I started using real data in my teaching because I wanted to give kids a reason to code. And it worked better than I had hoped. The kids were super engaged. The deeper I went, though, the clearer it became that the code was secondary. Sure, I’m a computer scientist at heart. I want everyone to learn to code. But it turns out that the most important thing about using real data, doing real projects, is that there is no answer in the back of the textbook, so critical thinking becomes a crucial part of the work.
One of the biggest problems with the way we do most education is that solutions are right or wrong. Answers can be looked up on the answer sheet or in the back of the book. Work can be perfect.
In the real world, though, there’s no such thing as a perfect solution to a real problem. That means we have to think critically, be able to evaluate things thoughtfully and rationally. It means we have to ask what’s wrong with the data, what’s wrong with our solution, where are the imperfections? And it means we are learning, as part of the problem solving process, to critically evaluate the information we are presented with.
Sadly, on this day in Australia, it’s clearer than ever that our collective critical thinking skills are woefully inadequate. When people with public platforms can say that The Voice is a power grab, a land grab, racially divisive, a threat to us all, and go largely unchallenged, we have a serious problem. When people exercise their democratic privilege to vote, but vote on lies and deceit, where does that leave us?
When we are faced with the existential threat of climate change and the media says we have to platform “both sides”, as though the fact of climate change has two sides. As though gravity has two sides, bushfires have two sides, or death has two sides.
When we are faced with a global pandemic and we platform people telling lethal lies. When we say “it’s complicated” or “it’s political” about things that are actually very clear. When truth takes a backseat to clickbait. We have a problem. A big one.
It’s easy to give in to despair – I admit, I’ve done that at times with The Voice. I’ve been so appalled, and at times actually frightened, by the lies and the vitriol that I’ve given up, bowed my head, and accepted defeat. But truth is not breakable. It does not decay. It can’t be destroyed. It’s up to us, as citizens of the world, to keep teaching. To tackle the lies, to take down the misinformation.
A friend recently described me as a science communicator, which I was rather flattered by. I’ve never thought of myself that way, but I like it. I do devote a lot of my time to teaching people science, both professionally and socially, so it fits. But it’s not enough. Now is the time when we all need to be science communicators. To explain things clearly. To battle lies. To listen to reason, and to spread it.
“If you see something, say something” takes on new meaning for us now. If you see lies, debunk them. If you hear deceit, call it out. Whether it’s climate change denial, anti-vax propaganda, racism, transphobia, or any other form of lies, don’t let it go. Call it out. We can fix this, but it will take all of us.