids already play with? Can it be used in the classroom? What can we ask about it? What knowledge do they already have? They know about what they eat, what they see, what they smell... We can use that to teach.”

Science is About Process

To new teachers of science, like many of Bank Street’s incoming graduate students, Dr. Dyasi offers this advice:

“The first thing I see that rattles new teachers is needing to be in charge of the class. And teaching science just complicates that. So what I tell them is, just do one thing in that year. Maybe growing seeds, because that’s manageable. It’s inexpensive, it’s safe, and kids take responsibility to look after something. And that deflects from [a new teacher’s impulse] to try and teach science facts by lecturing to those young kids.”

In addition to a full house of new graduate students, Bank Street faculty and staff were in attendance, including several focused on teaching science.

Jenny Ingber, who directs science programs in the Graduate School, incorporates versions of Dr. Dyasi’s lessons into her own classes. And she sees it as essential to introduce student teachers to practitioners and theorists like Dr. Dyasi:

Margaret Martinez-DeLuca at the 18th Annual Biber Lecture
Margaret Martinez-DeLuca at the 18th Annual Biber Lecture

“It’s really important to have speakers in science who come to schools like Bank Street where they can send this message to teachers of young children to help them understand that science isn’t a bunch of facts, but it’s about process. It’s about how to engage and challenge what you know, and challenge the textbooks, and get out there and test for yourself so you really believe it and aren’t just taking an authority’s word for it.”

Margaret Martinez-DeLuca, who has taught science in the Graduate School for 17 years, praised Dr. Dyasi’s approach for “his incredible trust in children—that they do have knowledge, that if we take the time to work with them and learn from their knowledge, we’ll be able to take them further in their ability to observe and make science in their lives.”