The essence of interdisciplinary teaching and learning: Reconstructing understandings through daily discoveries – Angela Mai Yan Yuen

One of the major goals of the common core curriculum is to promote scientific and technological literacy. The variation of academic background of the students presented a huge challenge for designing teaching and learning activities for these common core courses. It is hoped that through the incorporation of daily experiences into the course design, the experience of learning science could be enhanced. The learning of science through daily experiences is intrinsically interdisciplinary in nature, as there are no boundaries that separate biology, chemistry and physics in real life. As a chemist and an educator, I believe our job as science teacher is not to “teach” science, instead, we should position ourselves as facilitator to arouse the interest of students and guide them to explore and discover science principles by themselves.

To understand is to discover, or reconstruct by rediscovery” (Piaget, 1973, p.20) is a famous saying of constructivist, Jean Piaget. Such “understanding” process is not as simple as it appears to be, in particular for science principles, which are often perceived as abstract by many students. For a real understanding of science theories to take place, one has to assemble his or her own experiences of the new knowledge and link it back to the logics and network of prior-knowledge that one had in their own mind. Although non-science major students may not have much science training in their high school education, they experience a lot of science principles that are used to make life convenient and comfortable. These daily experiences can serve as foundation stone for those students to build up their understanding of science and technology. In the assembly process of new knowledge into one’s existing knowledge map, a learner would need to think about, question or even challenge the existing knowledge of their own. Therefore, the learning process is complex and dynamic. In that process of constructing new knowledge, one might need to defragment and rewire the connections of their prior knowledge as the new knowledge may challenge or is sometimes conflicting their original understanding. There may be chances that one also realizes that there might be some loopholes in their previous understanding of a particular subject content. The belief of learners having an active role in the understanding process of new knowledge lays down the corner stone of constructivism. Since sciences theories are by and large built up from systematic investigation and generalization of observations and analysis, constructivism is indeed in line with the construction of scientific theories itself.

Trained as an experimental chemist, I shared the same belief that for one to truly master the knowledge is only when he or she has an opportunity to rediscover and reconstruct the experiences gained through the learning process, whether by observing or through hands-on experiences; and critically analyze what is written in the textbooks and literature. Without such re-thinking, comparing and assembling process, one only gives a glimpse of the subject. With these ideas in mind, the course “The Science and Lore of Culinary Culture” has been developed which aims to engage students, both science and non-science majors, to making connections between real life and the scientific content through every day culinary experiences. The understandings of the scientific concepts associated with food, cuisine and cooking method are the main focus. Through carefully designed lecture content, demonstrations and lab experiences, students learn how to apply scientific method and knowledge to food preparation and cooking. Similarities between recipes and scientific articles or lab menu were highlighted on the first day of the course, which emphasized the idea that cooking is a scientific experiment that occurs in a kitchen. Students are asked to carry out their own investigation related to the course content using household chemicals and kitchen utensils. Through working on different topics related to food and cooking, students are assessed on the ability of identifying a problem and suggesting possible solutions using the scientific principles introduced; the critical and analytical thinking that displayed during the investigation process; and the communication skills through the presentation of their findings.
To conclude, teaching and learning science through interdisciplinary study that draws on daily experiences allows synthesis and exchange of ideas from students of different disciplines. This approach has planted a seed of curiosity in the students and ignited a part of enthusiasm in the learning of science.

References

  • Fosnot, C. (1993). Rethinking science education: A defense of Piagetian constructivism. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 30, 1189–1201.
  • Piaget, J. (1973). To Understand Is to Invent: The Future of Education (G. A. Roberts, Trans.). New York: Grossman Publishers., P.20.
  • Stofflett, R. T., & Stoddart, T. (1994). The ability to understand and use conceptual change pedagogy as a function of prior content learning experience. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31, 31-51.

Note

More information about the course ‘The Science and Lore of Culinary Culture’ can be found here: https://commoncore.hku.hk/ccst9045/

Angela Mai Yan Yuen
Dr. Angela Mai Yan Yuen

Lecturer, Department of Chemistry
The University of Hong Kong

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