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Science Education - Learning from New Directions in Practice

Paul Grobstein's picture
During the summer of 2008, Paul Grobstein, Wil Franklin, Luisana Taveras, a rising sophomore at Bryn Mawr College, and Julia Lewis, a rising senior majoring in Chemistry and Bryn Mawr College, will be thinking about science education and trying out ideas in a summer institute program with K-12 teachers. These forums are a place for ongoing thinking by the four of them, and any one else interested. To contribute your thoughts, use the forum entry form at the bottom of this and other forum pages. Postings will be checked to prevent spam and so may be delayed in appearing. An updated list of all forums in this series is available here.
Learning from Practice

Our fourth conversation valuably added the concepts of metaphor and story to our thinking about the open-ended, transactional classroom, with a spin off of an additional conversation on the relation between teaching sciences and teaching humanities. We didn't, though, get to looking at particular examples, to see what works/what doesn't work, what we can learn from actual practice. So this week, we'll do that, adding to the list some additional things including experiences at last week's Haverford computing institute and a computer program for classroom use talked about there.

A variety of lesson ideas/reflections

From this summer's Science for College, a program for high school students

From this summer's Haverford computing institute


ptong's picture

Thursday Meeting

After our meeting yesterday. I couldn't help but wonder how a teacher can appeal to the whole class without excluding anyone. It's hard enough to match the course cirriculum to topics that are related to student interests. Where do you draw the line to decide what is acceptable (in terms of the % of students engaged in the topic) to continue teaching without compromising the other students who's interests are not met?


Also, the articles about trial and error experiments and how to use that to engage students seems like an interesting approach as Luisiana mentioned, but my concern is again, what are the limits to this experimental approach? I know after trying to do a puzzle for a long time I start getting frustrated and that prevents me from getting anything out of it. What is a good balance between letting the students learn through experience and having the teacher teach?

Paul Burgmayer's picture

Excitement as a motivator

I am not sure that my report on the inquiry lab conveyed the excitement that students felt in doing the lab. In making them responsible for the procedure, I created an "edginess" to the class that kept most students on their toes, much more than a "normal" lab. This was evident in all three classes (I only wrote about one).

That said, I don't think you will ever get a class where someone doesn't feel excluded for any number of social, emotional, or intellectual reasons. Students walk into class with their own (sometimes enormous) invisible baggage. Not much you can do about that.

One key to preventing student frustration (way more important than I realized at first) is the the understanding by students that they get to revise their procedures and try again. T&S and others knew they had a second chance. That makes a big difference in dealing with their frustration.

Another key (also not recognized by me at first) was the second-day class discussion about factors influencing the experiment. That discussion allowed students to listen to what others had done and adapt their procedure accordingly.

LuisanaT's picture

Love the fill-in-the-blank approach

I first off would also have to agree with PBurgmayer’s suggestion of a lab equipment demo as a prerequisite to actual science experimentation. This would be a great activity to incorporate into an ideal introduction to all Science courses, to all realistic science-doing.

Next, I must commend PBurgmayer for bringing to light “the basic scientific idea of verifiability by asking, “How will you know when you are done?” in his classroom. This is a great question to pose to students in order to generate real scientific inquiry because I do feel it is one of “the hardest concept for students” to understand. For not only does this question function in deconstructing the misconception of science and all scientific experimentation from being open-and-shut cases, it allows for the revisit of the same story and potentially getting something else out of its continued/re-exploration.

Thinking about Burgmayers question more, when should you (the scientist, not the cookbook reader) or the teacher come to the decision that your experiment is over? If all stories are open to revising, augmentation, then when should one stop an experiment? To what extent should your lab abide by the “hypothesis” posed if something else equally, if not more, interesting arises that is worth exploring? I think one way to answer these questions, and many questions like these has to do with the amount time allotted, because time is always an issue.

When the goal is to have “student(s) experience an authentic quantitative inquiry lab,” a teacher should not have to worry so much about the instances when a student(s) strays away from what they “should” learn/perform, the cracks in a lab experiment or otherwise. Granted, allowing the students so much freedom is only worthwhile if the teacher is capable of guiding them to an interesting if not useful discovery, the (hopefully only relatively few) students that “crack” should be allowed to "crack" in the hopes that they will learn something different and still learn what they "should be learning by the end of the lesson" from those who didn’t crack.

To project this idea on PBurgmayer’s story as an example, the teacher could have allowed students like T&S to learn the main concept meant for the lab (ideally) from the well executed and establish lab and lab report from their classmates. That way, not only will T&S have explored in everyway they possibly can, they will also get the fundamental take home message by the end of the day. This kind of idea, in which a lot of focus is placed on the student’s final results and therefore its presentation, reminds me a lot of the labs I had in my intro to BIO course earlier last year. At the end of each lab, each group is “put to the test” and meant to present their findings with a compelling story accounting for the conclusions drawn to the rest of the class, persuading the other members of the class of the conclusion we were able to get to. I thought it was effective and a closer attempt at experiencing an "authentic quantitative inquiry lab" even if my group did not get the anticipated results.



Paul Burgmayer's picture

Lusiana, thanks for your

Lusiana, thanks for your comments on my inquiry lab. I had one additional thought relative to teaching high school students. Although I liked what you said about allowing T&S to learn from others as they write up the lab, you have to realize how fragile egos can be in 10th grade. These students (who were girls) were hard-workers but were not at all confident about their science abilities. They felt like failures when they could not get the experiment to work. As a result, I felt like I had to balance exposing them to inquiry with building up their confidence. Telling them to wait and learn it from their peers would be a tough thing for 10th graders.