Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Private Universe Project in Science

Workshop One: "Eliciting Student Ideas

Section 1 - About Workshop One:
"Eliciting Student Ideas"


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What is the theme of this workshop?
The theme of Workshop One is "Eliciting Student Ideas."

Whom do we see in the videotape?
We see several Harvard students and faculty who are enormously confused about what causes the seasons. We also see Heather, an articulate, intelligent high school student who has a great many ideas about astronomy. Interviews with Heather both before and after her classroom lessons about astronomy reveal that she has learned much but is still confused about some key aspects of the subject.

What happens in the videotape?
While some of Heather's ideas after instruction are solid, others seem wildly "off base" from a scientist's point of view. Some of her ideas stubbornly resist change, either in the classroom or during on-camera challenges.

What problem does this workshop address?
Many of us think that the cause of the seasons has something to do with our distance from the sun, even though this "wrong idea" was never taught to us. Why is it we seem to learn some things that teachers don't teach us?

What teaching strategy does this workshop offer?
Many techniques for eliciting student ideas have been tested in the classroom. Interviews with students, poster presentations, prediction questions, group discussions, and journal keeping are some of the most common approaches. This workshop will address interviewing techniques and journal keeping.


Section 2 - "Eliciting Student Ideas"

A. The Goals for Workshop One

"Eliciting Student Ideas" is for teachers who are interested in the ways that prior beliefs profoundly affect students' abilities to learn new ideas. Even though this workshop focuses on A Private Universe, which presents a high-school student's ideas about astronomy, teachers of all subjects and all grade levels will gain new insights into learning in the classroom.


Pre-Workshop Activity

Prior to this workshop, workshop participants should spend 15 minutes interviewing a student and an adult about what causes the changes in the seasons. Record their responses. Did you discover some good ways to uncover students' ideas? Explain.



B. Challenges

One of the newly-minted Harvard graduates states in the opening moments of A Private Universe that she has gotten "very far" without studying or understanding the subjects of our questions. One of the unintended results of the video has been the "so what" reaction from some viewers.

Clearly, this understanding is important for the tiny minority of students headed for careers in astronomy or meteorology, but how can this understanding benefit the rest of the class?

Discuss ways to solve the following problems with any or all of the six science subjects you will encounter in the following weeks:



Workshop Activity

Is understanding the causes of the seasons or lunar phases important in the lives of students?
Why is an understanding of basic scientific principles important for all citizens?
What are some surprising ways in which a good science understanding can enhance the abilities of non-scientists to perform their work and live their lives?
(For example: Could chemical understanding affect the work of professional cooks and homemakers; could understanding weather and fluid dynamics help make better airline pilots and sailors; and could understanding how plants make food affect anyone who gardens?)
What are some examples of important social or political issues that require a scientific understanding by voters and policy makers?
(For example: Would knowledge of science be important for understanding toxic waste, screening for genetic diseases, global warming, or energy conservation issues?)



Section 3 - Exercises

A. Responding to Workshop One

Eliciting student ideas is an important way that teachers can become familiar with what their students think.


Workshop Discussion

Many people in education are now using the terms "constructivist" and "constructivism."
Have you heard of these terms? What do these terms mean to you?
Write down your brief definitions (not the dictionary's).
There are many "wild" ideas in a classroom: what should or can a teacher do?
Devise your own personal strategy for eliciting student ideas in the classroom.

B. Exercise: Preparing for Workshop Two

You will get the greatest benefit from Workshop Two if you complete the following exercise. Interview students, family members, and/or colleagues about their ideas concerning the following question; then record responses and share with others.


Pre-Workshop Activity for Workshop Two

Where does the stuff making up the weight of dry wood come from?
Ask interviewees to estimate percentages if they refer to more than one source.


Section 4 - Educational Stategy

What is the purpose of keeping a journal?

Keeping a journal is a time-honored way of documenting one's personal thoughts. Styles of journal keeping include the personal or general journal and the content-specific journal.

Using a journal for science education is a strategy for both the teacher and student to gain insight into the student's understanding and learning process. In a journal for science learning, students can record predictions, observations, explanations, and questions about things that puzzle them.

Because it is a personal and private communication, a journal allows the student to honestly reflect and speculate on her/his daily classroom experiences and monitor her/his own learning. For the teacher, the journal becomes a valuable tool for ascertaining the student's prior knowledge and understanding, for identifying any alternative ideas a student might have, and for monitoring the student's progress in the learning process.

Tips to share with your students

The personal narrative style is probably the most comfortable for most students. It allows them to "talk" in the journal, using their own vocabulary, expressions, and personal codes.

It is important that the teacher who reviews the journal be nonjudgmental-never "correcting" what the student is saying or how it is stated. Be reflective about the student's ideas.

The teacher should be on the alert for questions that puzzle the student. It is there that the teacher can gain an insight into what is or is not working and where the student might need to explore further.

When the teacher makes comments, he/she should make them on paper that can be removed, like post-its. Never write on the actual journal paper.

Ask the student to write on only one topic at a time. This will give the student something on which to focus without restricting the creativity and expression of the student.

Students will have their own personal ways of interpreting the events of the day, structuring their journals in a way that fits their styles. Allow individuality and creativity to shine through in this exercise. The teacher should take her/his cues from the students in identfying what works best for them.

Here are some suggestions on how to encourage students to begin their journal entries. Ask students to write:

 "I wonder..."  "I learned..."
 "My questions about this are..."  "I'd like to try..."
 "My best thinking at this point is..."  "I was puzzled by..."
 "I disagree with..."  



Section 5 - Resources for Workshop One


Companies, publications, and organizations named in this guide represent a cross-section of such entities. We do not endorse any companies, publications, or organizations, nor should any endorsement be inferred from a listing in this guide. Descriptions of such entities are for reference purposes only. We have provided this information to help locate materials and information: if you know of a supplier, publication, or organization that you think should be listed, please contact the editors so that the information can be included in future versions of this guide.


A. Materials For The Classroom

Novak, Joseph D. and D. Bob Gowin. 1984. Learning How to Learn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Distribution center: 1-800-872-7423.

A Private Universe-written, produced, and directed by Matthew Schneps.


B. Further Reading

Coyle, H.P., B. Gregory, W.M. Luzader, P.M. Sadler, and I.I. Shapiro. 1993. Project STAR: The Universe in Your Hands. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.

Duckworth, Eleanor. 1987. The Having of Wonderful Ideas. New York: Teachers College Press.

Banks, D.A. 1994. "Earth, Sun, and Moon: A Moving Experience." Science Scope 17(4): 36-40.

Lightman, A. and P. Sadler. 1988. "The Earth is round? Who are you kidding?" Science and Children 25(5): 24-26.

Yager, Robert E. 1991. "The constructivist learning model." The Science Teacher 58(9): 52-57.


C. Bibliography for Eliciting Student Ideas


Driver, Rosalind, Edith Guesne, and Andrée Tiberghien, eds. 1992. Children's Ideas in Science. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Novak, Joseph D. and D. Bob Gowin. 1984. Learning How to Learn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tobin, K. and D. Tippins. 1993. "Constructivism as a Referent for Teaching and Learning." In The Practice of Constructivism in Science Education, K. Tobin, ed. Washington, DC: AAAS Press.



Good, R.G. and A.E. Lawson, eds. 1993. "Special Issue: The Role of Analogy in Science and Science Teaching." Journal of Research in Science Teaching 10(30).



Baxter, J. 1989. "Children's understanding of familiar astronomical events." International Journal of Science Education 11: 502-513.

Clement, J. 1993. "Using bridging analogies and anchoring intuitions to deal with students' preconceptions in Physics." Journal of Research in Science Teaching 30(10): 1241-1259.

Gilbert, J. R. Osborne and P. Fensham. 1982. "Children's science and its consequences for teaching." Science Education 66(4): 623-633.

Nussbaum, J. 1979. "Children's conception of the Earth as a cosmic body: a cross-age study." Science Education 63: 83-93.

Treagust, D.F. and C.L. Smith. 1989. "Secondary students' understanding of gravity and the motion of planets." School Science and Mathematics 89(5): 380-391.


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