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 Seven: "Taking A Risk"

Section 1 - About Workshop Seven:
"Taking A Risk"


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 traditional approach.

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.


Workshop Discussion

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?


B. Challenges

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.


Workshop Discussion

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 the workshop.


Pre-Workshop Activity

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 effective?


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 or proposal.

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, or industry.

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 and information.


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.

Business Secretary
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.

Publicity Department

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.

Bosak, Susan. 1991. Science Is... Ontario, Canada: Scholastic Canada Ltd.

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: Erlbaum.

Fisher, Kathleen M. and Selene Schumpert. 1995. Process & Inquiry in Life Sciences Laboratory Manual, Parts 1-4. San Diego, CA: SemNet Research Group.

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 Books.

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.


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