pedagogy, scholarship in public

Classroom Discussions in Science, Part 4

This is the third of a four part series. Here is part 1. Here is part 2. Here is part 3.

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 fourth part of a series discussing each of these types of conversations.

Part 4: Conversations that make visible the processing of learning itself.

In many traditional science classrooms, the acquisition of science knowledge is assumed to be an additive function. First, I learn concept 1, then concept 2, then concept 3, on down to concept n, and at the end I know that topic.

And it’s certainly true that learning is cumulative, but there is little evidence from our daily lives to indicate that it is additive. Instead, learning happens iteratively, with multiple exposures in multiple types of representation until understanding is acquired.

We also know that the addition (all puns intended) of metacognition can support the acquisition and retention of knowledge as well as the development of understanding. And classroom discussions are ideal places to make present and deepen an understanding and familiarity with the process of learning itself.

These discussions can be guided by at first broad and then more narrow questions, like: “How do we know that?” “What evidence makes us feel comfortable that x is the case?” “Is that observation true for everyone or just some people (of a specific age or gender or cultural background or educational level)?”

If the teacher is really willing to have these kinds of discussions, not once, but throughout the school year, s/he can powerfully train their students to think about learning as a process, not as something given or transparent. And when that happens, students can start to think for themselves in very meaningful ways, especially in science classrooms.

This post brings to a close this series on discussions in the science classroom. I would love for you to join to the discussion by leaving a comment or reaching out on social media.

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pedagogy, scholarship in public

Classroom Discussions in Science, Part 3

This is the third of a four part series. Here is part 1. Here is part 2.

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 third part of a series discussing each of these types of conversations.

Part 3: Conversations that deepen and expand observations made during classroom demonstrations or laboratory activities.

Traditionally, science education has privileged the laboratory as the center of learning. And, since inquiry is central to the scientific enterprise, this makes sense. However, in a K-12 school setting, the pressures of time and resources narrow the potentially wide experience in the laboratory to something far more scripted and standardized. The broader implications of this for science education are a topic for another post on another day. Today’s goal is to discuss how classroom discussion can open up and focus these laboratory based investigations.

So, let’s imagine a laboratory experience in which students look at the effect of temperature and substrate on the action of enzymes. This could take place in a biology, chemistry, or even physics classrooms. In this thought experiment, students are looking at the time it takes for enzymes to work on their substrates under different temperature conditions. It doesn’t take much to imagine the data table which would be central to this activity.

Data table from our thought experiment


In a typical classroom, the students would collect the data, and then work (together or separately) to answer questions in their lab packets. Then, the labs are turned in, graded, and life moves on to the next topic.

But there is an opportunity between the time the data are collected and the questions are answered to have a class discussion about these data. This discussion could start out simply and concretely: at which temperature did the enzyme work the fastest or the slowest? Were there any enzymes that worked better being colder than warmer? What else surprised you.

The discussion can then follow the students’ interests. “But what about …?” “Wait, I didn’t get those results. Why not?” or even “Could enzymes work on the Moon or in space?”

These discussions are by definition communal, which can add a dimension and sense of inquiry that the individual or even small group work cannot or does not (usually). Also, as stated in the earlier parts of this series, these discussions remind the students (and the teacher) that science is a human activity.

And speaking of discussion, be sure to leave a comment or otherwise interact with these posts.

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

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

Connectivism, pedagogy, scholarship in public

Stranger Things, Season 1 in Graphs

This week in the #EL30 course with Stephen Downes, we are looking at graphs.

First, two passages from his recent draft monograph on graphs.

In connectivism we have explored the idea of thinking of knowledge as a graph, and of learning as the growth and manipulation of a graph. It helps learners understand that each idea connects to another, and its not the individual idea thats important, but rather how the entire graph grows and develops.”

and

So where does this knowledge come from? It helps us see how a graph – and hence, knowledge – is not merely a representational system, but is rather a perceptual system, where the graph is not merely the repository, but a growing and dynamic entity shaped by – and shaping – the environment around itself.”
I have just finished watching the first season of Stranger Things. It was pretty great and, perhaps because something is wrong with me, I started to see the series as a flow of connections between the characters, which as Downes suggests, is all about the building and sharing of knowledge.
To illustrate this, I created a set of five graphs. As you look at them, try to see the changing connections of the characters as flows and sharing of information.
Stranger Things Graph 1
Stranger Things Graph 2
Stranger Things Graph 3
Stranger Things Graph 4

Stranger Things Graph 5 (1)

It would be great to hear what your thoughts about these and this method of conveying evolving networks.