Skip to main content

I chose to join IGNITE’s project because I’ve always believed in education as a tool of empowerment. Currently, I am working with the IGNITE team to develop a STEM curriculum related to communicable diseases. Throughout the designing process, empowerment remains the key concept I keep in mind. The goal is not for students to remember facts for the sake of remembering. A curriculum becomes much more valuable when it inspires students students to become active thinkers, advocates, and problem solvers. In our curriculum on communicable diseases, we are mainly focusing on the flu. We decided not to talk about COVID-19 because our understanding of the new virus is still inadequate and constantly evolving at this point. However, a recent article has driven me to think about what we as educators can learn from our struggle with COVID-19.

I came across an interview with three Duke researchers involved in the development of COVID-19 vaccines. While many hold an optimistic belief that a vaccine will be available soon, the researchers clarified how complex and time consuming this process is likely to be. On top of the scientific facts in this article, I had two main takeaways that I consider valuable in the context of education and curriculum design.


Asking Questions, Then Asking More Questions

In the article, the researchers named many key questions that need to be answered before an accessible vaccine can be developed. The researchers almost had a map of questions in their minds. They have a clear understanding of what is to be answered first, as well as the additional questions that may derive. This ability to continuously ask good questions is clearly a necessary skill problem-solving demands. Then, how can educators help students develop the ability to generate questions spontaneously? Thus far, when designing the IGNITE curriculum, I’ve always tried to incorporate guiding questions that direct students to arrive at a certain conclusion. I believe knowledge is more memorable and meaningful when students can experience the thought process that leads to them. Considering it now, question asking from teachers may also act as an input that helps students internalize the process of thinking and question-asking. This means that teachers might be able to better help students by designing questions that come to reflect the thought progression in problem-solving. Starting from vague questions to specific ones. Asking about functionality first, then feasibility—just like what COVID-19 researchers today would do.

Teachers may also help students develop their skills with projects. Not only pre-defined, assigned projects but also ones where students generate their own research questions. This would become a chance for students to apply what they internalized from the classroom. The curriculum I’m currently designing is project-based, but also comes with very specific instructions that don’t involve spontaneous question asking. To make this curriculum truly empowering, it should be remembered as more than just a fun class of experiments. I plan on adding a short reflection at the very end of the class. I can ask students to each generate one more thing they would like to learn about communicable diseases, encouraging them to look for further information or even potentially conduct experiments themselves.


Science Has Its Contexts

In the interview, researchers stated that some vaccine manufacturing is already happening. However, they also predicted that large-scale manufacturing might come later than we’d expect. This is because manufacturers would choose to wait for an improved vaccine worthier of investment. Such speculation emphasized to me that issues like vaccine development are not only a science problem. A science problem always come in a social context too. That’s why scientists may develop a vaccine fast, but still expect some “foot-dragging”.

That is also why I believe no discipline should be taught completely in isolation from others. For future problem solvers, the ability to consider issues from various aspects and disciplines is also crucial. With such understanding in mind, educators should make efforts to establish connections between disciplines and teach in context. In our curriculum on communicable diseases, we have mainly focused on the science of germs and precautions. However, it’d be interesting if we could add a touch of social contexts. For instance, we can discuss common misconceptions or stigma people hold, or the challenges scientists face when persuading the general public. Considering the previous speculation on question asking, I began to see the importance of independent interdisciplinary projects. Ideally, this kind of projects would require much individualized supervision from educators, but it should definitely be a worthy commitment for developing essential students’ problem-solving mindsets.


Reference to original article: