January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Three Examples of Science Education Leaders (at least by my definition of leadership)

Posted: Monday, June 20th, 2016

by Joseph Calmer

Whenever I think about leadership I mentally cut away to various scenes in Office Space. I think too often ‘leadership’ and ‘boss’ are mistakenly used interchangeably. It is probably too common in schools to simply tell teachers what to do (i.e. the old standards) rather than build support of a vision that teachers will (collectively) work towards (i.e. the NGSS standards). For too long science teachers were simply told what to teach.

The problem is, that is not leadership (at least not in my mind). For me, I can differentiate titles from leadership. Yes, there is a chain of command that gives guidance and structure to an organization. But I think that a person who simply has more power than me is not necessarily my leader. The difference between authority and leadership isn’t often thought about or discussed; maybe they are too often even mistaken for the same thing.

I have worked for a long time in education. I think this has mainly occurred because I am compliant. I have always had a boss and I have always done what has been asked of me. As more years have passed, I have taken on more jobs and have had many more persons to work under. Upon reflection, I don’t know if I would call them “my leader.” I would agree with what their visions were and follow them and their directions…

That begs the next question: who would I call a leader? To me, I think a leader is a person that has influenced me and motivated me to perform better. I would think of a leader as a person who has an idea and a vision that is attractive to their followers that enables one to complete work and tasks to perform that vision. An example that quickly comes to mind is Richard Feynman.

The name “Richard Feynman” has a lot of recognition. I have read and listened to many of his books, lectures, and books about him (Burkhart, 2013; Feynman, 1985; Feynman & Ebrary, 2011; Feynman, Leighton, & Sands, 1965; O’Brien). I have found that he has a deep passion for solving puzzles and figuring things out. Almost equally, he has a passion for having students learn science. Despite being a physicist, he was very interested in the process of scientific thought and how people understand science (and the nature of things). I absorb his every word and sat in his famous Cal Tech lecture hall (for different lectures) in a state of awe and understanding of his historical significance.

Feynman is a person I would call a leader because of his ideals and how they and how they have permeated science teaching. At least for me, he is a leader of science instruction because his ideas and influenced have endured. I think he ought to be given a chance by those who have only heard about him and maybe judge him on those stories (out of context). Often his off-beat jokes and trickster-like nature have overshadowed his true impact and legacy.

Along those lines, Norwood Russell Hanson wrote a book called Patterns of Discovery ((N. R. Hanson & Paul F. Schmidt, 1959). In that book, he wrote chapter called “Observation.” That chapter gives a story Brahe and Kepler discussing their observation of the sun. Since they are geocentric and heliocentric, respectively, they do not “see” the same thing; one sees the sun moving around the Earth and the other sees the Earth moving around the sun. His text has permeated my thoughts since my undergrad years. NR Hanson has had a long lasting impact on my thoughts about science and education. He clearly told me about perspectives, now we understand the nature of learning and recognize terms like “prior knowledge,” “conceptual frameworks,” “metacognition,” and “constructivism.” To me, he was the first, but he didn’t explicitly talk about science education, but he sort of was because, unlike other subjects, to learn science, you have to do science. He was helping scientists learn to do science.

Another leader that comes to mind is my late Philosophy of Science professor, Dr. Paul Tang. I was unable to share my thoughts with him, since his teachings and insight affected me more after his class and I was reintroduced to the ideas of science that he originally gave me. Dr. Tang could take a written sentence and spend the next 45 minutes giving the context, history, and purpose of those written words. For example, a sentence could read: “The Eddington Experiment found…” and he would begin talking about the expedition, the set up, what they were looking for, how it affect Relativity, and on and on. Despite these tangents, his class was never boring. It will probably be the only time I write a final about confirmation, crows, and Popper (Popper, 1968). Since I can’t remove his teachings and enlightenments from my everyday science teaching experience, he is a leader by my definition.

So, I think leadership comes not from those with titles and constructed their authority by compliance. I think leaders are people with ideas that simply motivate and cause effects through their words and actions. Often, the people whose sole tool is thought that cause actions and motivate thinking are teachers, specifically science teachers. The words and actions we use will cause a cascade of events that will influence future pupils to act, create, and change things. To me, leadership is not a title, but a sphere of influence that permeates those who choose to follow and work towards that vision. This where NGSS falls into perspective, the Framework has created a vision for science teachers to work towards.

References

  • Burkhart, J. F. (2013). Feynman, Richard P.: Feynman’s tips on physics: reflections, advice, insights, practice: a problem-solving supplement to The Feynman lectures on physics (Vol. 51, pp. 119): American Library Association CHOICE.
  • Feynman, R. P. (1985). QED: the strange theory of light and matter. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.
  • Feynman, R. P., & ebrary, I. (2011). Six not-so-easy pieces: Einstein’s relativity, symmetry, and space-time. New York: Basics Books.
  • Feynman, R. P., Leighton, R. B., & Sands, M. (1965). The Feynman Lectures on Physics; Vol. I. American Journal of Physics, 33(9), 750-752. doi:10.1119/1.1972241
  • N.R. Hanson, A., & Paul F. Schmidt, R. (1959). Patterns of Discovery. American Journal of Physics, 27(4), 285. doi:10.1119/1.1934835
  • O’Brien, M. (Producer). (11/22/2015). Richard Feynman: Fun to Imagine. Fun to Imagine Collection. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqvggMpJgL0
  • Popper, K. R. (1968). Conjectures and refutations: the growth of scientific knowledge. New York U6 – ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/summon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:book&rft.genre=book&rft.title=Conjectures+and+refutations&rft.au=Popper%2C+Karl+R.+1902-1994+%28Karl+Raimund%29&rft.series=Harper+torchbooks%2C+TB+1376.&rft.date=1968-01-01&rft.pub=Harper+%26+Row&rft.externalDocID=838501&paramdict=en-US U7 – Book: Harper & Row.

Joseph Calmer, Ed.D, is a Physics and Chemistry Teacher at Lawndale High School.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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