What is the theme of this workshop? The theme of Workshop Seven
is "the excitement of student reasoning."
Whom do we see in the video? Terez Waldoch, a fourth grade teacher,
decides to try a new approach to teaching and bases her instruction on student
ideas. Her colleagues, administrators, students and their parents, however,
have different expectations for the classroom. With her reputation on the
line, Terez must decide if her new methods are more effective than her former
What happens in the video? A class of fourth-grade students poses
questions they want answered about the decomposition of matter. Guided by
their teacher, the students propose and execute experiments, presenting
and debating their results.
What problem does this workshop address? Should we just teach
the "facts"? Teachers agree that the "new" approaches
are compelling, yet few practice them. There are reasons for this avoidance:
a lack of time, the need for classroom control, pressure from parents to
teach the "basics," demands by administrators for more "coverage,"
and preparation for standardized tests. Can teachers afford to take the
risks of resisting these pressures to teach in a new way?
What teaching strategy does this workshop offer? How can a teacher
create a safe environment in the classroom and allow students to take risks?
Supporting this goal requires educated parents and administrators.
Section 2 - "Taking a Risk"
A. The Goals for Workshop Seven
Workshop Seven: "Taking A Risk" is for any teacher interested
in experiencing the excitement of student reasoning. To foster reasoning
by students and allow teachers to experiment with different learning methods,
it is important to make the classroom a safe place for both students and
teachers to innovate. There are obstacles to change, however, and we will
examine these in this workshop.
Discuss the differences between constructivist educational practices
and the traditional approach to learning and teaching.
Discuss ways in which teachers can change to a more constructivist
mode of teaching. How did you supplement your own science training?
What are some of the risks you are concerned about when inviting
students to direct their own investigations?
When presented on video, new teaching strategies based on children's
ideas might seem like more of the same old thing: cooperative learning,
hands-on experience, student-centered classroom, etc. The differences in
approach between constructivist learning and traditional approaches are
often subtle, yet extremely important.
How can you solve the following problem:
Some of the new constructivist learning concepts we depict in
our videos can easily be mistaken for more traditional and familiar techniques.
For instance, the approach taken by Terez Waldoch, the teacher in Workshop
Seven, focuses on her students' prior ideas. The actual activities in which
her students engage, however, could be confused with "hands-on"
activities that have a more traditional scope.
As teachers, discuss the subtle differences between the older
familiar strategies and the newer constructivist learning concepts presented
in our video.
Section 3 - Exercises
A. Exercises: Responding to Workshop Seven
Workshop Discussion After Viewing Video
What would you, as teachers, do next in this lesson?
The following is an activity that teachers might try in their classrooms.
Workshop and Post-Workshop Activity
Devise an approach similar to that depicted in the video for teaching
a subject of your choice. First, determine (by a method of your choice)
what the students already know or believe about the subject. Second, determine
what questions the students would like to answer about the subject. Finally,
have students work in small groups to devise, execute, and interpret experiments
or activities to answer their questions.
B. Exercise: Preparing for Workshop Eight
You will get the greatest benefit from Workshop Eight if you think about,
write down, and be prepared to discuss the following questions prior to
In the previous seven videos we have explored a variety of educational
strategies, including interviewing, journal keeping, concept mapping, metaphor
building, discussions, posters, and bridging analogies.
For discussion: What are the most effective uses of each approach?
What are some other approaches you have used or witnessed that are also
Section 4 - Educational Strategy
A. Environmental Action: A Debate
Affective teaching approaches attempt to involve the students' emotions
in the instructional process. Such involvement can result from the teacher
causing the students to care about the subject being taught, either by presenting
the content via characters and drama, or by involving the students in a
situation that has an effect on their lives and on which they can have an
effect, such as current events. Debating the social impact of a science
idea is an example of an affective approach to science teaching.
1. Choosing a Topic to Debate
Have the students research current issues in environmental science by
reading newspapers and news magazines, watching or listening to news workshops
on television or radio, and asking relatives and friends for their opinions
about recent environmental news topics. Dramatic local or global news events
with an environmental component make good debating topics. These might include
a recent oil spill, plans to build or close a local toxic waste dump or
incinerator, governmental initiatives to limit water use, efforts to save
endangered species of animals or plants, or local plans to convert unused
or preserved land to commercial use.
Working alone or in groups, the children can propose one or more topics
for debate. Make a list in class of all of the proposed debate topics; then
have the students vote or in some other way decide which topic or topics
to choose. During the topic selection process, children can make a case
for why particular topics are important or interesting. In this way, the
teacher will begin to determine the students' prior knowledge and beliefs
about the subject.
The final debate questions should be specific and involve clear issues.
A topic such as "Is it good to save water?" is not specific enough.
"Should our town approve the bond issue to build a new waste-water
treatment plant?" is specific and has clear issues of environmental
management, quality of life, and economics. With the issue of an oil spill,
the question should concern who, if anyone, should be blamed and fined.
Clear-cutting of forests can become an issue of jobs versus endangered species.
2. Preparing for the Debate
Once one or more topics are chosen, children can be assigned to teams.
Each team will prepare a case either for or against a particular topic.
Explain to the students that they need not start out with an opinion that
agrees with the side for which they are arguing. The point of a debate is
to amass evidence and construct a convincing argument for or against a proposition
Students can prepare for the debate by gathering evidence in a number
of ways. Each member of a team should be assigned specific aspects of the
issue(s) to be researched. The member could investigate the scientific background
of the issue, question parents and friends about their understanding of
the issue, conduct a survey of public opinion about the issue (on weekends
at a mall or other safe public place), clip news articles about the issue,
or interview people involved in the issue from government, citizens' groups,
3. Conducting the Debate
Students from each team can present evidence and arguments for or against
the debate question. The winner of each debate can be chosen by class vote.
Make sure each student has a chance to contribute to the debate.
4. After the Debate
When the debate is over, ask students about what they learned during
the process. Did preparing an argument change their ideas in any way? What
sorts of evidence did they find most convincing? Why? By listening to students'
ideas and comparing them to their ideas before the activity, the teacher
can begin to assess their understanding of the science content of the topic
and how those ideas have changed. Issues raised during the debate process
can be referred to during later science lessons.
Section 5 - Resources for Workshop Seven
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 the reader locate materials
A. Related Resources on Decomposition
Leach, John, R. Driver. et al. Progression in Understanding Ecological
Concepts by Pupils Aged 5-16, CLIS (Children Learning In Science) Publications.
CSSME (Center for Studies in Science and Mathematics Education)
University of Leeds
Leeds, UK LS2 9JT
Campbell, Stu. 1990. Let It Rot! The Gardener's Guide to Composting,
Pownal, VT: Storey Communications, Inc.
Soil: We can't grow without it. 1985. Educators' Packet.
National Wildlife Federation
1412 16th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
B. Further Reading
Bailey, Donna. 1991. Recycling Garbage. New York: F. Watts.
Condon, Judith. 1990. Recycling Paper. New York: F. Watts.
Brody, Michael. Understanding Pollution among 4th, 8th, and 11th graders.
Journal of Environmental Education 22(2): 24-33 (Winter 1990-91).
Campbell, Stu. 1990. Let It Rot! The Gardner's Guide to Composting.
Pownal, Vermont: Storey Communications, Inc.
Carin, Arthur. 1975. Teaching Science Through Discovery (7th Edition).
Columbus, OH: C.E. Merrill Publishing Company.
Devito, Alfred and G. Krockover. 1980. Creative Sciencing: A Practical
Approach. Creative Ventures, Inc.
Duckworth, E., J. Easley, D. Hawkins and A. Henriques. 1990. Science
Education: A Minds-On Approach for the Elementary Years. Hillsale, NJ:
Fisher, Kathleen M. and Selene Schumpert. 1995. Process & Inquiry
in Life Sciences Laboratory Manual, Parts 1-4. San Diego, CA: SemNet
Foster, Joanna. 1991. Carton, Can, and Orange Peels: Where does your
garbage go? New York: Clarion Books.
Kallen, Stuart. 1990. Recycle It! Once is not enough. Minnesota:
Abdo and Daughters.
Lavies, Bianca. 1993. Compost Critters. New York: Dutton Children's
Leach, John T., R.D. Konicek and B.L. Shapiro. The ideas used by British
and North American School children to interpret the phenomenon of decay:
a cross-cultural study. Paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the
American Educational Research Association. San Francisco. April 1992.
Milne, Lorus J. and M. Milne. 1987. A Shovel Full of Earth. New
York: Henry Holt & Co.
Osborne and Freyberg, eds. 1985. Learning in Science: The implications
of children's science. Auckland, NZ: Heinemann.
Schwartz, George I. and S. Bernice. 1974. Food Chains and Ecosystems:
Ecology for Young Experimenters. New York: Doubleday.
Silver, Donald M. 1993. One Small Square Backyard. New York: W.H.
Freeman & Co.
C. Bibliography on Decomposition
Adeniyi, E.O. 1985. Misconceptions of selected ecological concepts held
by some Nigerian students. Journal of Biological Education 19: 311-316.
Campbell, D., R. Konicek, B. Koscher, B. LaCorte, W.S. Laffond and T.
Waldoch. 1993. Children's alternative conceptions about decomposition and
the cycling of matter. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the New
England Educational Research Organization. Portsmouth, NH. April 1993.
Griffiths, A.K., and B.A.C. Grant. 1985. High school students' understanding
of food webs: Identification of a learning hierarchy and related misconceptions.
Journal of Research in Science Teaching 22: 421-436.
Leach, J.T., R.D. Konicek and B.L. Shapiro. 1992. The ideas used by British
and North American school children to interpret the phenomenon of decay:
A cross-cultural study. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American
Educational Research Association. San Francisco, CA. April 1992.
Sequeira, M. and M. Freitas. 1986. Death and decomposition of living
organisms: Children's alternative frameworks. Paper presented at the
eleventh conference of the Association for Teacher Education in Europe.
Toulouse, France. September 1986.
Sequeira, M. and M. Freitas. 1987. Children's alternative conceptions
about mould and copper oxide. In Proceedings of the Second International
Seminar: Misconceptions and Educational Strategies in Science and Mathematics,
J.D. Novak, ed. Ithaca, NY: Department of Education, Cornell University.
Smith, E.L. and C.W. Anderson. 1986. Alternative student conceptions
of matter cycling in ecosytems. Paper presented at the annual conference
of the North American Research in Science Teaching conference. San Franciso,
CA. April 1986.