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20 September, 2002

September 20, 2002

Communication: Listening, Speaking and Writing

Scientists can not work in a vacuum. Their work and ideas must be shared and communicated to be valid. The skills we teach in the classroom are extremely important to the process of sharing scientific findings.

During the week I spent at INSTAAR (Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research) I watched scientists using many methods to communicate their ideas. Speaking clearly and succinctly was important, but they also often used diagrams and graphs to give a visual representation of their points. Students learn and practice these skills in class when required to do research, present their projects orally, and include a visual. The public presentation of these school projects mirrors real life science meetings. Active listening on the part of the audience was also important. Listeners faced the speaker and often leaned forward--body language clues teachers demonstrate to students regularly. The audience focused on the speaker and did not take part in other activities while the speaker talked. At the end of each presentation, the audience asked questions and paraphrased ideas for clarity. These are skills teachers work hard to impart to students.

Writing skills are of utmost importance to scientists. When asked, one scientist said, “Publishing is the measure of our success.” Another said, “Both quantity and quality of writing are important.” Part of this meeting was to decide what papers would be published from the past few seasons of r esearch in the Dry Valleys, who would work togther to write them, and where they would be published. I thought of our classroom language arts “TAP” model: deciding before you begin to write what your TASK will be, who your AUDIENCE is, and what the PURPOSE of the writing is. As a group, the scientists made these decisions about their future papers. Cooperative group skills will be important as they work together to bring these pieces to publication.

Besides using writing as a yardstick of success, the scientists write to publicize and share their findings. The Dry Valleys are a complex eco-system, and as such, each scientific discipline is affected by all of the other parts of the system. The scientists eagerly read papers by others working in the same area and consider the findings as they revisit and revise their own hypotheses.

A third reason for publlishing their findings is to force each scientist to step back from the data they have lived with so closely and to look at it from a new perspective. This new focus helps to bring clarity to their theories. The discussion with colleagues (like our classroom peer conferencing) helps to polish the ideas and prepare them for publishing. No one, scientist or student, wants to make public a poorly written or carelessly thought out piece of writing.

After watching closely, scientists at work, I am leaving with the positive feeling that what teachers are doing in classrooms to teach listening, speaking, writing, and cooperative skills is excellent preparation for the real world.

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