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Case Studies in Science Education

Dotty — Grade 7

Teacher Profile

Name Dotty
Experience 23 years
Grade & Subject(s) Grade 6 and several Grade 7 students; all subjects
Classroom Multiethnic
Demographics Grade 6 and several Grade 7 students; all subjects
Science Teaching 5 hours per week
Curriculum Derives this year from the Tennessee Valley Project; previously built around objectives for state standardized test

Contents



Module 1 - Introducing the Case

As part of the Tennessee Valley Project, which was designed and funded to improve science education in eight rural districts, Dotty begins the year with what will become an in-depth unit on water. Using computer technology provided to Dotty's school through a previous grant, the Project has made it possible for Dotty and her students to go on-line and use telecommunications as a resource.

Along with her fellow Project members, who also have obtained the necessary computer technology, Dotty's plans are to implement a Science-Technology-Society (STS) approach to teaching and learning science. The goals of integrating technology, developing partnerships with willing educational resources, and addressing a state framework and the national standards are woven throughout the Project.

Teachers decide that students will have a great deal of control over the direction and depth of their studies, which is a different approach for Dotty. Dotty wonders whether this non-traditional approach can be implemented successfully.


Tennessee Valley Project

Teachers from eight rural districts participate in a summer workshop as preparation for a year-long science curriculum that will use telecommunications within a Science-Technology-Society (STS) approach to teaching and learning science. Participants will teach science that focuses on water during the fall and energy in the spring. Internet access is provided, as well as some initial contacts for establishing partnerships with educational resources.


Discussion Questions

What issues does Dotty's situation and her participation in the Tennessee Valley Project raise for you?




What do you consider to be the key elements in a curriculum that aims to develop an understanding of the relationships among science, technology, and society (STS)?




How would you integrate telecommunications into a curriculum, using an STS approach?





Module 2 - Trying New Ideas

Students begin their water study by bringing to class and then testing water from local water supplies. Students decide to send requests for water samples by means of the Internet. As a goal, students will collect samples from all 50 states. Students mark a map of the United States as a way of tracking where the samples originate.

Dotty interprets Project goals for STS to mean that students use an inquiry-based approach to investigate water in the context of the issues inherent to the region. A field trip to an environmental education center with a class from an adjacent district enables students to gather additional data for their investigation. As the water study nears completion, representatives from each participating school meet at the Tennessee Aquarium, a partner in the project, to share observations and results.

Dotty feels more connected with other teachers now that she can get on-line and share ideas and dilemmas. Her students have recognized the benefits of connecting with their peers from other schools, as well as the educational resources that they found on the Internet.

Water Study

Students gather water samples from many sources throughout the United States. As a geography connection, students use yarn and a map to identify the sources of their samples. Using water testing supplies that were donated by a resource identified through the Internet, students test for pH and dissolved oxygen. Students also explore a nearby branch of the Tennessee River to determine the characteristics of the living and non-living environments there. As a culminating activity, representatives from each participating 6th grade attend Link-Up Day at the Tennessee Aquarium, where ideas and understandings are shared and built upon. Dotty wonders now about assessment. Can she expect students to represent what they know by "bubbling in" answers on a multiple choice test after all the hands-on active, inquiry-based learning that has taken place?

Discussion Questions

Which aspects of Dotty's use of telecommunications in the water study do you consider to be the most useful in science teaching and learning? Least useful? Why?


What reasons can you give both for and against letting students "learn it [science] the way they want to"?




What strategies would you use for assessment if your goals were to align with the type of approach to science teaching and learning that Dotty takes with the water study?





Module 3 - Reflecting and Building on Change

Knowing that the Project specified that the last half of the school year be centered around energy and recognizing that her students feel such a degree of ownership of the water project that they are reluctant to let it go, Dotty and her class decide to investigate hydroelectricity. The regional connection is apparent in view of the region's reliance on dams and hydroelectric power plants on the Tennessee River.

Once again taking the lead in the direction of their studies, groups of students generate questions about hydroelectricity that connect closely with what students learned in the water study. Then they set out to find answers. As part of their search for answers, Dotty's class visits the Energy Connection, an educational resource located at the dam and power plant near the school. Students pose their questions to the guide, who shares his ideas with the class. Dotty feels that traditional forms of assessment do not align with the more progressive approach that she and her students have taken this year. Together, Dotty and her students decide upon a method of assessment that they think will best represent what students have learned. The result is a multi-faceted assessment that includes model building, oral presentations, written work, peer evaluations, and self-evaluations.


Hydroelectricity Study

Groups of students formulate their own questions about hydroelectricity. Using the Internet, local educational programs, and other resources, students set out to answer their own questions.


Discussion Questions

Based on what you observed of the hydroelectricity study, how would you critique this second project for the elements of science, technology, and society, and their relationships?




What position do you take with regard to providing students with opportunities to be assessed in both more traditional and more progressive ways?




How would you go about including your students in decisions about how science understandings are assessed?




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