This site and the resources to learn about science and teach science that you’ll find here are the consequences of several intertwined experiences in various stages of my vocational and avocational career.
As a student I had the good fortune to participate in a high energy physics experiment at Fermilab, to work in the ENT lab at a prominent research hospital, to do some observational astronomy, and to study photoluminescence of semiconductor materials. As a research engineer I worked at the intersection of science and technology, building hardware and making measurements that had never been made before.
Meanwhile, in some completely different fields, for more than a decade I was the resident storyteller at my local library, developing an understanding of the elements that make a story compelling for various age groups. For several years I was an elementary school volunteer, leading Junior Great Books discussion groups, guiding supplemental math interest groups, and bringing science outreach activities to a number of classrooms. My training and experience with the Great Books program was especially helpful in formalizing the concepts of shared inquiry — similar in some ways to the structures of scientific inquiry. I also served as a substitute teacher in California, where I worked in classes from 2nd through 12th grades.
Somewhere in there I started doing some science writing, at first moonlighting during my engineering work, eventually going full-time.
The first question to ask when writing anything is, “who am I writing this for?” One of the keys to successful writing is to avoid “the curse of knowledge,” which is the tendency to forget all the steps you went through to understand something. That is, once you know something, it’s difficult to remember all the steps you went through to gain your understanding. One of my strengths as a writer is the ability to put myself in the place of readers with different backgrounds — that’s one reason my traditionally published book has been published in at least 9 international editions. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, and I hope that the readers of this site will actively participate to help me continuously improve the quality of the content.
One of the discussions among science writers is whether we are journalists or educators. It’s been my contention that we must be educators, because we’re reporting on elements outside of the experience of most of our readers. But the contrary viewpoint would say that reporting on stock market abuses, mass shootings, or political infighting also address elements (hopefully) outside of our typical experiences.
So where’s the difference?
The difference is we all understand at least something of the foundations for each of those other activities. We generally lack the foundation to understand news of scientific discoveries or controversies. I realized that’s what I wanted to do something about. And that’s also where I feel my particular set of experiences and abilities positions me to make a difference. So here I am.
At another time I’ll discuss one or two anecdotes about specific experiences that helped me realize the need for some additional support for the teaching and learning of science. For now, though, join us for an exploration of the nature of science.