pedagogy, scholarship in public

Classroom Discussions in Science, Part 2

This is the second of four part series. Here is part 1.

I have been working to delineate and describe a typology of four types of conversations that could be powerful and effective in secondary science classrooms. They are:

  1. Conversations that gather, focus student experiences or insights
  2. Conversations that make real the processes of science and reflect science as a human (as opposed to received) activity.
  3. Conversations that deepen and expand observations made during classroom demonstrations or laboratory activities.
  4. Conversations that make visible the processing of learning itself.

This post is the second part of a series discussing each of these types of conversations.

Part 2: Conversations that make real the processes of science and reflect science as a human (as opposed to received) activity.

One of the limits to true inquiry in the science classroom is the perception by the students that science is comprised of a set of received ideas and not the product of human endeavor.

For example, while we work with elementary and secondary students to make inferences and predictions from observations, they do not naturally make the connection that people who lived before they did made observations about things like gravity or the rotation of the Earth around the sun, or the spread of diseases or the erosion of rocks or the properties of various substances. They do not intuitively understand that the knowledge that they take for granted was developed over time by people just like them (excluding patriarchal and dominant societal structures, of course).

Therefore, another type of conversations in a science classroom is that which directly addresses the process of inquiry in the gathering of information.

Experiential learning (in a variety of strategies — inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, and problem-based learning) all contribute to an environment supportive of these discussions.

Here’s an example. A classic classroom scientific investigation involves three containers of water at different temperatures. One is hot (like bath water), one is cold (ice water), and the third is at room temperature. Students are instructed to place one hand in the hot water and the other in the ice water and to leave them them for about a minute (the teacher keeps time). Then, they are asked to move both hands into the room temperature water at the same time and to notice what they are experiencing. When they do, the hand that had been hot feels cold, and the hand that has been cold feels hot. This is as fun as science gets (without fire or explosions anyway).

Once each student has had this experience, the teacher can facilitate a class discussion around what they felt and what it might mean in terms of how our nervous system works. When handled well, the students will come to realize that their nervous system is only reporting on the relative differences in sensation instead of reporting an actual value so to speak.

This can lead to all kinds of other area of inquiry and their related conversations. And through them all, the students can come to understand that this is how knowledge is built. By regular people, just like them.

The next two parts of this series will deal with the other types of classroom discussions. Speaking of discussions, be sure to participate by leaving a comment. Here are links to all four parts:

 

Part 1

 

Part 2

 

Part 3

 

Part 4

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Connectivism, scholarship in public

#EL30 MOOC, Take 2

Back in October, I began participating a the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC organized by Stephen Downes. While I got a lot out of participating in the MOOC, I never did all the work I wanted to do.

But this is why I am so interested in this work:

“Connectivism is based on the idea that knowledge is essentially the set of connections in a network, and that learning therefore is the process of creating and shaping those networks.” [This last piece has shaped a good deal of my own research over the past few years.]

Going back to the beginning and Stephen’s brief introduction to the MOOC, I am struck by this:

“The learning in a connectivist course is emergent; it is not defined and transferred or transmitted; rather it is created through the process of individual experiences and interactions. It is something new, different for each person in the course, and in a broader, more social sense, an outcome of the course as a whole.”

So, I have decided to start again and get back into the course. My plan is to do one topic per week. Anyone want to join me?

pedagogy, scholarship in public

Classroom Discussions in Science, Part 1

I was asked last week, preparation for professional development work I had been asked to do with some high school science teachers, to describe ways that classroom discussion could be used in secondary science classrooms.

To my surprise, I was able to delineate and describe a typology of four types of conversations that could be powerful and effective in secondary science classrooms. They are:

  1. Conversations that gather, focus student experiences or insights
  2. Conversations that make real the processes of science and reflect science as a human (as opposed to received) activity.
  3. Conversations that deepen and expand observations made during classroom demonstrations or laboratory activities.
  4. Conversations that make visible the processing of learning itself.

This post is the first part of a series discussing each of these types of conversations.

Part 1: Conversations that gather and focus student experiences or insights

For the sake of discussion (all puns intended), we are going to imagine a life science classroom that is working to understand homeostasis.

As a warm up or “Do Now” activity, the students are asked to imagine that they are members of a music group or band. Or that they were members of a sports team. While they are in the middle of performing or playing, they need to to communicate with their band mates or teammates while they are giving a performance or playing a game.

This thought experiment attempts to addressing the guiding questions: How could they do this? What challenges would they face?

Students would be given time to think about this and then make some notes about their thoughts. Once they have done so, they can be invited to share their thoughts and notes with a classmate or two. Lastly, the teacher can then facilitate a discussion that begins with the small group sharing.

The teacher’s work should be shaped by whatever he/she considers essential or enduring understandings (in the terms of McTighe and Wiggins) about homoestasis. If it were me, I would be listening for: a need to respond to changes in the internal and/or external environment; transmitting this change to the cells or organs that need to respond; and coordination of this response. (Note: this is what I consider to be essential. Another teacher would definitely state homeostasis in different terms).

So, this classroom discussion would serve multiple purposes:

  1. It would challenge and validate the thinking performed by the students individually and with their peers.
  2. It would raise additional questions or concerns, in order to deepen the students’ engagement with and understanding of the essential understandings around homeostasis.
  3. it would serve as a transition to the next activity.

The set of strategies expressed in this scenario are shaped by the work of W. V.O. Quine’s philosophy of mathematics as synthesized through the work of Robert P. Moses in Radical Equations.

Moses talks about the importance to student understanding of a transition from what he calls “people talk” to “regimented language,” language that is abstract and consistent with a particular area of study. This type of classroom discussion sets the table in the students being able to make what looks like a natural or organic transition from the “people talk” of the students grappling with the practical problem of communication among group members to the “abstract talk” of homeostasis.

The set of strategies expressed in this scenario are shaped by the work of W. V.O. Quine’s philosophy of mathematics as synthesized through the work of Robert P. Moses in Radical Equations. Moses talks about the importance to student understanding of a transition from what he calls “people talk” to “regimented language,” language that is abstract and consistent with a particular area of study.

language of learning model
Types of language for learning from Moses, Radical Equations

This type of classroom discussion sets the table in the students being able to make what looks like a natural or organic transition from the “people talk” of the students grappling with the practical problem of communication among group members to the “abstract talk” of homeostasis.

The next three parts of this series will deal with the other types of classroom discussions. Speaking of discussions, be sure to participate by leaving a comment. Here are links to all four parts:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4