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Critique of the Summer Science Institute

jpfeiffer's picture


Thoughts about the Summer Science Institutes

This summer I had the honor of participating in the Bryn Mawr College K-12 Summer Science Institute. Because of this I had the opportunity to meet a handful of wonderful teachers and discuss issues and topics in education.  The institute was definitely successful in many ways which will be highlighted below, yet there are also some aspects which could have been changed. They, too, are also highlighted below.


Positive Aspects:

The first aspect of the summer institute which was a success for all individuals and the institute as a whole was the idea of co-constructive dialogue. During the institute all of the teachers and those that ran the institute participated in co-constructive dialogue.

First of all, the environment in which the institute was held allowed for the maximum amount of discussion to arise. We sat around a long rectangular table which facilitated discussion between all members of the institute and everyone had an equal opportunity to speak.  In addition, all members could make visual contact with each other and really listen to the speaker. Another benefit of this table setting was that it allowed all participants a clear view of the individual who was presenting.

Although thought did go into making the setting of the institute the most conducive for open-ended dialogue, how a classroom is arranged also allowed for some larger questions to arise about how teachers arrange their classrooms.  

Negative Aspects:

One of the (and perhaps the only negative aspects) of co-constructive dialogue we found was that sometimes if we had a certain objective to cover for the day, the discussion between and amongst teachers would stray a bit off topic as new ideas were being introduced. Although this discussion was also rich and engaging, it was not always exactly what was meant to be covered on that particular day. Essentially, then, while co-constructive dialogue allows for the opinions of all to be heard, it also raises the question of when to halt a conversation, how to engage all students in the discussion and why some students chose not to participate in the discussion, and lastly, finding ways in which co-constructive dialogue can be implemented in the classroom while simultaneously staying on track of the syllabus or state or district requirements. Again, although we did accomplish an extraordinary amount of topics in the institute, in retrospect it can be concluded that we did spend more time on certain topics than others and therefore could not recover the lost time.


Use of Computers and a Central Website:

Positive Aspects:

The entire institute was based on the Serendip website. All schedules were posted on this website and any comments or remarks by the teachers were posted in the associated forums. This allowed for easy access for the teachers to the schedule and activities, and it also allowed them the opportunity to create an online space that was unique to them. Essentially it allowed for the maximum amount of organization and accessibility in this institute.

Negative Aspects:

Although the website did allow for there to be a common place where all information could be posted and where thoughts could be shared, the act of setting all of the teachers up with computers and letting them become familiar with the Serendip website and internet posting protocol was a lengthy process. In addition, even the teachers who possessed the most “skill” with computers also had some difficulties throughout the institute because of technical issues with the website. For example, some of their information was lost, they posted to the wrong areas, or they were not able to recover their postings after they posted. Now of course there were many advantages to using Serendip than disadvantages, but this also raised the question of how teachers go about choosing the best medium for their students to display their thoughts in. For example, should all students be expected to use a computer in the seventh grade although they may not have had the experience or the opportunity to use a computer at home?

Guest Speakers and Facilitators:

Positive Aspects:

During the institute, we were fortunate to have several “guest” facilitators come to present topics that they were interested about. The guests ranged from past professors at the University of Pennsylvania, to post-doctoral students at Bryn Mawr, to current Bryn Mawr faculty and students. This was a great diversion for the teachers as it allowed for them to listen and engage with someone else other than Dr. Grobstein.  Throughout these “guest” presentations a variety of topics were covered. From issues concerning the heart and patterns in nature, to lessons about mathematical modeling and wine- there were a lot of interesting lessons offered to the teachers. This was a great diversion from the normal schedule and routine of the institute.

Negative Aspects:

One of the most negative aspects of the guest speakers was the fact that the material that was presented was not necessarily interesting to all of the teachers. For example, some of the teachers had difficulty with some of the topics because they never considered themselves good at math or chemistry. Because of this, even before the lesson began they shut themselves down to accepting the lesson that was presented. When we had dialogue about this in the institute, we realized that the downfalls of the public speakers actually represented students learning in the classroom. For example, many times students are forced to sit through a class in which they are blatantly not interested in the material. Many of the teachers wondered why there were learning some of the information and what importance it was to them to learn it, much like students in the classroom. They did not understand the importance of learning about a particular subject and this hindered their ability to interact within the lesson. This also brought up the topic of the level of preparedness in the classroom amongst and between students. How do educators alleviate the fact that there are different levels of learners in their classrooms? How do they accommodate all students?

Another “complaint” that arose from the guest speakers was the idea that not all of the methods that were presented were effective for them. For example, maybe they could not learn through a straight lecture, but rather they learned more through activities where they were encouraged to participate in hands- on inquiry. This led to the idea that there is no such perfect learning environment for all students. Not all students are capable of sitting nicely at their desks and focusing on a lecture. Some students may need to learn in an environment in which they feel more relaxed. One suggestion that came about from this discussion was the idea of introducing objects like exercise balls and modeling clay to the classroom so that students could keep themselves occupied and comfortable yet also learn at the same time.

Last Thoughts:

More thoughts about the Summer Science Institute can be found at the link below:

Personal Thoughts of a Summer Intern...