Beyond Benign

Lead Teacher Blog

Richard Cooper

How do we train scientifically literate 21st century global citizens?

As a parent, there are so many things I want my sons to know.  Traits that will never be found in an educational curriculum guide.  Qualities like manners, honor, integrity, determination and grace.  These desirable traits however are not taught by a parent in a 20-minute lesson.  They are demonstrated over 18+ years of parenting, requiring an unwavering determination and commitment to live a life demonstrating these characteristics.   They are learned and reinforced through thousands of interactions with our children over their formative years.   Furthermore, these lessons can be undermined in an instant with a loss of composure, in a moment of weakness.  Parenting is not easy.

Neither is teaching science.  Like parents, we want our students to learn and pick up skills that are not listed in any curriculum guide, or mentioned in a national curriculum standard.  How to correctly use an electronic balance, read the scale on a thermometer to one decimal point, know the difference between measuring volume with a graduated cylinder and a beaker.  As students learn proper lab techniques, we as teachers are not just simply teaching them how to measure accurately but also that focus, practice and determination are necessary traits for success both inside and outside the lab. These future material designers, supply chain managers, policy makers, captains of industry and consumers need to understand the impact and connections between Economy, Environment and social Equity (3 E’s of sustainability).

Green chemistry and sustainability similarly are skills essential to promote our students to be scientifically literate 21st century global citizens. Providing an environment where students are utilizing key criteria of green chemistry such as the cost, safety and performance of products and processes supports the development of critical thinking skills essential for success in the global economy. This is why in my classes, students are not only exposed to core chemistry material and proper lab techniques but also the 12 Principles of green chemistry. In this burgeoning, online and global society we find ourselves, it is my belief that green chemistry and sustainable science could be very well the most relevant science we teach them.

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