Classroom Science: Failing When You Succeed, Succeeding When You Fail

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Brief Abstract

How we teach science often reinforces the idea that the purpose of experiments is to confirm our preconceived ideas. So when an experiment fails to give us what we expect, the experiment is often viewed as a failure. In this campfire story, hear how one student's perception of their science experiment highlighted classroom supports and barriers to failing.


Stephen Thomas is a faculty member and the Associate Director for the Center for Integrative Studies in General Science at Michigan State University. He also serves as the Digital Curriculum Coordinator for the College of Natural Science at MSU. For his bachelor’s degree from Denison University, Stephen majored in Biology and minored in Art. This interest in the science/art intersection continued into graduate school as he freelanced as a biological illustrator while earning his masters and Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in Organismal and Evolutionary Biology and Entomology. Since coming to MSU his research focus has shifted from virulence of fungal pathogens of gypsy moths to visual communication of science in formal and informal settings. Stephen’s interests have broadened to include not just art and science, but also technology and teaching. He has worked on projects such as the use of comics to reduce subject anxiety in non-major science courses, the development of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to teach general science, and augmented reality and kiosk games to engage visitors in science museums. One of his more recent projects, Instruct2020, is looking at how to foster community generated visual curriculum for science instruction. His use of technology in teaching has won him multiple awards including three AT&T/MSU Awards for innovative use of technology in online classes, a James D. Hoeschele Endowed Teaching Award for excellence in teaching science to non-science majors, and funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Extended Abstract