Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Case Studies in Science Education

Raquel — Grade 7

Teacher Profile

Name Raquel
Experience 6 Years
Grade & Subject(s) Grade 7; earth science
Classroom Approximately 150 students; multiethnic
Demographics Urban school requiring admission test
Science Teaching 42 minutes, 3 days; 30 minutes, 2 days. Use of lab room, scheduled one time per week
Curriculum Representative middle grades earth science curriculum, with textbook as a guide
Other Undergraduate and some graduate study in geology; EdM in Teaching and Curriculum


Module 1 - Introducing the Case

"...Since I have a homeroom and keep a hamster there, I find that kids want to be in my classroom more..." With those words from Raquel, we learn something about the extent of Raquel's involvement with her students. In an effort to help her students see the sun as a dynamic, changing body rather than a fixed object in space, Raquel encourages partners to explore, explain, debate, and defend their opinions and ideas with one another. Raquel is not dissuaded by the sort of bickering that this often entails, but would like to take that discussion and extend it to a more formal expression of opinion and defense of that opinion based on scientific evidence. Raquel has noticed that open classroom discussions can be intimidating for students who lack confidence in their abilities or verbal skills. Raquel also observes that girls and students of color may be less comfortable talking about science, even though they have ideas to offer.

Sun's Rotation Activity

As part of a unit on the solar system, students look at photographs of sun spots taken over a 30-day period. By comparing the movement of the sun spots at different latitudes across the face of the sun, students try to determine the rotation periods at those latitudes. These observations help students learn more about the sun's rotation and understand that the sun is a dynamic, celestial body.

Discussion Questions

Which aspects of Raquel's approach to the sun spot activity might have a differential impact on the attitude or understanding of students typically underrepresented in science?

In your experience, what practices in science education do you think are likely to be exclusionary toward girls and /or students of color?

What are some ways for teachers to increase opportunities for girls and students of color to become confident and competent in science?

Module 2 - Trying New Ideas

Raquel knows from observing her students that girls need space to talk. Tom Dana of Pennsylvania State University and Raquel talk about extending the journal writing that students already do as a way of offering them more space to discuss their ideas about science. By asking students to comment in writing in one another's journals, thereby creating a dialogue journal, Raquel can offer another form of communication among peers. As a way of introducing students to the idea, Raquel asks each student to write a weather story, which is shared and commented upon by a classmate. Raquel comments that girls are now writing and talking more about science ideas and opinions. Raquel thinks the dialogue journals have offered the venue some of the girls needed to express themselves. In an effort to build upon this dialogue, Raquel encourages longer, more detailed, written discussions as a way of helping students learn more through exploration of their own theories.

Weather Dialogue Journal

Students write about their scientific ideas and opinions in journals, which students exchange partners for their written responses. Some entries require students to design experiments to prove theories regarding the properties of air, some require students to explore hypotheses relating air pressure to weather conditions, while others involve creative story-writing about weather's impact on our lives.

Discussion Questions

In your opinion, what are the most promising aspects of dialogue journals with regard to improving science teaching and learning? The most problematic?

Why might creating additional space for dialogue be a good strategy for fostering connectedness, confidence, and competence in science in students who are typically underrepresented at advanced levels?

What are some other ways teachers might engage students in meaningful dialogue about science concepts?

Module 3 - Reflecting and Building on Change

Because of the lack of depth in the written responses in the dialogue journals and the informal and unstructured nature of journal writing, Raquel decides to supplant the written dialogue strategy by asking her students to conduct face-to-face interviews with one another. In this way, students can role play as a means of seeing how scientists think and grapple with ideas. Students work in pairs to create news-like reports about events such as earthquakes on audiotape, videotape, or in print. This role play, often with technology integration, lends even more structure to students' dialogue and different kind of space for exploration and discussion of science concepts.

Raquel notices that the interview tapes act as a resource that students can use when they reflect on what they have learned and how their ideas have changed over time. Raquel attributes some of the success of the interview project to the self-confidence that students gained in their ability to talk about science by means of the dialogue journals.

Interview Project

As part of the study of the earth's internal geological process, students conduct interviews with one another to explain their understandings about the connections among such phenomena as earthquakes, volcanoes, and plate tectonics.

Discussion Questions

How would you compare the interview project with the dialogue journal in terms of the potential for each to foster positive attitudes toward and understanding of science concepts?

What conditions are necessary for meaningful and productive dialogue to occur as a part of science teaching and learning?

How would you foster positive and productive experiences for girls and students of color in science?


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