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Faculty Learning Commmunity: Agenda and Notes (October 5, 2009)

Anne Dalke's picture

The Faculty Learning Community
for Science and Math Educaiton

Agenda and Discussion Notes
(October 5, 2009)

Howard Glasser

Anne Dalke (English Department; Bryn Mawr College)
Victor Donnay (Mathematics Department; Bryn Mawr College)
John Dougherty (Computer Science Department; Haverford College)
Lynne Elkins (Geology Department; Bryn Mawr College)
Wil Franklin (Biology Department; Bryn Mawr College)
Howard Glasser (Education Program; Bryn Mawr College)
Paul Grobstein (Biology Department; Bryn Mawr College)
Bill Huber (Computer Science Department; Haverford College)
Steve Lindell (Computer Science Department; Haverford College)
Mike Sears (Biology Department; Bryn Mawr College)

AGENDA (by Howard Glasser)
1.    Introductions

2.    Background about this group
a.    Why it’s being started and steps taken in developing it
b.    What I’ve learned and heard so far
c.    Goals as of now…
3.    Activity: Dyads
a.    With someone you don’t know, discuss:
i.    Why did you respond to the email about this group?
ii.    How can being part of this group contribute to specific goals or interests?
iii.    What are some education-related interests, projects, or issues in which you’re currently engaged or that interest you now?
b.    Share some themes that emerged
c.    Pairs will facilitate later meetings as they see fit around a relevant topic/project/other that appeals to them
i.    Goal: For the group to move towards a direction for the spring
ii.    Interactive meetings, not a lecture (short presentations are fine)
iii.    I’m happy to do the first conversation (alone or with someone)
4.    Future Meetings and Thoughts for Further Organizational Work
a.    Same time every other week (Monday, Oct 19, Nov 2, Nov 16, Nov 30, Dec 14)
b.    Take/post minutes?
c.    Develop a Blackboard site to communicate between meetings (e.g., about ongoing projects; things going on in classrooms)
Summary of Meeting (by Howard Glasser)

This was the group’s first meeting and began with introductions. Ten people were present (Anne Dalke, Victor Donnay, John Dougherty, Lynne Elkins, Wil Franklin, Howard Glasser, Paul Grobstein, Bill Huber, Steve Lindell, and Mike Sears) and an additional five people expressed interest but were unable to attend (Peter Brodfuehrer, Michelle Francl, Deepak Kumar, Josh Sabloff, and Helen White).

As the person who organized and facilitated today’s gathering, Howard provided some background about his background and current position, explaining that developing this group was one of his responsibilities as part of his postdoctoral position. He explained that science and education faculty infrequently engage in collaborative dialogues at institutions and he was willing for the group’s focus and structure to be somewhat flexible and responsive to the needs and interests that were voiced. When developing this group, he contacted about 40 members of the Bico who might be interested in such a group and spoke with 20 of them. He highlighted some of the ideas these people raised regarding focal areas for the group and some structural and organizational preferences.

Some topics voiced for this group to discuss included:

  1. Focus on pedagogical issues such as how to motivate students; what’s the relationship among lecture, recitation, and lab and how can these elements be better connected together; how might educational technology benefit one’s teaching
  2. Mechanism for self/group-reflection of teaching practices to meet goals such as how to enhance students’ skills or understandings or assist with working with students with varied backgrounds
  3. What will math and science curricula look like in 10 years? How might things like new technology, new MCAT standards, new breakthroughs in computer science, and new sciences impact teaching and curricula?
  4. Seek more connections and collaborations among different departments to enhance students’ learning and experiences
  5. Faculty with similar research interests could explore how those overlaps relate to pedagogical overlaps
  6. Explore ways to increase the number of underrepresented students’ entry into science and math courses and majors.
  7. Increase awareness of the importance of math and science skills and the current state of these skills among members of the BiCo and elsewhere
  8. Discuss the topic of assessment such as it benefits, ways and reasons to assess students, and how to assess students, courses, and instruction
  9. Explore academic and research literature in science and math education in different areas (e.g., how people think, effectiveness of different teaching practices)

Organizationally, people voiced reasons why meeting every two weeks was best and that the group should initially start with college faculty but could consider inviting students, K-12 educators, and/or other individuals in the future. This group will have distributed leadership such that Howard will aid with facilitation but leadership will be shared. There was some interest in having a specific structure and pre-defined goal or project for this group immediately at the outset. Howard acknowledged this interest for structure and direction but emphasized that it’s important to see who participates and what they are hungry for before settling on specific paths. The group might remain fairly loose in design depending on needs and interests.

Some current goals for this group are for it to enhance dialogues and collaborations among faculty in different departments around education and pedagogy-related issues and have the group move in specific directions through regular meetings as more is learned about the members, possibly choosing a spring focus for the group. To meet these goals, Howard would like to develop a synergistic, cohesive group that possibly grows as people continue to invite and bring others into the mix. Although people will need to miss some meetings, the group will ideally have a consistent set of participants that possibly grows.

To hear the interests of the people present we spoke as a group about some of our individual and collective interests. 
Some ideas that emerged were:

What is science (and interconnectedness)
People expressed interest in engaging in deeper inquiry in the topic of “what is science” and what is the role and purpose of math and science education. People wished to explore the issue of how knowledge is structured and divided up, asking ourselves whether or not science is separate and unique from other fields. The issue of interconnectedness among science and other disciplines (as well as linking science with society) was raised and the discussion of new Environmental Studies Programs were used to highlight an example of this interdisciplinary approach. Similarly, the idea was raised that discussing curricula with people outside one’s own department could be helpful. Currently math curricula are often constructed by mathematicians, chemistry curricula are constructed by chemists, and so on, but alternate perspectives and insights could be raised from opening these conversations to other people.

The topic of reasoning was also discussed by a number of people present and an early comment was to explore the relationships and interface between quantitative reasoning and qualitative reasoning. There was a push to remove the adjectives “quantitative” and “qualitative” and instead to have the group focus on “reasoning” (or “inquiry” as Paul suggested). People said that skills (e.g., problem-solving skills) should be emphasized over content and that if students have developed appropriate skills (e.g., reasoning skills) they should be able to engage in research and other endeavors that are desired for them as scholars (and citizens in general).

Assessment, such as outcomes-based assessment, was mentioned as a possible area of interest for this group. As explained, outcomes-based assessment involves educators working backward from the learning goals for their classes and instead of assigning students grades the students’ work might be marked with terms such as, “mastery,” “developing,” and “not yet.” This view emphasized that mastery of certain content or skills is the goal and could lessen the likelihood of students becoming discouraged by poor grades. Assessment was also interwoven with conversations noted above. For example, a statement was made that changing from quantitative reasoning skills to reasoning skills could imply sizable changes for types of assessments that are used. With these new emphases, educators might not be trying to get all students to the same place of “mastery” but want students to develop greater sophistication in some areas relative to where they started. The goal becomes developing better inquirers, which might differ from assessing mastery. Related, the concern was raised that there’s only anecdotal evidence of how well (or poorly) classes and practices at the Bico are doing in math and science education and this concern could be explored more rigorously.

Limited math/science background and knowledge
Concerns were expressed regarding students’ limited math and science backgrounds. One concern was that some courses involve intense mathematics and science yet many students do not enter these courses with the desired problem-solving skills. How could this situation be altered? People noted that it was easy to point fingers at K-12 institutions but they do not deserve all of the blame and college faculty, and even the disciplines themselves, should be analyzed. This topic was broadened to a larger population concerning how people’s poor math and science literacy should be a major concern. Steve mention one specific resource, the book Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, related to this topic.
Interest was also expressed in having this group focus on more immediately applicable ideas that could be implemented in one’s teaching. Although there was comfort discussing ideas abstractly, some people stated interest in concentrating on strategies and ways of approaching teaching. These conversations could focus on a variety of topics such as actual practices used in class, ways to assess (e.g., outcomes-based assessment and mastery), or how to respond to students who enter courses with varied problem-solving skills or quantitative knowledge.

Howard and Anne agreed to lead the next meeting, and other pairs will lead subsequent meetings. This next gathering is scheduled for Monday, October 19 from 12:30pm-2:00pm in the Dorothy Vernon room of Haffner Dining Hall. Future fall conversations are planned for the following Mondays at that same time: November 2, November 16, November 30, and December 14. Paul offered to post information about the group and meetings on Serendip where people could comment and start/continue conversations.


Paul Grobstein's picture

science education themes

Glad to have a number on the table.  The ones that most intrigued me, as a note to myself and anyone else interested ...

  • Replace "quantitative reasoning" with "reasoning" and perhaps that, in turn, with "inquiring"
  • Think of science/math not in isolation but in relation to other aspects of curricula
  • Assess as appropriate to enhancing inquiry skills rather than in relation to "mastery"
  • Point of science education (education in general) is not to achieve known skills but rather to acquire enhanced skill at the process of (open-ended, transactional) inquiry

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