Why Should Schools Explore Conflicts in Chemistry?
Science, especially chemistry, has been my passion for as long as I can remember. I was inspired by my mother, now 90 and a retired microbiologist, and the excitement of NASA’s space explorations. I remember writing at age 9 that I wanted to be a scientist and discover a cure for cancer.
Sometime after receiving a degree in chemistry and doing graduate work in biochemistry, I gave up that lofty goal to educate others about the wonders of science and chemistry. I wanted to teach my students more than the content of chemistry and how to solve structured problems. Chemistry needed to be exciting and relevant. My high-school students were quick to ask, “Why do we need to know this?” The answer had to go beyond the trite responses—to pass the test or to get into college. Students needed to anchor their understanding in practical applications and to recognize the importance of chemistry in their everyday lives. Our world has been shaped by the advances of chemistry and with those advancements comes a responsibility to learn not only the benefits but also the risks of our discoveries.
Making science relevant begins with educators. Teachers at all levels need to inspire their students and to impart deeper understanding of the scientist’s role. More important, teachers have to help their students become informed consumers and better decision makers.
The Case of Plastics provides a framework for emphasizing the importance of science. It will help students, their teachers, and their communities better understand one of the most ubiquitous materials in our lives. By exploring not only the structure and properties of plastic, but also the challenges of living in a world of plastic, students will become better citizens as well as better scientists.