Reading Responses, Fall 2012

Week 10:

Creative Insubordination…my new favorite term!

Becoming a teacher has caused a bit of worry in that I am now privy to many aspects of  inefficiencies and plain old backward thinking still lingering in much of our school institutions.  I have a history of  defiance of authority and have since learned to lay low least I create more problems for myself.  Typically I have found that it doesn’t pay off to fight the system the whole damn way.  I really enjoyed Ayres’ (2010) articles in general, but especially where he suggests to find creative ways to buck authority.  I envision myself working in a school system that values me as a professional and respects the fact that as a professional I don’t need to be watched over like a teenager at their first job.  For the most part, and especially in the school I am currently interning at they seem to understand the importance of allowing creative freedom over your classroom.  However, should I find myself in a situation where that is not the case, I will turn to Ayres’ “To Teach, the Journey in Comics” to guide me through.

Week 9:

Closing the achievement gap…is it even possible?

This week’s readings emphasized and recognized the critical impact our nation’s history has had on creating the ongoing gap in achievement between minority and white students.  The gap in achievement that separates economically disadvantaged students and students of color from less disadvantaged students has been the focus of discussion, research and controversy for nearly 40 years. While the gap narrowed considerably through the late 1980s, particularly between blacks and whites, progress since then has been marginal — and low levels of achievement of minority students remains one of the most pressing problems in education.

Week 8:

How can you assess student learning in science?

The readings for this week provided numerous ways to assess student learning in science.  Even though we read the Abel & Volkmann article last quarter, it seemed so much more relevant and useful (now that I’m actually teaching in the classroom) in guiding how to focus in on what learning is taking place instead of what activities the students are doing.  It was also helpful to revisit the 5 Es (engage, explore, explain, evaluate, and elaborate) as a formula for lesson planning (again since we’re actually planning our units and lessons).  Now that I have re-read the 5Es as well as determined what effective assessment looks like, I need to re-visit my unit planning so that I can incorporate more aspects of effective assessment and planning!  Fulwiler’s article suggested four main focuses when assessing science notebooks: science concepts or ‘big ideas’, scientific skills, critical thinking, and expository writing.   This article was especially useful as it provided actual examples of student work and showed that what may initially seem like inadequate work is actually demonstrating many aspects of scientific skills, critical thinking, and knowledge of big ideas.

Week 7:

Labs are typically hands-on not minds…

America’s Lab Report Chapter 4 emphasizes the problem with activity based science learning.  Science labs can be a great way for students to get involved with science and have hands on experience however the article explains that most US High Schools participate in lab practices that are too heavily focused on procedure.  Emphasis on steps to complete the activity leaves students uncertain as to what is to be learned.  The learning goals become muddled by the importance unwittingly placed on order of steps: first do this, then do this, then this, lab complete.   America’s Lab Report states that more time should be given to allow students incorporate an ongoing reflection and discussion between and among students and teachers.  Currently, in my student teaching experience, there has been very little if any opportunity to even pause for a moment after completing  a lab activity.  The pressure to move on the next concept (lab activity) is immense and unfortunately allowing for students to reflect on their learning takes a back seat to preparing them for the standardized test in the spring.

Week 6:

“The emcee who does not have an audience is not effective, but the science teacher who does not reach the students is still valued and respected,” (Edmin, 2009, p. 87).

This weeks readings emphasized the importance of recognizing students’ cultural influences and incorporating aspects of their culture into our teaching.  A person’s culture is what makes them who they are, and often teachers make little if any effort to show students that their cultural wisdom has a place within the curriculum.  Instead of stripping students of their culture upon entering the classroom, their culture should be utilized as a basis for building knowledge.  In this way students can be validated in their prior knowledge and cultural wisdom instead of being alienated from the classroom and learning environment.  Edmin (2009) emphasizes this point.  He states that the hip-hop culture “possesses many attributes (describing, explaining, predicting) that support success in science,” (p. 87).  However, hip-hop culture is commonly viewed by many as something that should be suppressed and/or removed from one’s world-view and replaced with more traditional forms of knowing.  If educators make it explicit to students that their culture is a valuable way of knowing and understanding the world, students will not feel alienated in the classroom, and will want to be part of the knowledge building process, not cut off from it.

Week 5:

Teacher as learner.

One theme I saw threaded throughout this week’s readings was the idea that as a teacher in a classroom of 30 students, I am not the only one with knowledge to share.  As the teacher, in order to allow my students to build off their prior knowledge it becomes necessary that I view myself as a learner along with my students.  One way to break the standard convention of teacher-as-dispenser-of-knowledge is to structure everyday dialogue in class so that students are able to talk to each other to work out problems and voice ideas.  In this way, students aren’t looking to the teacher for confirmations of right or wrong answers.  This idea deviates from the standard classroom dialogue in which the teacher asks a (known) question, the student replies, and the teacher confirms weather or not the student was correct.  In my classroom, I can choose to avoid this conventional dialogue and structure learning so that I am not the center of the lesson, but rather the students are.  In this setting, students are able to bounce ideas off each other and an environment is created that allows for deeper understanding of the concept through joint problem solving and “think time”.  Students become able to further their thinking by listening to their peers work through the same problem.  It then becomes about what the students know instead of what the teacher knows.

Week 4:

WMS…. white man science. Ohhh, good joke Mr. Aikenhead!

All students cross borders into the realm of science.  As a female, I perceived the feeling of being a bit out of place within the realm of science, yet I never could quite put my finger on what specific “things” caused me to feel that way.  Aikenhead’s article validated my experiences throughout my college career.  The chemistry lab was often the place that caused me to feel the most uncomfortable and out of my element, so to speak.  Even then, I blamed the re-occurring “out-of-my-element feelings” (oh, element, chemistry– no pun intended) on the fact that I always had (white) male chemistry teachers and they just couldn’t begin to understand me or how I (women/young girls, in general) think and process information.  I knew that there was a difference between how I thought about equations and abstract concepts and how “they” thought about it.  And despite their attempts to “teach” me, I would always end up saying they just don’t think like me and I don’t think like them and never the two shall meet.  Yet, I also couldn’t help feel like I’m not as smart as men are, that there’s something wrong with me or how I learn that makes me feel like they just don’t get where I coming from.  Now, I have a clear picture in my mind, of the “line on the notebook paper.” (Aikenhead, 1996).   This barrier was not imagined by me.  Aikenhead’s article has made it explicit.  I crossed into their realm and I was a stranger there, coupled with the fact that no attempts were made to guide me through this strange land resulted in a general disinterest in a subject I find fascinating outside school walls.

Week 3:

Knowledge transfer.

Bransford, Franks, Vye, and Sherwood (1989), explain why memorizing or knowing disconnected facts doesn’t generally add up to “usable knowledge.”  Although its fairly obvious that its impossible to create every situation or experience a student will encounter throughout their lives in the classroom, the ability to take what is known and apply it to new or unfamiliar situations, aka knowledge transfer, is an often overlooked area of educating.  Several articles this week emphasized that knowledge transfer is not something we as educators can just “hope” for as a result of teaching new concepts to students and that the importance of being able to transfer what has been learned to new experiences requires intentional efforts on the part of educators.  Bransford et al. explain that one way to increase students’ ability to apply information to new problems is to present information that might initially require memorization within a context of real-world problems that are likely to be encountered or common in daily life.  In this way, students are more apt to utilize the “facts” in a manner that requires more than just simply memorizing random information.  As Bransford et al. indicate, this approach is especially relevant to science education because science is often viewed by novices as a mountain of facts to be memorized.  Demonstrating for students the direct application of “facts” to real-world problems shifts the focus from memorizing disconnected information to useful problem solving that can be repeated in a variety of situations.

Week 2:

Settlage, Ayres, Ladson-Billings….so many insights, so little time.

Settlage’s (2009) article contained many nuggets of insight and truth that resonated with me.  Alas, I only have time for a short blurb related to a recent conversation with a student.  Settlage states that “placing clear boundaries about what is or is not science denies students’ existing knowledge and so denies the students.” He described the importance of “giving equal footing to students’ extant knowledge about science phenomena…if a student’s observations and ideas about science phenomena and form of communicating this knowledge do not fit the typical patterns of science” these should not be discarded but instead “student knowledge should be viewed as starting points for more focused science classroom experiences, experiences that enrich rather than deny student’s existing knowledge” (p. 19). This nugget of insight jumped out at me particularly because I had one student recently exclaim,  “I hate science!” while he was practicing writing scientific conclusions.  I replied with, “What about the Rube Goldberg machines we’re building next week? Are you still gonna hate science then?”  His reply, “That’s not science!” My response, “Yes it is.”  Student: “Okay then, I hate all the stuff we have to write down in science, I just wanna do Bryce’s science, not the writing part.”  Bryce was struggling with learning how to communicate in the “proper” scientific way and as a result of his struggle he decided all of science wasn’t interesting to him.  To me, this exemplifies why it’s really important to emphasize (often) to students that science isn’t just speaking or sounding “scientific.”   As a teacher, I plan to heavily emphasize to students that they were already good at “doing science” before they even stepped foot in a science classroom by calling attention to the various ways we make observations, collect data, and thus make more informed decisions in our daily lives, which are often taken for granted or at the very least, not recognized as being “scientific” if its outside the science classroom.


4 thoughts on “Reading Responses, Fall 2012

  1. Angie–I agree with you that we should be helping students not only recognize the practices of science that they engage in everyday, but also that the content of science is applicable to their daily lives as well!

  2. It is definitely going to have to be an explicit effort to get students to see how they can use science in day to day life. I still see a lot of memorization in your model described here, but think it is inevitable. I’d hope as science educators we wouldn’t have to slam terms down students throats, but terms need to be known! Oh, the complications of being a science teacher. I hope to teach my students as a whole, how to problem solve. How to find the answers they need and then relate it to what they learn. But of course, a test cannot really measure such learning. DARN.

  3. I find it so interesting how much our experiences with science education differ. I never felt excluded from the man’s world of science. I actually realized while reading your post that I had the exact opposite experience. I was always drawn to nature, not knowing the connection to science. I came into my first science class hating the idea of science and not looking forward to it. Then, just weeks into my biology class, I was drawn into the culture of science and I have been in that culture, in class and out of class, since then. Love learning your journey.

  4. I really like the idea of getting away from the notion that the students should confirm with the teacher that they have the “right answer.” Students utilizing each other when they all share knowledge would be a much better way to invest students’ time rather than having them question themselves constantly and have to have their answers reinforced by a teacher. Learning to work together to check their work is the best way to go.

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