January 12, 2006 Draft


Turning Science Education Inside Out:

A Report on Lessons Learned

in a Summer Institute for K-12 Teachers


Anne Dalke (Department of English) and

Wil Franklin (Department of Biology)

Bryn Mawr College


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)


...it was very difficult for me to understand that so many of my sixth graders already saw themselves as outsiders, and therefore, not entitled to this country's plums. You can't be an achiever and an outsider at the same time. I think these children need to be courted, to be won over, to be reassured that they are entitled to those plums, and to driven toward success. (Margaret Robertson, Philadelphia Public School Teacher)


We are a literary critic and a biologist who--with great good will and a lot of energy--took on together this challenge of making the practice of science more accessible to, and inclusive of, a wider variety of people. 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 http://serendipstudio.org/local/suminst/eei05/ , "Making Sense of Change: Hands-on Science Across the Curriculum." Our group was quite varied in terms of preparation and engagement: some of the participants had very little science background; others had masters' in science education. They themselves taught classes spanning kindergarten to high school. Some of them were long-time veterans of earlier Institutes sponsored by the College, while others had no such experience.


What we uncovered, in working with these teachers, is a complex understanding of contemporary science education--the progressive, innovative, hands-on, inquiry-based classroom science of the past decade, which has been so deliberative in its attempts to bring those traditionally "outside" science "into" its various fields. This essay reports on our initial failure to take account of a central facet of human psychic and economic development: the Catch-22 of the persistent human impulse to put oneself "out," to refuse incorporation into any system that presumes to "know" or "predict" the direction of self-growth. Eventually, though, we learned to make sense, and make use, of that resistance.


Our work with the Philadelphia teachers led us to two reciprocal insights. First: it doesn't matter how "big" the inside is. As more is incorporated into the inside, the more insistently a new outside is generated. (As Stanley Fish says so clearly in a larger pedagogical context, difference is "the remainder that escapes the drawing of any line, no matter how generous...the lesson [is] its irreducibility"). Second: by keeping our students company in that "dance of the irreducible," staying with them as they insisted on their "outsidedness," we were all enabled to engage--at first with difficulty, and fitfully, but eventually quite productively--in a process of self-direction. The complicated dialectic we have to trace is finally, a progressive and hopeful one.


The best of our classes, we came to see, did three things: addressed a topic which interested the participants (and which they thought would interest their students); framed it in terms of big questions and profound issues; and demonstrated it in concrete manipulatable experiences--not as 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 moving toward science that is

Primarily process rather than content knowledge

o      Rigor without oppressiveness

o      Concreteness without lifelessness

o      Playfulness without meaninglessness

Something that everyone can draw from and be empowered by

Something to which everyone can contribute

Engaged with rather than isolated from other spheres of human activity (from Science as Storytelling in Action).


The account we offer here of how we made sense of what didn't work in the Summer Institute on "Making Sense of Change" is framed, in other words, in the context of a great deal that did. Our exploration of change had a few key structures. The two of us were present for every session during the two-week period; we met at the end of each day to review what had worked, what hadn't, and to plan follow-ups for the following sessions. We set up each half-day session 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 with those of guest teachers from physics, geology, chemistry, biology, psychology and computer science. This arrangement provided us with a rich opportunity for expanding our own education in science education; for six hours every day, we were able to observe what worked and what didn't, how hands-on learning engaged the teachers, and what happened when they weren't engaged. But since it is in the places where we fall short that we all have the most to learn, we will focus our attention on those.


We chose as our theme the dynamic interaction of "constancy built on change." We opened the Institute with the image of the faulted shale-limestone block which sits outside the Bryn Mawr Science Building, in commemoration of the founding of the Department of Geology here: an ironically "solid" record of historical pressure and stress. We spoke in the first session about our own--markedly different--relationships to constancy and change. (One of us was raised in a stable, somewhat stultifying, environment, and found herself drawn eventually into 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 early to science because of its ability to elucidate patterns that were constant and predictable.)


As we concluded our opening presentation, we asked participants to write on-line, and then to read aloud to the group, a short story about some change they made--or chose not to make--in their teaching or learning or life. It turned out (not surprisingly) that 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.

As inspiration for this exercise, we had shared a poem from Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower:



All that you touch

You Change.


All that you Change

Changes you.


The only lasting truth

Is Change



Is Change.


In response, one of the participants wrote, "The only lasting truth is Christ. Therefore, on Christ, The Solid Rock, I stand. God is not change. He is stability....God always was, is, and will be. God is stable. Change is constant." Asked, along with others, to read her contribution to the group, she refused: "We are not children. Adults don't like to be read to, and I try to respect what people want." Her refusal to perform publicly her own stance on change was our first indication that our attempts to gather all participants into a single story--however commodious, however complex--were going to be met with resistance.


At this point, we weren't sure why. We knew, from past Institutes, that participants valued the respect they earned as our colleagues; they liked seeing that they had a great deal to teach us. We had expected, this time 'round, that we would move quickly to begin those lessons. Instead, in our first attempt to draw a circle that included all participants, one of them immediately excluded herself.


We were reminded, during those initial hours of the Institute, of the desire of all humans to be free of instruction, the desire, even of teachers, to reclaim from the structure of a school day what Paul Willis, in Learning to Labor, calls "principles of mobility and self-direction" (27)--if only by coming late to a session, or checking out in the rear of the room, by playing a game of computer solitaire. Trying to "integrate" all the participants into our lesson plans, we found them "differentiating" (Willis's terms, again, 63), critically separating "self" from the institution of education, holding in reserve that which they were determined to keep "private" (65). It occurred to us that this reservation, this oppositional construction of self, might well be proportional to the unfamiliarity of the topic. Where was the self in the Big Bang and quantum patterns of mass and energy?


We had planned deliberatively for our initial class on cosmology, with an awareness of and eagerness to know more about where Institute participants were "coming from." We had asked all of them, before they arrived on campus, to post on-line an account of how they would go about describing the beginning of the universe to their class or to their own children at a certain age: How would they get started? How would they tell the story? What would they emphasize? But the first morning's presentation on cosmology seemed not to speak to the participants. One of them said, "Talk about 'getting lost in the stars'"; another observed that she "would still need more information on how to apply this difficult topic....I would have some difficulty bringing the language down to a middle or even to an elementary level"; a third said that "these topics are quite interesting for those who already inclined to study the space sciences. But for those who only possess a passing interest, these topics may be a little too abstract. The techniques for measurements that support what we are learning in this area are perhaps equally too advanced."


Not until the afternoon session were we able to make these concepts engaging to participants: what finally "worked" was cosmology that was experiential as well as observational, interactive as well as visual, ways they might ask their students to move their own bodies, or other manipulatable objects, which would help them understand--and in turn, teach--about the acceleration of bodies through space. The three activities we used in the afternoon all involved careful observing, and recording of observations, of


o      the characteristics of one another (we each altered our appearance, and another had to describe what had changed),

o      eggs (which seem so similar, but are amazingly and recognizably distinctive), and       

o      pictures of galaxies (which could be categorized in a number of different ways).


Each exercise both resembled and was distinct from the one before. The more concrete (and larger) teaching-and-learning issues we came away with (and returned to frequently in the course of the Institute) had to do with questions about "causing changes." We can "force them," as these exercises forced us to "change" our appearance. We can catalogue differences based on physical appearance, as we did for the eggs and galaxies. But what are ways of motivating change "from the inside"? Of getting students who are "competitive," or just not interested, to think about "collaborating" to make accurate reports and interpretations of data?   And what were ways of engaging their teachers and principals, some of whom had already "checked out" of the Institute before the end of the first morning session?


This dynamic underlay both the second and third days of the Institute. Our guest on day two was an experienced chemist, who had offered many workshops for K-12 teachers, and prepared a booklet of hands-on experiments suitable for use with middle schoolers. She carefully guided participants through several of these experiments, which had predictable outcomes (turning a copper penny into "silver," then "gold"; inflating balloons with carbon dioxide; measuring the effect of an acid solution on marble chips). The roles of leader and followers, teacher and students, were clearly differentiated. We collected data, but interrogated none of the terms of the experiments we were conducting.


Some of the participants found such directions useful and productive. As one reported, "I enjoyed measuring and being methodical. Our children thrive off specific clear directions. By modeling appropriate techniques the students will increase their knowledge and the importance of being careful and specific." Others, however, found themselves puzzled and frustrated by the same techniques:


we return to the experiment format with expected results. My poor brain is smoking!!!!!! How can the concept of getting it less wrong translate to experimentation and safety rules? Are we as teacher setting our kids up to be afraid of science and afraid to get it wrong? What happens to creativity and facilitated, gradually scafolded discovery?...I feel that today's lab return us to the correct answer, experiment format. HELP!!!!!!!!!! Is this what it feel like to our students to move from a more abstract style teacher to a more linear, conservative style teacher??????????


In the course forum afterwards, questions arose about the usefulness of such scripted experiments, in light of some interesting general issues about education:


Is it appropriate/desireable to start [with a set of unexamined presumptions]? Might it be better to present the material to be observed without any "story"? with as little "story" as possible? To try to "direct" users as little as possible, just giving them something to make observations on, develop stories about themselves, play with? What are the likely pros and cons, for different audiences, of the two different approaches? Are there ways to better strike a balance between them?


Another participant pointed out that such experiments were located very far away from what most interested most of his students: "What is made out of marble, that our students care about? What would it distress them to lose? Can we use that as an incentive to learn?" It was precisely this last question--or perhaps, even more insistently, its counter-question--what makes us resist learning?--which seemed to underlie the opposition which became so pronounced among our participants during the third day of the Institute.


On that day, a psychologist (who also had a lot of experience both teaching elementary school and working with K-12 teachers) visited our classroom, to demonstrate how behaviorists, following the principles of reinforcement, can "guarantee" a change in behaviors. She explained that developmental psychologists don't know much about how change happens (they have no idea, for instance, how Theory of Mind develops, how kids make the shift from thinking that others know what they know, to realizing that they may be thinking differently). She then defined the concepts of "reinforcement" (anything that will increase the likelihood of a behavior; teachers are not very good at predicting what is reinforcing for a younger generation) and of "extinction" (taking away the reinforcer). She also explained that "rebound" is to be expected (the behavior will "spike" before it ceases), and identified the usual failure of punishment (the opposite of reinforcement: actively decreasing the frequency of a behavior): not replacing the unwanted behavior with "something else."


With this presentation, our colleague intended to offer participants some useable tools for managing student behavior in classrooms where behavior is often a problem. But the teachers' own resistance to taking up these "tools" was universal--and nearly deafening:


Throughout these responses, we heard a vociferous insistence on what one of our lecturers once called "The Harvard Law of Animal Behavior": "under carefully controlled experimental circumstances, an animal will behave as it damned well pleases" (Grobstein 1994). Our participants were rejecting some of the useful techniques behaviorism might offer them for classroom management, in order to retain--both for themselves and their students--the sort of "intrinsic variability" which Fyodor Dostoevsky described so strikingly in Notes from Underground in 1864:


science itself will teach man...that he himself is something of the nature of a piano-key or the stop of an organ...so that everything he does is not done by his willing it, but is done of itself, by the laws of nature....even if this were proved to him by natural science and mathematics, even then he would not become reasonable, but would purposely do something perverse out of simple ingratitude, simply to gain his point.... the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key!


The teachers' refusal to be defined by others' intentions, to perform within the framework of the scripts written by others, even when given the option to vary and revise those scripts, was repeated several times during the second week of the Institute. It was particularly noticeable in the responses to a session Wil offered, called "When Caterpillars Make Choices." Participants took what they were learning about the instinctual behavior of caterpillars as a challenge to their own notions of free will, to their commitment to their own freedom, and to that of their students. They reported that they always offered their students choices:

But the teachers also reported that their self-willed students frequently refused to chose wisely or well. A clear logic tied together these two positions: the teachers would not hold themselves responsible for controlling their students' behaviors, and they held their students responsible for choosing not to control themselves. Participants insisted that there is much more to human behavior than simple stimulus and response. They did not believe that they could manipulate their students:

The teachers strongly resisted what they understood to be an implication of behavorism: that they were responsible for their students' behavior. They saw their jobs as helping their students take responsibility for their own behavior, with a conviction that, as agents, they must acknowledge the consequences of their actions. The cost of doing so is a less controlled classroom environment, but defining the self takes some practice, with lots of room for mistakes--a lesson, they eventually decided, that was well worth the risk.     


The teachers taught us to take a similar attitude toward their own engagements in the projects we had designed for them. Actively contributing to the data-gathering and observation-making that is the work of science, and to the pedagogical innovation that is teaching students to do the same, enabled our participants to move beyond the conventional resistance that so many students demonstrate in relationship to their teachers. The classes that succeeded best were those in which we asked the teachers, not to attempt replicating an experiment in which the results were already known, but rather to gather data for new ways of organizing the world.


For example, they participated with great energy in the "evolution revolution" designed for them by a colleague in biology, who asked them to sort and classify a wide diversity of life forms, according to schemes which made sense to them. They were able to acknowledge the validity of the organizing patterns they themselves had designed. Another colleague in geology helped them to understand the complexities of "global change" by asking them to describe what they knew, experientially, about what happens in their classrooms: What causes changes in students' attention spans? What happens if a perturbation--a distraction--occurs? Recognizing how their classrooms worked as systems, they were able to extrapolate to the complex interactions underlying climate change, to see how small changes in one area could have very large effects in another.


Another colleague in computer science introduced "water-based computation" (in which cups of water were poured onto a free-swinging aluminum sheet) and the computer program "Alice" (an object-based way to teach the properties, methods and functions of computing). These activities helped participants move from computer "literacy" (having some skills with a set of applications) to "fluency": "getting the concepts behind the applications, being capable of applying these skills in various contexts." Each of these exercises was composed of multiple trials and errors, with plenty of time and space for asking questions about what was working (or not), and why (or why not).


We ended the first week of the Institute with a mini-symposium, during which the K-12 teachers talked about their schools and classrooms; college and university administrators talked about the various collaborative possibilities they had to offer; and then the groups talked together about how they might better communicate with one another about needs and resources to meet them. We talked about home and school functions, about ways to engage students and widen their horizons, about learning to see them as more than students. We discussed the high turnover rate among urban teachers, and the need for more education in both classroom management and parent/teacher relationships. We talked about opening up our classrooms, to one another, to the world, making them less private, more public--and revisable.


This morning was an important one, both in the trajectory of the Institute and in our understanding of what was working (and not working) in our shared exploration. Recognizing multiple possibilities for collaboration, resisting the impulse to dismiss those with deeper pockets, participants engaged eagerly in the activities of networking.


One theme sounded repeatedly during the morning's symposium was the discomfort of many parents with their children's schools. We looked further, that afternoon, at the ways in which changes in teaching and changes in students can lead to uncomfortable changes in the family and community. In lieu of a course in "methodology" or "applied psychology" (which one of our participants suggested teachers needed, in order to learn how to communicate with parents), we did some role-playing. Wil and Anne performed the scene from Brecht's play Galileo, in which one of Galileo's assistants, the "Little Monk," explains that he is giving up astronomy for the sake of his parents' peace of mind:


They have been assured that God's eye is always on them--probingly, even anxiously--: that the whole drama of the world is constructed around them so that they, the performers, may prove themselves in their greater or lesser roles. What would my people say if I told them that they happen to be on a small knob of stone twisting endlessly through the void round a second-rate star, just one among myriads? What would be the value or necessity then of so much patience, such understanding of their own poverty?...I can see how betrayed and deceived they will feel. So nobody's eye is on us, they'll say. Have we got to look after ourselves, old, uneducated and worn-out as we are ? The only part anybody has devised for us is this wretched, earthly one, to be played out on a tiny star wholly dependent on others, with nothing revolving round it. Our poverty has no meaning: hunger is no trial of strength, it's merely not having eaten: effort is no virtue, it's just bending and carrying. Can you see now why I read into the Holy Congregations decree a noble motherly compassion; a vast goodness of soul?


We then asked participants to break into small performance groups, in order to stage an encounter between a family and a child who has just learned something new at school--something that goes against what he has been taught at home. Unlike the Little Monk, all of those performing "children" were willing, and able, to negotiate the divide: they invited their parents, tentatively, haltingly, but successfully, into learning the world anew along with them.


On the last day of the Institute, we evoked again the performance skills of our participants, by asking each of them to dramatize what had changed for them in the course of the program. We were inviting participants, thereby, to experiment with "performative assessment": How could they demonstrate what they had been learning and doing, and what they would go on to do with it? This was an opportunity to observe how participants situated themselves in relation to new experiences. How did they take in new information? Did they recognize themselves in the projects we gave them, re-define themselves through their labor in the world? Could they imagine doing this with their students?


One of the teachers, Randal Holly, observed that "standardized tests are thought to be most effective. There is no way of assessing inquiry-based education." But these performances offered dramatic demonstrations of what participants had learned in the Institute. They were remarkable in their range, from poems and songs to collages and new lesson plans, each of them (again in Randal's words) "an opportunity for the agent to interact with its environment, and so to change it."


We want to highlight two of the final performances here, the first designed Judith Odom, a middle school chemistry teacher; the second by Randal, who is a high school biology instructor.


The Cheese Ball Solvent, Solute, and Solution


Purpose: Science should be fun as well as thought provoking.

Objective: Write up a story, a rap, or a song that explains the difference between a Solvent, Solute, and Solution.

How surface area and chewing are related to amount of time it takes to dissolve.

Solutes dissolve by spreading out evenly through a solvent.

Materials: Cheese balls/curls, Hersey kisses, at least three pieces, mouth, teeth, timing device,such as a watch with a second hand, notebook paper for each student.

Activity: Place one of the cheese balls in the mouth, Do Not Bite or Chew. Time how long it takes to dissolve and record. Place the second cheese ball in the mouth and chew it time how long it takes to dissolve and record. Before swallowing each time move your tongue around in your mouth. Describe how the mushy, slush feels.

Performance Assessment: Write a story, a rap, or a poem about what you have learned.


"The Saga of the Cheese Ball and Its Solution!"


We all know the story of how the solute dissolves in the solvent to form a solution! Well, this is a story of one such situation!!


The Cheese ball, who wanted to be a solution, said one day, "How long will it take for me to dissolve in a solvent of juicy salvia?" The Mouth said, "Let's put you in and find out!" The Cheese ball said, "Please!, please!, don't bite me!" The Teeth said, "It would be quicker if we bite you all up!" The Tongue, the negotiator said, "Either way you will sliver down into a pile of Mush!" The Cheese Curl waited in anticipation as the Hand, the playful one, placed it onto the Mouth. At first, it dissolved slowly, and it didn't like the fact of that, but the Saliva was very happy. It was waiting all day to break something down! "Bye!, little Cheese ball," it said.

The Saliva was so happy it said, "Let's try this again!!" But of course, the Teeth got impatient when the Hand placed the Cheese ball on the Tongue and started chewing on the next one. Quickly!, it went away. It was gone in a spiffy! Finally, the Mouth said, "Enough!" "I must watch what I eat!" So the Saliva got unhappy and went back home to sleep. The Teeth stopped chewing and started whistling a song! The Cheese ball now mush, sailed on to a new journey on its way to the stomach!


Assessing What We Know about Tyrannosaurs


One of the things I have long since learned about working with adolescents is that there are some things that simply sell themselves. Whenever occasions avail themselves to educators, strike while the iron is hot. This is the driving point behind using science fiction films when attempting to teach concepts. Besides being an obvious respite from the usual grind of the classroom, the usage of films provide an excellent opportunity to help students enhance their observations skills. Further, by helping students become more critical observers, the film industry is "coerced" to improving content and quality of its feature films. For example, the film "Anacondas" featured its main animal character devouring countless prey over the course of only a few days. This served as an affront to my science students, for our discussion of reptilian behavior did not advance this animal having such a voracious appetite. It is important to note that in the film's sequel, it featured several anacondas pursuing prey as opposed to just one. Perhaps, this indicated the writers were getting this animal's behavior "a little less wrong."


Standard 3.3.7.D.5 - Describe the role that fossils play in studying the past.


Value has to be continually given to knowledge already acquired by our students. If this is done effectively, students can easily compare what is learned from what was once thought to be correct. A simple way to use this as an anchor is to have students prepare a listing of information already understood on a topic such as tyrannosaurs. This should be written on the left side of a page. The amount of details on each page will vary for each student. This works well, for the amount of newly acquired information is what we'll be gauging anyway. We will feature three video clips that detail the behavior of tyrannosaurs in some manner. The first two clips are from the film "Jurassic Park." The title itself is a misnomer, for most of the dinosaurs depicted lived during the cretaceous period. (but that is another lesson) The third is from its sequel, "The Lost World." Students are asked to make observations and record as many details about tyrannosaurs on the right side of the page. Obviously, students need not duplicate any statements on the right side that already appeared on the left side of the page. Ordinarily, I would allow students the opportunity to view the clips twice.


In my presentation, there were three points we wanted to raise:

Tyrannosaurs had an acute sense of smell?

Tyrannosaurs may not have chased down prey at frightening speeds?

The female tyrannosaur was a larger animal?


The first clip showed a tyrannosaur dangerously close to humans it was attempting to devour, yet found itself unable to see them. The humans were remaining motionless in hopes of resisting detection. For years, paleontologists have debated over the sight capability of this animal. There exists no clear consensus. However, we have since concluded that the animal must have possessed an acute sense of smell. It then follows that the animal may not have seen its prey, but it sure would have smelled it. In the second clip, the animal is seen chasing down a jeep. Only after shifting to fourth gear are our cast members able to escape. The problem here is that the animal's arms were almost useless as a brace for support. If it ever fell while pursuing prey at top speeds, the sheer momentum would have been enough to injure its torso and/or facial structures. However, the fossil records do not support this. We do not routinely find indications that these animals had skeletal damage/repair due to impacts with the ground after a fall. It has only been asserted during the past ten years that the animal may have rambled after prey at a much slower speed than previously thought. Many paleontologists suggest the animal did not hunt prey at all and may have been nothing more than a huge scavenger. In the third clip, we have a big game hunter wishing to have the opportunity to hunt the largest land carnivore ever known. Specifically, he states his desire to hunt the male tyrannosaur. Categorically, there are two things wrong with his remarks. First, we now have fossil evidence of larger land carnivores than tyrannosaurs. Second, the female tyrannosaur was larger than the male. We see this in many amphibian species and even some reptiles.


At the end of the discussion, Students should strike through any statements on the left side of the page now discovered to be incorrect. Students should also strike through any information on the right side of the page discovered to be incorrect. Students should then tally the number of remaining entries on the right side of the page and add the number of stricken statements from the left side of the page. This is done to reflect the "unlearning" of information. The total number is to be written at the bottom of the page. After collecting the sheets, determine the range and divide this range into quintiles. Literal grades can then be assigned to each quintile. It is important to note that a student may have an overall low score, but recorded a high amount of statements on the left side of his page. This represents a student that may have not acquired much learning during the lesson, but already had a satisfactory understanding of the material to be taught. His grade should be adjusted accordingly.


Both of these lesson plans "sold themselves," by beginning with something the students already liked--cheese balls, science fiction films; easing them into experience; then teasing them into understanding. The second lesson plan is also distinctive in giving credit both for "unlearning" information (that is, for the correction of error), and for knowledge already possessed before the class began. "Breaking the boundaries of science education," in both of these instances, did not involve "bringing the outside in" (that is, inviting the children who feel disenfranchised to participate in a professional activity available only to specialists). It entailed rather turning the "inside out," by stepping into the children's world, and helping them make sense of it.


In designing the Institute, we had been guided by a somewhat paradoxical vision of "constant change"-- from cosmology to computers, from the largest scale to the smallest, from the most profound to the most technical, from the earliest to the most recent. We wanted to explore with a group of interested teachers both ways of stabilizing what we know  and the inevitability of change ("making it stick--without getting stuck") on every imaginable level: cosmological, geological, chemical, biological, ecological, psychological, literary and technological. What we hadn't quite prepared for, though, was (we now see) the inevitable resistance to change of all the participants--ourselves, themselves, our students, their students--as well as our own fierce attachments to habitual ways of seeing and interacting with the world.


We learned a few other hard things during the course of the Institute. For instance, we heard teachers say that

But we also garnered some hopeful advice:

We came to understand  that students will be changed by our exposing them to different ways of thinking and exploring the world. And yet we cannot control the outcomes of our interactions. The consequences of creating open, individualized classrooms can be quite disruptive. Students may well respond with withdrawal, or resistance, or rejection of the invitation to construct their own meaning.


Like the participants in the Institute, we struggled continuously with how to engage students who were insistent on defining themselves as outsiders. Many teachers and students will decline the invitation to demystify science and define reality for themselves. We have come to see that this may well be an important stage in becoming more fully oneself. But it cannot be the final one. Exclusion is eventually a partial and not very productive means of self-definition.


Another way to do so is to labor in the world, to engage it and act upon it. Our experiences in the Institute showed us that change is more meaningful when it is chosen than when it is imposed. We believe that, in the long run, the more people can think and work for themselves, the more they will flourish. We used the Summer Institute to maximize such possibilities. We see our task, as teachers, as inviting students into engagement in a topic, encouraging them to become more fully who they want to be, both within and outside of science education.


Thanks (of course) to Paul: for inspiration and excision.


Works Cited


Brecht, Bertold. Galileo. 1952; rpt. New York: Grove, 1966.


Butler, Octavia. "Earthseed: The Books of the Living." Parable of the Sower (1993).


Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Notes from Underground  (1864).


Fish, Stanley. "The Common Touch, or One Size Fits All." The Politics of Liberal Education. Ed. Darryl J. Gless and Barbara Herrnstein Smith. Durham: Duke University press, 1992. 241-266.


Grobstein, Paul. "Revisiting Science in Culture: Science as Story Telling and Story Revising." Journal of Research Practice 1,1 (2005): http://jrp.icaap.org/content/v1.1/grobstein.html


-----. "Variability in Brain Function and Behavior." The Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, Volume 4. Ed. V.S. Ramachandran.   Academic Press, 1994. 447-458: http://serendipstudio.org/bb/EncyHumBehav.html


Hands-On Science and Math: A Collection of Lesson Plans for Middle Schools. A Collaboration of Haverford College, Philadelphia Public Schools and the Knight Foundation: http://www.haverford.edu/educ/knight-booklet/ 

Making Sense of Change: Summer Institute on Hands-On Science Throughout the Curriculum (2005): http://serendipstudio.org/local/suminst/eei05/


Serendip/SciSoc Summer 2005 Working Group.  Science as Storytelling in Action:



Willis, Paul. Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.