August 9, 2005 Draft

Making Sense of What Moves, and Why:
A Conversation about Change

Anne Dalke, Wil Franklin
and Philadelphia K-12 Public School Teachers

I ran across the quote "Inquiry lets me abide in myself." One of the magnificient things about the Institute was the process of experiencing myself as I learned and explored. As Cynthia sang, "Thank you for letting me be myself." It seems that learning needs to let the learner participate as a means of coming to know him/herself along with the subject matter. Perhaps, the first is a necessary forerunner to the latter. I have seen that nothing happens, no learning occurs until the learner's emotions are touched. The majesty of this style of learning, it seems, is that the person "experiences being alive" and thus feels elevated. In turn, that stimulates the innate human wonder and yearning to understand. This quote helped solidify and understand how the inquiry experience at the Institute had such a satisfying, nurturing, and unifying affect on the group and individuals. Teresa Albers, PreK/K Montessori Public School Teacher

Science has the potential to be what we all collectively need as we evolve into a world wide community: a nexus point that encourages and supports the evolution of shared human stories of exploration and growth, an evolution in which all human beings are involved and take pride. For this to happen, we all need to work much harder to not only reduce the perception of science as a specialized and isolated activity of the few but to make it in fact the product and property of all human beings. Paul Grobstein, Director, Center for Science in Society, Bryn Mawr College, Revisiting Science in Culture

We are a biologist and a literary critic who took on this work together. In the summer of 2005, we co-directed an institute for K-12 public school teachers supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. We called our project, which was hosted by Bryn Mawr College, and is fully archived at, "Making Sense of Change: Hands-on Science Across the Curriculum." We found ourselves with a complicated group to teach: some of the participants had very little science background; others had masters' in science education. The classes they themselves taught spanned kindergarten to high school. Some of them were long-time veterans of earlier institutes sponsored by the College, while others had no such experience. Some thought of change as "an old friend"; for others it was a "challenge," "terrifying," to be avoided in a search for what was stable and lasting.

Our own relationships to constancy and change were markedly different. One of us was raised in a stable--and stultifying--environment, and found herself drawn to science education because of its unremitting skepticism and openness to new possibility. The other of us was raised in an unstable--and unsettling--place, and found himself drawn to science because of its ability to elucidate patterns that were constant and predictable. The dynamic interaction of "constancy built on change" was a dominant theme throughout the Institute; we found ourselves using it to describe everything from the Mississippi River (as Mark Twain said, The Mississippi is remarkable in...its disposition to make prodigious jumps...thus straightening and shortening itself.... it is always changing its habitat BODILY...SIDEWISE) to our own bodies: Whatever your age, your body is many years younger. In fact, even if you're middle aged, most of you may be just 10 years old or less...most of the body's tissues are under constant renewal....But...people behave their birth age, not the physical age of their cells: a few of the body's cell types endure from birth to death without renewal, and this special minority includes some or all of the cells of the cerebral cortex. (The New York Times Science Times 8/02/05).

But we get ahead of ourselves. Let's take a moment, first, to describe what was stable in this classroom, just what constituted the reliable framework for our exploration of change. The two of us were present for every session during the two-week period. We framed each day with introductory lectures and activities, and concluded each one by requiring participants to record and reflect on their experiences in a web forum. We supplemented our own presentations, each day, by bringing in a different guest teacher to represent a different disciplinary perspective; visitors included a physicist, a geologist, a chemist, a biologist, a psychologist and a computer scientist. This arrangement provided us with a rich opportunity for expanding our education in science education; we were able, for six hours every day, to observe what worked and what didn't, how hands-on learning engaged the teachers, and what happened when they weren't engaged.

The best of the classes, we came to see, did three things: they addressed a topic which interested the participants (and which they thought would interest their students); they framed it in terms of big questions and profound issues; and they demonstrated it in concrete manipulatable experiences--not experiments in the conventional sense of scripts to be followed, but as open-ended explorations. Taken together, the ten days of the Institute proved a model of interactive science teaching, meeting the challenge described in Science as Story Telling in Action of moving toward science seen as

The account we offer here of how we made sense of what worked in the summer institute on "making sense of change" includes the lesson plans, our commentary, and that of our participants, on what worked and why, and a description of their final performative assessments, perhaps the biggest and most satisfying surprise of the fortnight.

The rest of this is notes, to work from...

The Sessions:
I. Change on a Big Scale: Cosmology
II. Molecular Change: Alchemy, Oxidation and Acid Rain
III. Changing Problem-Solving, Changing Behavior: Psychology
IV. Biological Evolution (and Revolution?)
V. Symposium on K-16 Collaborations
VI. Metamorphosis in Literature
VII. Caterpillars and Butterflies Make Choices
VIII. Gradual Change, Global Change: Geology
IX. The Impact of Internet Technology
X. Performative Assessments

I. Framing the Big Picture

II.Making Concrete Sense of It

he made systems analysis accessible to them by having them think about their classrooms as systems that exhibit equilibriums, perturbations, feedbacks and thresholds (the distinctions he explained among closed, open and isolated systems actually proved quite useful to us throughout the fortnight of the Institute). He taught us how to draw and read quantitative graphs, and--as piece de resistance--showed us how to conduct a striking sequence of experiments using salinated, fresh and variously colored waters, which made quite vivid the consequences of differences in water density, and could be used to illustrate density driven convection patterns in classes made up of both very young and of quite sophisticated learners. He returned the next day to see what had happened with the solutions, and discussed their observations with the participants.

III. Passing it On: Assessing and Performing Change
--Very different [from other professional development activities] because we were allowed to guide the institute.

--This institute was significantly better than most professional developments I have attended. The inquiry method, hand-on, forum and verbal checks for understanding made the information very useful as an educator.

--This institute is not a "one shot deal" as presented in school district PDs. Access to content and participant reflections, and practices are relevant and can be incorporated in the classroom and schools as a whole.

--This course FAR exceeds other prof. dev. courses, because
1. It had a fabulous learning env't--well conducted.
2. It built community.
3. It touched hearts + minds.
4. It allowed + fostered self discovery + exploration.
5. It taught content w/ concrete experience.

^eye opening
^heart touching
^community bldg
^skill bldg

"It had structure to hold space for discovery of self + the world."
*It was real learning!!!