Session Type

Presentation

Start Date

6-7-2011 4:00 PM

Keywords

Paleontology, Mythology, Fossils, Geoscience Education, Teaching

Primary Threads

Teaching and Learning Science

Abstract

Service courses provide unique teaching opportunities in bridging academic disciplines both within and beyond the traditional boundaries of science. Drawing primarily (but not exclusively) from examples in the geosciences, the first year undergraduate level course Earth, Art and Culture, offered by the Department of Earth Sciences at Western, aims to impress upon students relationships between science and culture.

One of the most popular topics covered in the course concerns the origin of ancient myths, namely those featuring fantastical beasts such as dragons, the griffin and the cyclops. Traditionally, such beasts have been dismissed as products of overactive imaginations. However, as recently noted by authors such as Adrienne Mayor (2000), there exists compelling physical evidence that these enduring cultural icons manifest early attempts of humans to make sense of the fossil remains of ancient beasts.

This presentation aims to show how the comparison and contrast of ancient (mythologic) and modern (scientific) interpretations of natural curiosities (such as fossils) can emphasize to students that our current understanding of the natural world embodies:

1) The inherent tendency of humans to seek rational explanations for perplexing observations (as reflected in both pre-scientific and scientific interpretations of natural features).

2) The development of the scientific method as an objective approach to formulating explanations for observations (thus supplanting the supernatural elements of ancient accounts).

3) The accumulation of knowledge amassed since ancient times through the addition of new observations and the further testing of hypotheses.

Although centred on the geological and biological sciences in this presentation, this basic approach can clearly be modified to suit other scientific disciplines.


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Jul 6th, 4:00 PM

Mythology as a Conceptual Bridge for Teaching Science

Service courses provide unique teaching opportunities in bridging academic disciplines both within and beyond the traditional boundaries of science. Drawing primarily (but not exclusively) from examples in the geosciences, the first year undergraduate level course Earth, Art and Culture, offered by the Department of Earth Sciences at Western, aims to impress upon students relationships between science and culture.

One of the most popular topics covered in the course concerns the origin of ancient myths, namely those featuring fantastical beasts such as dragons, the griffin and the cyclops. Traditionally, such beasts have been dismissed as products of overactive imaginations. However, as recently noted by authors such as Adrienne Mayor (2000), there exists compelling physical evidence that these enduring cultural icons manifest early attempts of humans to make sense of the fossil remains of ancient beasts.

This presentation aims to show how the comparison and contrast of ancient (mythologic) and modern (scientific) interpretations of natural curiosities (such as fossils) can emphasize to students that our current understanding of the natural world embodies:

1) The inherent tendency of humans to seek rational explanations for perplexing observations (as reflected in both pre-scientific and scientific interpretations of natural features).

2) The development of the scientific method as an objective approach to formulating explanations for observations (thus supplanting the supernatural elements of ancient accounts).

3) The accumulation of knowledge amassed since ancient times through the addition of new observations and the further testing of hypotheses.

Although centred on the geological and biological sciences in this presentation, this basic approach can clearly be modified to suit other scientific disciplines.