Monday, April 20, 2015

Science, Technology and Stewardship

When I started teaching Humanities back in 2010, the unit I always looked forward to the most was the one I called "Science and Technocracy".  I loved it because I got to show Atomic Cafe, and had the chance to lead discussions on issues around technology, a topic so relatable and accessible to the students.  The problem was, there was no rhyme or reason to the unit.  It was sort of, "Let's talk about technology because it's fun and interesting to talk about technology!"  When the unit ended, I always felt a bit of a let-down, as though something important had been missing.

Last year, I intentionally brought stewardship into the discussion for the first time, and this year, I made that the central, underlying theme of the unit: no longer would it simply be technology for technology's sake; it would be about technology with an eye toward stewardship.

I retitled the unit "Media & Power in the Modern Age" and set about planning out just how I would organize the unit in a way that would encourage deep thinking about stewardship.  

Here's what I settled on--
I introduced the unit by having the students read a selection of passages from Scripture, and do some basic thinking about the concept of stewardship before launching into the following modules:

I. Module One: Superpowers in a Nuclear Age
This module provides the historical background for all other discussions--we examined World War II with an in-depth look at the use of propaganda on all sides, as well as the decision to drop the atomic bombs, and then examined the Cold War in broad brush-strokes.

II. Module Two: The Creative Potential of Technology
This module examines all of the exciting new developments that are happening in science and technology today.  We examined assistive communication technology for people with ALS, electronic glasses for the legally blind, Maglev train technology, seawater desalinization and much, much more.  I invited the students into this by holding what I called "TecXpo 2015", a showcase of up and coming technologies, briefly researched and then advertised by the students.  Students gave enthusiastic sales pitches for such technologies as tags that can be attached to possessions (clothes, wallets, keys, etc) and tracked down electronically using a smart phone; invisibility cloaking technology; advancements in virtual reality; air-conditioned suits.

It was exciting to look together at how far technology has come over the past century, and to speculate on what might be possible within our lifetimes.

III. Module Three: The Destructive Power of Technology
We started by watching "The Atomic Cafe", which provides a dark satirical look at the misinformation and fear surrounding the development of nuclear weapons in the 1950s.  We returned to our discussion on the power of propaganda, and discussed how the documentary filmmakers exposed the government's manipulation of facts, and how they downplayed the destructive power of nuclear weapons.  We followed this up with a study and discussion of the first two chapters of "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson, examining once again the disparity between propaganda and reality, and the devastating environmental impact of DDT and other insecticides.  We will also examine issues related to cyber-bullying and technology addiction.

Before reading from Silent Spring, we filled the whiteboard
with background information about who Rachel Carson was.
IV. Module Four: Choosing Stewardship
We will wrap up this unit by returning to the concept of stewardship.  Students will submit visual projects that they have been working on for a while, in which they must make and test a hypothesis about the role of technology either at CAJ or in their family life.  Students will also debate one of several key issues related to science and technology today, including online education, social networking privacy, genetic engineering and sustainability.  We will conclude with an in-class essay that revisits the students' initial thoughts on stewardship, but deepens them based on everything we will have studied since that first reflection at the start of the unit. 

Now, this unit has some real structure and weight to it--that nagging empty feeling I had in previous years is absent this year, replaced by excitement and joy at the discussions that the students are having.  Our look at issues in science and technology is no longer haphazard and random--it is now focused and purposeful.  I'm eager to read the students' reflections when we finish the unit next week!

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