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Exploring Science as Open-Ended Transactional Inquiry:
A Working Group on Elementary Science Education

Meeting Notes
15 November 2006



Nell Anderson (BMC staff), Peter Brodfuehrer (BMC faculty), Alison Cook-Sather (BMC faculty), Kim Cassidy (BMC faculty), Ashley Dawkins (BMC student), Sarah Freilich (HC, student), Jill Garland (HC alum, teacher), Paul Grobstein (BMC faculty), Glenn Heck (Delaware Valley Friends, teacher), Alice Lesnick (BMC faculty), Amy McCann (HC alum, teacher), Maeve O'Hara (BMC student), Maggie Powers (BMC student), Susan Stone (Lansdowne Friends School, principal)


Paul Grobstein, 19 November 2006

Thanks to all for a rich discussion, a great start for what will hopefully be a continuing and productive set of conversations.

A few things that struck me from peoples' introductions, that I wanted to remember and/or talk about more ....

  • several people who disengaged from science, because of early classes
  • excited about "community of discovery", not finding it
  • students being taught answers, to want answers
  • frustration at not being offered content as well as pedagogical skills in teacher education
  • teaching in more traditional mode can be boring to teachers
  • some schools more successful, convey "science as a web, constantly growing", why?
  • kindergarteners helping one notice things one wouldn't otherwise notice
And from the introduction to the Lansdowne collaboration
  • experience science/inquiry as inquiry, an opening for thinking about education as inquiry generally
  • brain organization relevant, output/expectations compared to generated input, story telling based on observations
  • teachers (and students) as scientists/inquirers
  • science as revisable stories
  • transactional - students/teachers exploring together
  • design curricula/experiences both from top down and from bottom up (to be prepared but also to be engaged with own interests)
Issues arising from the above ...
  • why early division between kids engaged/not engaged with science?
  • interests (like enjoying/not enjoying spanish?)
  • failure to connect science to interests?
  • loss of interest in inquiry/unknown? preference for certainty/security?
    • inherent?
    • enjoyment of, empowerment by "categories"?
    • because of school? family? culture generally?
  • is actually less "secure"/empowering to think one has the "right" answer?
  • "traditional" education more "efficient" than inquiry-based, transactional?
  • at least as important to learn that science, and inquiry in general, is fundamentally contextual, and social?
  • relevance to other aspects of the curriculum?
Issues arising from small groups discussions ...
  • problems transcending immediate classrooms
    • parents, school boards, state/national policies
    • bias towards selecting teachers who prefer to deal in "right answers"
  • need fundamentally different descriptions of goals ("create effective inquirers/creators"?) and forms of effective assessment ("inquiry taken out of all subjects", not just science)
  • need to give teachers confidence in their ability to promote/guide inquiry
  • need to assess possible gender/cultural biases in inquiry approach
  • want to understand "answers" (and content) not as end product but as groundwork for further inquiry (and enhancement of inquiry sophistication)
  • need to begin translating theory into concrete scope and sequence to support process learning, probably in spiral mode (ie visit and revisit both content and skills)

Alice Lesnick, 28 November 2006

Key words and phrases (as it strikes me) from our first meeting

From the initial self-introductions:

  • Noticing through kids' eyes
  • Counter neglect
  • Survived
  • It's about time
  • Turned on or off
  • Stories account temporarily for a body of observations
  • No thinking
  • Build community
  • Re-claim
  • Not the people, just their information: I couldn't stand that
  • Through the process of getting things wrong, students learn
  • If the brain's expectation is not confirmed, learning occurs
From the discussion of participants' plans and aspirations for the group:


  • Develop a scope and sequence about the process of scientific inquiry
  • Understand more about the development of inquiry skills through the elementary school years without getting too dependent on a developmentalist view of learning or student ability
  • Devise an appropriate way to assess the growth of inquiry skills


  • At different ages, what do we want kids to know and be able to do?
  • When should we impose a structure?
  • What is the status of the right answer - imposed on or internal to kids?
  • How can the model we create be inclusive, responsive to the needs of diverse schools?

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