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BSIE 2010: Session 2

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain, Science, and Inquiry-Based Education
K-12 Summer Institute 2010



  Session 2

Co-construction in the classroom and in public

Open-ended transactional inquiry, co-constructive dialogue

  • reflections on the morning session
  • relevance for science, inquiry, society?
  • relevance for the classroom?
  • a three week experiment

Principles of co-constructive dialogue (see also On dialogue, culture, and organizational learning)

  • everyone has expertise, no one has authority
  • everyone needs to speak meaningfully, listen attentively, and be willing/able to change their existing understandings
  • differing understandings are to be valued and explored rather than corrected
  • sharing existing understandings leads to new and different understandings
  • the task is to achieve new understandings, individually and perhaps collectively as well

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.

- Rumi (1207-1273)


Put your current thoughts about co-constructive dialogue and its relevance for classrooms in the forum area below

Public co-constructive dialogue

  • Begin your institute portfolio by creating an index page, a mini-project page, and a reflective learning assignment journal page as "group posts."  Put links to the latter two pages on your index page.
  • Begin working on your reflective learning assignment and your mini-project.



Mattie Davis's picture

Session 2

The idea of using a "Brain Drain", in and of itself, is not a new concept.  What was done with the information collected was not new (listing, categorizing, analyzing for similarities and differences, etc.)  From here on, I noticed somewhat distinct suggestions for taking "gathered information",  and using that information when teaching our children, or when conversing with others.  Emphasis is to be placed on non-judgmental acceptance of answers and comments, thus allowing for the peaceful co-existence of diversity and familiarity in dialogue.  The theme throughout the entire session was that "Diversity is not good or bad.  We should listen to the comments of each other without passing judgement.  No one person is the ultimate authority."

joycetheriot's picture

Merging Columns


As I think about moving from the mostly negative responses for the Education, Schools, Students columns to the more positive comments on Students, Inquiry and Science; I am struck by the idea that I tend to think of Education as a formal process that lasts for 12 years by law and an infinite number of years thereafter. Teachers have taken the infinite pathway and in that choice, one could logically say that “education” has positive connotations for teachers. So I went back and looked at the words listed under education and found only one word with a possible negative connotation, “stress” and actually I agree that teaching does involve stress if you are striving to reach all your students.

When commenting about schools, we can imagine that teachers have a great deal to say about how schools can be made better and that these thoughts have settled deep into our unconscious. Actually the same can be said of students. Teachers want to change quite a few things about students and are never 100% successful so yes, we do bury those thoughts as well.

How do we change our formed unconscious thoughts, beliefs, or hopes? It seems that many “experts” have written books or appeared on Public Television to give us the keys to our unconscious. I for one am willing to try but not sure of the attempt. I hold “Education” of high value. I consider schools to be buildings but the community within is of great importance to achieve success. Students are the products and as with everything the product reflects the developer. I own that process and believe that I can always and forever improve the product.



jpfeiffer's picture

Thoughts from Monday's Afternoon Discussion

When we were discussing the word association exercise last week before the teachers came, I was under the impression that many of the teachers would have many of the same responses to the words.  However, during the word association today I was pleasantly surprised that many of the words that were offered were actually quite diverse. I found it interesting as well, the way in which people think of word association. For example, I thought it was fascinating that Kate and Ashley were more about visualizing images then thinking of actual words to associate with the word that was given.

This led me to think about the different methods of learning within the classroom and the need for educators to be mindful that within a particular class not all students are homogenous. Learning styles for individuals varies as much as the outward diversity that is present within the classroom. Building off of this it would also be interesting to see how the students would respond to these word associations. Perhaps educators could learn a lot about how to alter their own classrooms with immediate unconscious student feedback? I thought of this especially after several teachers highlighted the negative connotations that they associated with certain words which unleashed her own feelings and experiences that maybe would not otherwise be known. Overall I found this exercise extremely insightful, thought provoking, and an activity that brought a sense of unity to the discussion table.

Another topic that was brought up during the discussion was the idea of standardized testing. This paralleled many of my own interests that I displayed when writing my application for the Summer Institute. I know it will definitely be interesting to listen to the idea and perspectives on standardized testing as the institute continues.



Jessica Watkins's picture

All Brain Drains Lead to the Unconscious

Our "brain drain" discussion this afternoon shed some light on the individual personalities in the room. The free word association was not only refreshing following an intense morning session on our expectations for the Institute, but quite representative of the different cultures/interests represented in the group.  I was surprised how easily I could tell who taught at a private versus public school or who worked with "normal" students versus those with learning disabilities, just by which three words they instantly thought of when they heard "education," "schools," "students," inquiry," "science" and "conversation."  It was also interesting to see the different "themes" that arose in each list of words; for some categories very physical descriptions were used, while others elicited responses that ranged from abstract ideas to colors. 

I think "conversation" might have been the most important category on the board, since conversation is exactly what we are trying foster and improve throughout the next three weeks.  Education is nothing if not an exercise in humanity, and for this reason dialogue between teachers and students (as well as between multiple teachers) is necessary in order to implement change.  How are ideas supposed to be furthered if they are not articulated?  Sometimes the risk of being "wrong," whether it come from a cultural, emotional or physical barrier, is too strong to overcome the importance of a thought--this is exactly the problem affecting our schools.  It is necessary, in the very least, to be open-minded and not judge too hastily, when beginning a dialogue.  It is excellent to be versed in the background of whoever you are speaking with so as to overcome cultural/language differences.  Are tolerance, patience and understanding the miracle attributes needed to make our education system reach its full potential?

RecycleJack Marine's picture

3 X 3

Education vs. Inquiry - The Unconscious

I think there were some negative words that came to be part of the group's unconscious for CONVERSATIONS because we were thinking about that term in relation to teaching to our students. If we had grouped conversation with only inquiry and students, there would have been a different group of words that came to mind.

We think of education, students and schools as formal institutions that are both chaotic and staid. But we see inquiry in science as an ongoing conversation that is transitional. Education is an institution that is like a huge concrete building full of holes and crumbling- maybe even about to topple. But that doesn't mean it will change after it falls down. But there are opportunities to elicit changes to "the building." We have opportunties to elicit change by seeking out conversations among colleagues and others who seek change. By inquiring, we can look at other perspectives and find new ways of thinking and conversing, which is essentially the scientific process that molds inquiry-based education.

cdivo39's picture

Differences, variations,

Differences, variations, sameness....we all had a potpouri of conscious thoughts about subjects pertaining to education.  How will these thoughts impact our journey in this institute?  We shall soon find out.

Regina Toscani's picture

Unconsciousness vs. conscious thinking

It was very suprising to see the differences in how people responded to the words"education, school, students" and to the words "inquiry, science, cinversation".  The unconsciouse responses for the first 3 words seemed to be more negative than the last 3 words.  I am eager to see how our responses might change at the end of this institute.  To become a more effective teacher  I do believe that my unconscious thoughts need to be more in synch with my conscious mind.  Hopefully the next 3 weeks could be the beginning of that change.

GShoshana's picture

1st Monday Afternoon

Today Paul said 5 different words and we need to think about 3 different words that connected to them like education, inquiry, student school, and more.  It was interesting to hear many different answers.  Also in inquiry was more positive words than in education.

All the answers show that we are thinking different and similar at the same time.  The point is each once of us is unique.

Susan Dorfman's picture

Co Construction in the classroom- words

What struck me was the excitement, creativity, and human emotion in some of the words used to describe INQUIRY and SCIENCE and  CONVERSATION as compared with the lack of excitement, creativity, and coldness of the words used to describe EDUCATION, SCHOOLS, and STUDENTS. Maybe we need to create new constructs when we think of the field of education, the schools that serve as the location for education, and the students that populate these locations willingly or reluctantly. When my daughter served as a corps member for Teach for America, she developed her own idea that the physical environment, the buildings and interiors, were not conducive to learning. She tried to rearrange her furniture to make the room more livable for her first grade students. She brought in large plants and situated the student tables around the "trees" to create learning centers. She brought in her old stuffed animals and books that were her childhood favorites to create a bigger in-class library area. The children enjoyed the room and did not want to leave at the end of the day, and particularly at the end of the day on Friday.

I am not usually a warm and fuzzy person but I learned from my daughter's experience. In addition to a skeleton, human body parts models, science posters, and science puzzles, I brought into my classroom some stuffed animal/objects. OK they were science related items I purchased at the Mutter Museum and the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, but they made a difference. The students asked to have the items on their desks. I created a system where on test days, the 7th grade biology students could sign up in advance for the item of their choice. Over the last few years, this system became so popular that the students would sign up as soon as I announced a test. All 8 of the items now on the front desk would be taken for all 3 sections of grade 7 biology I teach. To my surprise, the AP Biology students who I taught in grade 7 remembered the items and even occasionally took one on test days early in the year.

Then there are the raisins. In my second year of teaching, I started giving each student a small box of raisins on test day. I started this for my section meeting before lunch. I thought it might help them to concentrate even though they were starting to feel hunger. Twenty years later I am still giving raisins, not just to grade 7 students but also to AP Biology students who remembered the custom from their earlier days in my classroom. The custom turned out to have another benefit. Raisins are high in iron content relative to other foods. By the end of the year, students associate the tests with the raisins, the raisins with iron, the iron with hemoglobin, and hemoglobin with the red blood cell's ability to carry oxygen necessary for aerobic respiration.

So often, I have heard students enter our science building at the beginning of the year and complain that the building smells as usual. I have had former students enter my classroom and say it smells like chicken wings reminiscent of the chicken wing dissection we do in grade 7 biology. In the first case, the building had been thoroughly cleaned during the summer and smelled like cleaning and disinfecting products, and in the second case, the room had been thoroughly disinfected after the dissection and again during the summer. The associations were strong and could work against the student learning. I hope by giving my students more positive associations, they will enter eagerly my classroom and others to follow. This is my step #1.  Creating a safe learning environment by establishing ground rules for respectful conversation is step #2. Creating fair and appropriate assessments that apperal to different learners is step #3. Now the students take over as we build together the story of each unit.


OK, so what is the bottom line. I hope that if my students were asked to participate in an exercise where they say the first 3 words that come to mind for education, schools and teachers, the words they would choose would reflect a positive association not just for science but for the more general categories as well. .

Ashley Dawkins's picture

negative unconscious thoughts?

This afternoon we explored our unconscious thoughts of the following words: education, schools, students, inquiry, science and conversation. I realized that my word associations to these words were not all positive. In fact, there are negative words involved with education, schools and students, BUT , absolutely none in relation to inquiry, science and conversation.  After some thought, I believe that some of these words are related more than my unconscious interpreted. It was interesting to hear what came to others' minds during this activity. All in all, I think it is based on our individual schemas.

I am sure that there is more to come...

Geneva Tolliferreo's picture

PM 1st Monday

We are as similar as we are different, as Educators and simply people.  All of us have potential, and of us have the potential to bring out the potential in others.  However, how many of us truly live at our full potential and do so for the benefit of others?

Who knew that attending this session last Summer would introduce me to someone who I now share a true friendship with?  Shoshana and I have kept in touch frequently since first being introduced.

One of the benefits of Education is friendship.

Another set of words that came to mind with a couple of the topics are:

Schools:  inner-city, suburban, rural; Students:  elementary, middle school, high school; conversation:  politics, religion, sex.

Keith Sgrillo's picture

Session 2 Comments

After our discussion, I am still left thinking about the perspective from which I responded to the "Brain Drain" activity.  I think it is very important to consider which "one of us" actually responded.  Was it the teacher that I am when working, was it the student that I am when I am learning about how to improve as a teacher, or is it the student I once was drawing on past experiences.  Was I responding as an empathetic observer trying to connect and maybe project my students feelings on the differfent topics presented.  Just food for thought.

Jessica Watkins's picture

Plural Selves


kgould recently completed a mini-project concerning the idea of plural personalities and multiple selves inhabiting one person, it's worth taking a look at!

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