The dilemma of a science professor;

I'm currently teaching an intro astronomy class at a university. Here is the conundrum;

The class is an introductory class for students that need a science requirement. Almost none of the students have had math past algebra, and they all seem to fear math. The level to which I feel like I have to teach this class is pretty low. Whenever I introduce any mathematics to back up observations, or have the students calculate something (e.g., using Kepler's 3rd law), they struggle with it, and in the end, don't seem to grasp the underlying mechanisms as to why the math works. "v=d/t, you know d and v, solve for t" - some struggle withthis.

Consequently, I try to keep the calculations, and the deeper explanations to a minimum. I try to keep in mind that these students are not going into science for a living - they just need to fulfill a science requirement. The calculations they do don't seem to register with them and seem to just be a "plug and chug"-type exercise. Plus, I try to keep it in perspective that I can't save the world through an astronomy class. C'est la vie.

Because of the way I (feel I am forced to) teach this class, I can see how the students might walk away from it with the notion that science is a lot of hand-waiving and that scientists don't truly understand anything. For example, to try to explain galaxy formation and evolution - that the old theory is inadequate with new observations, but that it could be "this," or, "that" could contribute to "the other thing," yada yada, without being able to give them a real feel for what goes into these theories (e.g., computer simulations, mathematical models, calculations beyond algebra, etc.), and in the end, stating that astronomers arejust nowbeginning to understand these processes. It's too much information for them to process, and they don't have the mathematical sophistication yet to understand the full nature of the intricacies behind these theories.

The point, is that the way in which this class must be taught (and other "intro" classes), gives the general person the wrong impression of science. And it's most likely these people that are the ones arguing for the crackpot ideas we occasionally read, or the ones who take a literal interpretation of a scripture and think that it is as good as any scientific "theory," etc.

I'm sure there must be a way to convey that "scientists reallyaresmart afterall..." butIthink, thattheythink, that science is just about memorizing "facts" from books. I don't think I'm doing the world much service with this class....

Cheers,

and thanks for the fish,

william