SENCER Backgrounders



About the Backgrounders

SENCER Backgrounders are intended to provide intelligent, general readers with high quality syntheses of some of the complex, capacious civic issues that SENCER courses sometimes use to teach basic science. The idea is not to explain the science, but to connect some of what is known, and as yet unknown scientifically, with some of what is at stake civically. A second goal is to identify where scientific knowledge sheds light in such a way as to make civic choices more optimal. Though science is only occasionally the final word on what choice one should make on a complex civic issue, it is worth knowing what science tells us as we deliberate and take into account matters that go beyond science.

The topics for the backgrounders reflect program directions within SENCER and our campus partners' interests and needs. We are deeply grateful to the distinguished group of authors and scholars who have contributed papers to this collection. The papers reflect each author's point of view. We wanted it to be this way: fair, transparent, helpful, even occasionally provocative. Within the democratic aspirations of SENCER, there is room for many points of view. We welcome the use of these papers in classrooms and for the development of courses and course modules.

The authors hold the copyright for these materials, but they may be freely reproduced for non-profit use, provided credit to the authors and the SENCER program is given. Watch for new topics in this series and please let us know if these papers have been of use to you in your teaching and learning (by ray at testsforge). Suggestions for topics of future SENCER Backgrounders and any other comments you might care to make are always welcome.

The SENCER Backgrounders

Listed Alphabetically by Author

Some Social Implications of the Molecular Biological Revolution

(The Human Genome Project)

Dr. Troy Duster

Implications of Learning Research for Teaching Science to Non-Science Majors

Dr. Eugenia Etkina and Dr. Jose P. Mestre

Mathematical and Statistical Reasoning in Compelling Contexts:

Quantitative Approaches for Building and Interrogating Personal, Disciplinary, Interdisciplinary, and World Views

Dr. David Ferguson

Tuberculosis: Ancient Foe, Modern Scourge

Dr. Richard Fluck

Service-Learning: Reconciling Research and Teaching, Tackling Capacious Issues

Dr. Robert Franco

Diffusion of SENCER: Leading Change on Campus

Dr. DonnaJean Fredeen

Hunger, Science, and Public Policy

Dr. Raymond Hopkins

HIV/AIDS: The Once and Future Epidemic

Dr. Richard P. Keeling

Synthetic Biology

Natalie Kuldell


Dr. Kristen Kulinowski

Well, I Thought I Might Learn Something: Going Beyond the Limits of Science

Dr. Byron McCane

A Very Brief Overview of Modern Human Rights

Sam McFarland

Reinventing Myself as a Professor

Dr. Terry McGuire

HIV/AIDS and Education in Africa

Dr. Debra Meyer

Spanning the Gulf Between the Public and Science: Undergraduates as Bridges in the Scholarship of Engagement

Glenn Clayton Odenbrett

Why Should You Care about Biological Diversity?

Dr. Eleanor J. Sterling, Dr. Nora Bynum, Dr. Ian Harrison, Dr. Melina Laverty, Dr. Sacha Spector, Dr. Elizabeth Johnson




Featured Backgrounder


Mathematical and Statistical Reasoning in Compelling Contexts

By Dr. David Ferguson

Stony Brook University



This paper calls for increased emphasis on a vision of mathematical and statistical reasoning that situates these subjects in compelling contexts (compelling from the students' viewpoints) and thereby allows for the development of core mathematical concepts that can be interconnected to a variety of interests and purposes. That vision suggests a modest core of mathematical concepts and methods, developed through a constructivist approach.

Students will build on that core to both extend their understanding to new mathematical ideas/approaches and enhance their understanding of complex (dirty) domains in which mathematics contributes to their evolving knowledge.

This approach recognizes that, both within the core and beyond the core, students' knowledge will evolve in different ways. Such student-initiated learning paths will demand creative and flexible assessment methods that not only gauge progress on benchmarks but reveal insights about learners' unique experiences on personally meaningful projects.