Sonoma County Office of Education

What’s Your Science Saga?

Author: Anna Babarinde
Published: 08.28.15

At the start of school, or as I refer to it “Teacher’s New Year,” I’m always feeling energetic and ready to try new things in the classroom. This year, inspired by the work of a colleague, I decided to have my students write a “six word science saga” on the first day of school. What, you may reasonably ask, does that even mean?

The Power of Six Words

According to legend, Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a six word short story. His response to the challenge was “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Inspired by Hemingway, the online publication Smith Magazine personalized the task and called for people to submit six word memoirs. This led to the 2008 publication of a book of memoirs: Not Quite What I Was Planning. Six word memoirs continue to be popular and show up many places, including underneath the caps of some iced tea bottles.

Six word memoirs are fun to read, and they are both powerful and challenging to write. You have to be very in touch with your own experiences to synthesize them into six words. This was my initial motivation for the science saga assignment. I charged students with summarizing their experience in science so far in six words and thought it would be a fun way for me to get to know my classes and for them to reflect on their own lives. But as the assignment evolved in my head, a deeper purpose and opportunity emerged.

Science as a Human Endeavor

One of the most important lessons in science is that it is never done in a vacuum. Science, despite it’s reputation of being hard-nosed, cold, and focused on the facts and nothing but the facts, is at the core a human endeavor. It is certainly grounded in observation and inference, but these are always influenced by the experience, knowledge, biases, and background of the person doing the science. And it is these same factors that drive science forward- because of their circumstances people ask about and investigate certain topics and problems.

Awareness of the human nature of science is a critical piece of what we as science educators can impart to students. As they go into the world as scientists, lovers of science, and contributing citizens students need to understand key aspects of science content, human influence on the environment for instance, but they also need to know that their own scientific work and that of others never happens in a vacuum- there’s always a human story that needs to be understood and considered.

A deep understanding of the nature of science, and particularly science as a human endeavor, is integral to the Next Generation Science Standards. While not a separate dimension, the authors are clear that opportunities to develop this understanding should be incorporated into all of the other dimensions of NGSS. There are many ways this can be accomplished, including the introduction of stories such as science history and case studies. Whatever the method, the goal is that ‘the nature of scientific explanations assumes a human face and is recognized as an ever-changing enterprise.” (NGSS Appendix H)

With all of this in mind, I had the students write, share, and revise their science sagas. Then they wrote “final drafts” on origami paper, folded them, and put them in a beaker. I held up an empty beaker and told them that this is how we think science works- a scientist approaches and investigation with a blank slate and can make objective observations that lead to an unbiased conclusion. Then I held up the full beaker and pointed out that in reality we come with many experiences that influence how we approach and understand science. This beaker full of science sagas is now a visual in the classroom that we can go back to throughout the year.

A Science Saga Twist

In addition to creating a visual reminder of the nature of science, the science saga assignment had another unintended twist- it made me look at my own story and how it influences my work in science education. I wrote my memoir as an example: Changed directions. Still making a difference. This describes my somewhat dramatic change of career plans. I was a premed biology major in the spring of my senior year with all the requirements met to go to medical school and help people. Then, I started working as a teaching assistant for lower division biology classes and instantly fell in love with the work. And so I very uncharacteristically changed the plan, and over time I’ve come to see that by changing I still get to do what I imagined in the first place- impact and help people- but in a field that sparks my interest and passion more than I could have imagined.

Just as our experiences influence how we approach and interpret science, our stories impact how we approach and interpret science education and the shift to NGSS. For me, ever the planner, changing to new curricular expectations and a dual role as both teacher and leader in science education is a big deal. But, I know from past experience that change can mean getting to invest in something I love and while making an impact for students. And so, my science saga makes me excited about the change we’re all in the midst of and optimistic about what might come of it.

So...What’s Your Story?

As the year begins, I invite you to do two things: First, ponder how to engage students in understanding the nature of science and thus develop insight about how to participate in and interpret scientific work. This could mean including stories from science, soliciting their own stories, or something entirely different. Whatever the strategy, this is an essential piece of our work as educators if we are seeking to help students become scientifically literate citizens. Second, take time to think about your own science saga and how it influences what you do and the way you approach the shift to NGSS. And if you feel like sharing, I’d love to hear what you come up with! I look forward to learning from the unique insights each of you bring because of your stories as we continue this adventure of exploring NGSS together. Happy New Year!

Blog: Exploring NGSS