Supporting Science Teachers In Creating Lessons With Explicit Conceptual Storylines

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Cisterna, D., Lipsitz, K., Hanuscin, D., de Araujo, Z., & van Garderen, D. (2018). Supporting science teachers in creating lessons with explicit conceptual storylines. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/supporting-science-teachers-in-creating-lessons-with-explicit-conceptual-storylines/

by Dante Cisterna, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Kelsey Lipsitz, University of Missouri; Deborah Hanuscin, Western Washington University; Zandra de Araujo, University of Missouri; & Delinda van Garderen, University of Missouri

Abstract

We describe a four-step strategy used in our professional development program to help elementary science teachers recognize and create lesson plans with coherent conceptual storylines. The conceptual storyline of a lesson refers to sequencing its scientific concepts and activities to help students develop a main scientific idea and, often, is an implicit component of a lesson plan. The four steps of this learning strategy are, 1) Building awareness of conceptual storylines; (2) Analyze the coherence of the conceptual storyline of existing lessons; (3) Creating an explicit conceptual storyline as part of the planning process; and (4) Promote conceptual coherence throughout the storyline. We provide examples of how these steps were developed in our professional development program as well as evidence of teachers’ learning. We also discuss practical implications for using conceptual storylines in professional development for science teachers.

Introduction

Lesson planning is a central activity for developing and enacting teachers’ instructional practices. A well-designed lesson plan concretizes the multiple decisions made by teachers to organize their instruction, based on their knowledge of teaching and student learning (Remillard, 2005). However, lesson plans–even detailed ones—do not necessarily convey the rationale behind choices made regarding teaching approaches, sequences of ideas, and specific activities and representations of content (Brown, 2009). In fact, teachers use a variety of lesson plan formats that require a variety of different components, often based on school or district priorities (e.g. connections to other content areas, integration of technology, etc.). Likewise, some lesson plans have teachers indicate the science standards that are aligned with the activities, while other lessons do not.

In our professional development program targeted to elementary science teachers and focused on physical science concepts (see more details of the PD model in van Garderen, Hanuscin, Lee, & Kohn, 2012), we support teachers in making the central features of a lesson plan more explicit. Given that the teachers who participate in our professional development program come from different school buildings and districts (and may use different curricula), we are interested in promoting their pedagogical design capacity (Brown, 2009) so they can apply and adapt the central features of lesson plan design into their particular contexts. We also use the 5E Learning Cycle (Bybee et al., 2006) as a model for guiding the organization of their lesson activities. A substantial body of research over past decades shows that lessons that utilize a learning cycle framework (Bybee, 1997) can result in greater achievement in science, better retention of concepts, improved attitudes toward science and science learning, improved reasoning ability, and superior process skills than would be the case with traditional instructional approaches (e.g., Bilgin, Coşkun, & Aktaş, 2013; Evans, 2004; Liu, Peng, Wu, & Lin, 2009; Wilder & Shuttleworth, 2005). During our professional development program, teachers learn first about physical science concepts, and then, they refine their understanding of the 5E Learning Cycle and select activities that are aligned to the purpose of each phase in their lesson plans. We know that learning to plan using the 5E Learning Cycle may be challenging for some teachers, as described in previous research studies (e.g., Ross & Cartier, 2015; Settlage, 2000). However, in our experience working with teachers, we noticed a new challenge for teachers’ lesson plan design: recognizing the sequence of concepts so that the lesson has conceptual coherence.

Although teachers were often adept at aligning particular activities with specific phases of the 5E Learning Cycle based on their intended purposes, the complete sequence of activities they chose did not always exhibit strong conceptual connections or align with the scientific concepts stated in lesson learning goal(s). Many teachers focused more on the activities in which students engaged than the science concepts that students should be developing through the activities. A similar finding was also described in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) video analysis study, which indicated that in the majority of US classrooms, “ideas and activities are not woven together to tell or reveal a coherent story” (Roth et al., 2011, p. 120).

In our experience, we found that even teachers who are provided lesson plans that have a coherent sequence of concepts may not recognize this key element of lesson design, and may make adaptations to lessons that are counterproductive to their intent and purpose (Hanuscin et al., 2016). We saw teachers struggled to select activities whose underlying scientific concepts were connected to one another and followed a coherent progression that helped students connect the different concepts to better support their learning. That is, the particular challenge we noticed was related to the creation of a coherent conceptual storyline.

What is a Conceptual Storyline?

We use Ramsey’s (1993) definition of conceptual storylines in our professional development program. The conceptual storyline of a lesson refers to the flow and sequencing of learning activities so that concepts align and support one another in ways that are instructionally meaningful to student learning. We focus on ensuring that the sequence of activities for a particular lesson plan is coherent; that means, the organization of the underlying scientific concepts allows students to develop a full understanding of the scientific concepts stated in the lesson learning goals. Therefore, we expect the conceptual storyline of a lesson to be coherent both in terms of activities and scientific concepts to help students build an organized understanding of a scientific phenomenon (McDonald, Criswell, & Dreon, 2007). Similarly, incoming research suggests that the use of some strategies related to building coherence in lesson plans can impact student learning (see Roth et al., 2011).

Conceptual coherence in lessons

The conceptual storyline of a lesson is often an implicit dimension of planning and, as such, teachers may lack awareness of storylines and how to develop them. Therefore, a key goal that we implemented in our professional development model was supporting teachers’ development of coherent conceptual storylines as an explicit element of lesson design. We have been working with several strategies to help teachers recognize conceptual storylines as an explicit and central component of a lesson plan. We begin by using a Conceptual Storyline Probe (Hanuscin et al., 2016), an example of which is shown in Table 1, to highlight differences in two teachers’ lesson plans. Showing these differences to teachers is the first step to help them recognize that lessons have storylines with different levels of coherence.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Two Lessons with Different Levels of Conceptual Coherence

After reading both lessons, teachers share examples of the criteria they used for evaluating the lessons. In doing this, it is very important that PD facilitators or instructors let teachers talk and provide all the criteria they consider relevant. For example, these criteria might include whether the lesson is hands-on, and whether or not there are connections to the students’ daily lives. Sometimes, during the discussion teachers make comments about the sequence of activities (see examples of teachers’ responses in Figure 1). When prompted about this, teachers mention that there is ‘something’ in the lesson activities that make them flow differently. To be clear, Diana’s lesson includes different ideas about bulbs that lack connections between each other, while Michelle’s lesson organizes its activities in a sequence by which students can build an understanding of a central concept (switches). Therefore, noticing the difference in each lesson’s conceptual coherence is the first step in recognizing conceptual storylines as a component of lesson design.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Examples of teachers’ initial responses to the evaluation of two lessons with different levels of conceptual coherence.

A Strategy to Supporting Teachers Plan Lessons with Coherent Conceptual Storylines

Given the challenging nature of identifying the conceptual nuances in lesson plans, we recognize the importance of providing teachers support in constructing lessons with coherent conceptual storylines. To help teachers recognize coherent conceptual storylines as essential for well-designed lessons and encourage them to plan lessons that are conceptually coherent, our team has developed a strategy that includes four distinctive steps, as illustrated in Figure 2. Although our prior work was situated in elementary science, awareness of conceptual storylines can extend to all grade levels.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Steps for supporting teachers in developing a coherent conceptual storyline.

Step 1. Building awareness of conceptual storylines

For teachers unfamiliar with conceptual storylines as a component of lesson planning, we help them build their awareness of what storylines are, how important they are for meaningful instruction, and how they may support student learning. We help teachers think about the storyline of an instructional lesson or learning cycle by making an analogy using two familiar television shows, Saturday Night Live (SNL) and Downton Abbey. While SNL has consistencies in structure between shows (e.g. musical guest, celebrity monologue, etc.) the storylines of sketches within an episode, and indeed from episode to episode lack coherence. This means that the viewer can watch a whole episode or pieces of a given episode in any sequence. In contrast, to make sense of the storyline of Downton Abbey, one needs to watch the episodes in sequence to connect the events and ideas. Thus, Downton Abbey exemplifies a coherent storyline within and across episodes. When discussing this analogy between TV shows, teachers easily recognize that lessons also need to organize their concepts sequentially so each activity is necessary and sufficient for promoting student understanding. Drawing on this analogy helps teachers realize that conceptual coherence is an important feature of a lesson and that planning with conceptual storylines allows students to build science concepts within a larger arc and in connected ways—rather than as disconnected pieces.

Step 2. Analyze the coherence of the conceptual storyline of existing lessons

Once teachers recognize the importance of conceptual coherence in a lesson, they can use conceptual storylines for analyzing existing lesson plans. Some teachers examined their own lesson plans and others focused on district-provided lesson plans or lesson plans from commercial curricula. To help teachers learn how to identify and evaluate conceptual storylines, we provide them with two contrasting lesson plans, similar to the lessons presented in Table 1. One lesson has a coherent set of activities focused on a single concept (coherent conceptual storyline), and the second lesson includes activities that address multiple concepts loosely related to a topic (incoherent conceptual storyline). As teachers compare and contrast these lessons, they identify key considerations of different types of conceptual storylines. For example, the coherent conceptual storyline would sequence a key concept in such a manner that one concept builds to the next and allow students to develop the scientific concepts of the lesson learning goal, scientific phenomenon, or big idea.

We also provide teachers support in identifying the lesson’s main scientific idea and the key concepts that students should develop in each phase of the 5E Learning Cycle. For example, we use a card-sorting activity to help teachers make connections between the specific key ideas in a lesson and the phases of the 5E Learning Cycle. Before introducing this aspect of lesson plan design, we have teachers sequence the activities of a lesson based on their own understanding of a good instructional sequence. After learning about the 5E Learning Cycle and conceptual storylines, teachers sort the cards again and provide a rationale for their choices. To illustrate this we include responses of Anne, a fourth grade teacher, to the card sorting activity about a lesson focused on identifying characteristics of conductors and insulators (See Figure 3). At the end, Anne was able to justify that the activity in which students test a mystery box for electrical connections was not adequate for the Engage phase of the lesson, because this activity did not provide enough evidence for students about the components of an electric circuit that would serve as a foundation for the following activities through the lesson. We recognize that the process of learning about conceptual storylines is often slow, and needs to be fostered through several activities.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Responses to a card sorting activity before and after learning about conceptual storylines.

Overall, these learning opportunities allow for the teachers to examine different lesson plans and engage in discussions about what a coherent conceptual storyline looks like, as well as potential implications for student learning when using coherent or incoherent lessons.

Step 3. Creating an explicit conceptual storyline as part of the planning process

Once teachers were able to identify a lesson’s conceptual storyline and assess it for coherence, we engaged them in the design of a new conceptual storyline for their own lesson plans. We scaffolded this process by helping teachers break down a main concept, a scientific phenomenon, or big idea into more specific key ideas. Similarly, the use of the NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas can help teachers identify key scientific concepts to organize the conceptual storyline. The example presented in Figure 4 shows how the main concept about magnetic poles is ‘unpacked’ in several sub-concepts. The teacher began the sequence by anticipating a student misconception and used it to build the storyline.

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). Examples of specific concepts about magnet poles organized by teachers in the creation of a conceptual storyline.

To support teachers in making explicit connections among those key ideas, we introduce teachers to a Conceptual Storyline Map, an instructional scaffold adapted from Bybee’s (2015) work (see map in Appendix A). By using this map, teachers sequence the specific concepts and are able to connect two concepts through a linking question, while making connections to the phases of the 5E Learning Cycle. For example, one third grade teacher created a lesson plan to help her students understand how magnetic objects interact. When articulating the conceptual storyline she linked two important key ideas: 1) that magnets can attract, repel, or have no interaction with other objects, and 2) that magnets attract or repel other magnets, attract some metals (ferromagnetic), but have no interaction with other materials. In this case, the second idea builds on the first one and supports the construction of a conceptual storyline. The teacher included a linking question to make the connection between both ideas explicit, “What types of interactions do magnets have?”.

We note this process may be frustrating for some teachers who are not as familiar with the content knowledge or struggle to articulate the links between key concepts in a conceptual storyline. We recommend that PD instructors or facilitators do not provide the connections between the key concepts of the conceptual storyline, because these connections are not necessarily explicit for teachers. In our experience, having teachers create the conceptual storyline in collaborative teams has been helpful for addressing these potential problems.

Articulating concepts in a coherent conceptual storyline as an explicit component in lesson planning provided the teachers’ with a basis for the selection of activities and content representations. Therefore, the storyline acts as a backbone for the lesson. That backbone is a necessary foundation for the lesson, but does not provide a complete lesson plan; teachers must still select the particular activities and content representations to complete the lesson. In this way, the activities and content representations become the ‘connective tissue’ to the backbone of the lesson.

Step 4. Promote conceptual coherence throughout the storyline

Following teachers’ identification of the big idea or main concepts for the storyline, as well as the specific key ideas targeted during each phase of the learning cycle, the last step in teachers’ construction of conceptual storylines involves the ‘fine grain’ work needed to secure conceptual coherence in a lesson. In this step, teachers select activities and content representations (e.g., models, diagrams, analogies), and make any adjustments to their lessons to retain the conceptual coherence.

As teachers select activities and content representations, they must attend to the ‘big idea’ they developed in Step 3 that encompasses the various activities in the lesson. Likewise, these activities might provide opportunities to explore a scientific phenomenon and engage students in tasks related to the NGSS performance expectations. Whether teachers use curricular standards for their big idea or independently identify the main concepts, the main ideas guide the development of the lesson storyline. To assist teachers in planning a lesson with a coherent conceptual storyline, we provide teachers with a lesson plan form that designates the first column to the main concept that students are developing in that particular phase of the 5E learning cycle. Consequently, those concepts help teachers select and organize the activities of a lesson. For example, one fifth grade teacher created a lesson plan named “What is matter?”, in order to help students develop a scientific definition of matter and an understanding that matter can take multiple forms (see Appendix B).

The process of selecting particular activities and representations is iterative, and multiple adjustments can and should be made to ensure conceptual coherence across the big idea, the key concepts of the storyline, the concept representations, and activities. Because lesson plans are not created in isolation, we encourage teachers to make connections with ideas that were developed in previous lessons or relate to prior knowledge and students’ ideas.

Concluding Thoughts

Designing lesson plans with a coherent conceptual storyline may take more time initially because of the added layer of complexity in aligning concepts and activities. However, every lesson plan is based on a storyline—coherent or incoherent. If teachers do not plan for coherence, the result may be a set of disconnected concepts and activities.

In our professional development experience, we have noticed that teachers not only use conceptual storylines to select activities and content representations, but also for assessment purposes. In the last iteration of our program, we started supporting teachers in making connections between the concepts included in particular storylines and the ways to assess these concepts—either formatively or summatively (see matrix on Appendix C). We decided to include this component because we noticed teachers struggled to select topic-specific assessments strategies throughout the lesson. Given that many lesson plans require the inclusion of the assessment strategies, the use of conceptual storylines may help teachers identify what concepts need to be assessed during the lesson and when. The use of conceptual storylines may become an important tool to gather students’ evidence, especially to guide students in developing main scientific ideas.

In addition, the use of conceptual storylines is key towards building conceptually coherent lessons and thus, helping students build foundational science concepts. In our work, participant teachers are able to recognize the importance of planning lessons with conceptual coherence as an explicit component of lesson plan design and as a guide for the use of activities and representations. As one participant teachers stated:

When we planned our entire learning cycle we really did go over what the storyline would be…I think [PD facilitator] really helped us understand what may be a huge piece of what’s missing with a lot of instruction…the storyline of each of the learning cycles really built upon the previous one.

Conceptual storylines are just one tool that teachers can use to create coherent lesson plan designs. In emphasizing the importance of conceptual coherence, we do not mean to imply that content has greater importance than the process by which students learn the content—indeed, careful consideration should be given to the kinds of activities that will support students in building new understandings, developing facility with new skills, and developing confidence and competence as learners. We recognize that to create conceptual storylines, teachers need strong foundations in content knowledge to identify the key scientific concepts and the ways they are connected to each other. Therefore, in our professional development program, learning about conceptual storylines is embedded as part of a comprehensive curriculum that integrates content knowledge about physical science concepts and pedagogical lenses. For professional developers interested in adapting this strategy in their contexts, we recommend that learning about conceptual storylines be embedded in a larger professional development program rather than included as an isolated feature of lesson design.

References

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Bybee, R. W. (1997). Achieving scientific literacy: From purposes to practices. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Bybee, R.W., Taylor, J.A., Gardner, A., Van Scotter, P., Carlson, J., Westbrook, A., & Landes, N. (2006). The BSCS 5E instructional model: Origins, effectiveness, and applications. Unpublished white paper. Retrieved August 2008, from http://www.bscs.org/pdf/5EFull Report.pdf.

Bybee, R., Taylor, J., Gardner, A., Van Scotter, P., Carlson, J., Westbrook, A., & Landes, N. (2006). The BSCE 5E instructional model: Origins, effectiveness, and applications. Colorado Springs: BSCS.

Bybee, R. W. (2015). The BSCS 5E instructional model—Creating teachable moments. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

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Hanuscin, D., Lipsitz, K., Cisterna-Alburquerque, D., Arnone, K. A., van Garderen, D., de Araujo, Z., & Lee, E. J. (2016). Developing coherent conceptual storylines: Two elementary challenges. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 27, 393-414.

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van Garderen, D., Hanuscin, D., Lee, E., & Kohn, P. (2012). QUEST: A collaborative professional development model to meet the needs of diverse learners in K‐6 science. Psychology in the Schools, 49, 429-443

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Designing and using multimedia modules for teacher educators: Supporting teacher learning of scientific argumentation

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Marco-Bujosa, L., Gonzalez-Howard, M., McNeill, K., & Loper, S. (2017). Designing and using multimedia modules for teacher educators: Supporting teacher learning of scientific argumentation. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(4).   Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/designing-and-using-multimedia-modules-for-teacher-educators-supporting-teacher-learning-of-scientific-argumentation/

by Lisa Marco-Bujosa, Boston College; Maria Gonzalez-Howard, University of Texas, Austin; Katherine McNeill, Boston College; & Suzanna Loper, Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California-Berkeley

Abstract

In this article, we describe the design and use of multimedia modules to support teacher learning of the practice of scientific argumentation. We developed four multimedia modules, available online for use in professional development or preservice classes, incorporating research-based features designed to support teacher learning of argumentation. Specifically, the features underlying the design of the modules include: (1) providing images of practice, (2) problematizing instruction, (3) offering the student perspective, and 4) encouraging teacher reflection. Each module supports teacher educators in engaging teachers in learning about argumentation through activities utilizing these features. We describe the rationale for designing multimedia teacher learning modules that incorporate these features. We also describe how these features are incorporated into learning activities by focusing on one session from one module. We then illustrate the utility of these modules by providing one example of how these resources can assist teacher educators to support particular district goals around argumentation by adapting and modifying the modules. This article features the ways these online modules are an innovative support for teacher learning, by providing multimedia resources and the opportunity for increased user flexibility. Finally, we discuss some preliminary findings around teachers’ use of the features in these learning modules.

Introduction

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) represent a new vision for science teaching and learning, requiring teachers to blend disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts (Pruitt, 2014). The focus of the NGSS is on providing students with more authentic experiences in science, with an emphasis on students using their understanding of disciplinary core ideas to make sense of the natural world (Schwarz, Passmore, & Reiser, 2017). This represents a departure from traditional science instruction that focuses more on memorizing science knowledge and less on students engaging in science as a practice (Ford, 2015). However, the NGSS provide little guidance for teachers with respect to what these science practices should look like in science classrooms, or how teachers can design lessons to include them (Windschitl, Schwarz, & Passmore, 2014). Consequently, it can be difficult for teachers to incorporate science practices into their instruction.

In our work, we focus on one particular science practice, argumentation. A key aspect of argumentation is to promote student understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge and the culture of science (NRC, 2012), or science as knowledge and practice (Osborne, Erduran, & Simon, 2004). We conceptualize scientific argumentation as consisting of both a structural and dialogic component (McNeill, González-Howard, Katsh-Singer, & Loper, 2016). The structure of an argument consists of a claim about the natural world that is supported by both evidence and scientific reasoning (McNeill, Lizotte, Krajcik, & Marx, 2006). The dialogic component of argumentation emphasizes science as a social process in which students construct arguments through interactions with their classmates (Berland & Reiser, 2011). Although we describe structure and dialogic interactions as two different components of argumentation, they are often intertwined in classroom instruction. For instance, a student might critique the source of evidence a peer is using during a small group discussion.

Research has shown that scientific argumentation is difficult to implement in classrooms, particularly the dialogic component, which differs greatly from traditional, teacher directed, science instruction (Berland & Reiser, 2011). Studies around this science practice have shown that teachers’ argumentation instruction is influenced by their pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) and beliefs. PCK refers to professional knowledge specific to teaching and learning about a particular science concept (Shulman, 1986). Recent studies have highlighted the importance of PCK for the science practices, such as argumentation (e.g., McNeill, et al., 2016). Teacher beliefs about argumentation, and the value of argumentation, can also influence how teachers incorporate this practice into their instruction (Sampson & Blanchard, 2012).

In our previous work (McNeill, et al., 2016), we explored teachers’ beliefs around argumentation in three areas related to their classroom instruction: 1) students’ backgrounds, 2) learning goals and 3) self-efficacy. In terms of students’ backgrounds, some teachers believe argumentation is too hard for some students (Sampson & Blanchard, 2012) or that argumentation may create confusion and lead to student misconceptions about science concepts (Osborne et al., 2004). Research also indicates that teacher beliefs about student ability to engage in argumentation vary based upon factors such as the socioeconomic status of their students (Katsh-Singer, McNeill, & Loper, 2016). In addition, teachers’ understandings of argumentation, and their beliefs about how knowledge is created and used in the classroom, can influence the ways teachers plan for and teach argumentation activities in the classroom (McNeill, et al., 2016; Marco-Bujosa, McNeill, González-Howard, & Loper, 2017). These learning goals play an important role in teachers’ approach to argumentation instruction. For example, in a study of the impact of teachers’ beliefs on instruction of scientific argumentation, Zohar (2008) found teachers who believed that the goal of science instruction was to provide content knowledge only rarely engage students in activities requiring critical thinking, an essential aspect of scientific argumentation. Finally, teacher beliefs about themselves have been shown to influence their instruction (Bryan, 2012). For example, in prior work we found that teachers’ confidence in their ability to teach argumentation can influence their instruction (McNeill, et al., 2016). These kinds of beliefs may cause teachers to undermine the goals of argumentation by placing an instructional priority on transmitting knowledge.

Teachers need support to develop their PCK and beliefs about argumentation. To do so, teachers need to see the practices in action, and understand how they are different from traditional approaches to science instruction (Hanuscin, Arnone, & Bautista, 2016; Osborne, 2014). The challenge for teacher educators is that most science teachers, or prospective science teachers, received little support to develop knowledge of the science practices in their science education experiences or teacher preparation programs (Osborne, 2014). Consequently, teachers may be unfamiliar with the science practices, both as a science learner and as a teacher, and will need support to incorporate the practices into their science teaching. Additionally, research has shown that considering how teachers learn is important in supporting teachers to teach science practices (Allen & Penuel, 2015; Hanuscin, Arnone & Bautista, 2016) and argumentation in particular (Marco-Bujosa, et al., 2017). Thus, teacher learning experiences about the science practices, such as argumentation, may need to shift to better support teacher learning. This has implications for curriculum, learning structures, and strategies used in teacher preparation and professional development (Bybee, 2014; Hanuscin et al., 2016).

We developed multimedia modules about scientific argumentation to change teacher beliefs about argumentation in three ways that have been shown to support teacher instruction of this practice: beliefs about student abilities to engage in this scientific practice; beliefs about the importance of teaching argumentation (learning goals); and beliefs about their ability to teach argumentation (self-efficacy). In this paper, we focus on the features of the multimedia modules, which are designed to help teacher educators support teacher learning of scientific argumentation. In particular, these online modules were developed to incorporate the lessons emerging from research on supporting teachers to learn about the science practices. Specifically, four features provided the backbone of our module design approach: (1) providing images of practice, (2) problematizing instruction, (3) offering the student perspective, and 4) encouraging teacher reflection. These features are based upon research and best practices (e.g., van den Berg, Wallace & Pedretti, 2008; Zhang, Lundeberg, Koehler, & Eberhardt, 2011), as well as our personal experience working with teachers and teacher educators around argumentation. Additionally, creating these modules in an online platform offered an innovative means by which to support teacher learning through the use of multimedia supports. Furthermore, the online platform permits flexible use by teacher educators, specifically allowing for customization and adaptation to their needs, as well as the needs of the schools and teachers they serve. In the next section, we describe the context of our work – a research and development project around the practice of scientific argumentation – that provided the impetus for the development of these modules.

Context of our Work

​We developed the teacher learning modules as a part of The Argumentation Toolkit, (http://www.argumentationtoolkit.org/), an online collection of resources designed to help teachers understand and teach scientific argumentation, which we will refer to as “the toolkit” for the remainder of the article. The toolkit was developed as part of a research and development project to support middle school teachers in integrating argumentation into their science instruction. This project is a collaboration between the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley and Boston College.

In order to effectively teach argumentation, teachers need an understanding of this science practice and of instructional strategies to engage and support students. Thus, we developed the toolkit to support both teacher understanding of argumentation and to provide teachers with classroom strategies. The toolkit was developed around four elements of scientific argumentation that are particularly challenging for teachers and students. Two of these elements relate to the structural component of argumentation – 1) evidence, and 2) reasoning – while two correspond to the dialogic aspects of this science practice – 3) student interaction, and 4) competing claims (Figure 1).

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Argumentation elements.

In our work developing resources for teachers, we found that teacher educators also require resources and support to facilitate their professional development efforts around argumentation. We approached this need through the development of multimedia modules for scientific argumentation, which were added to the toolkit website to provide support for teacher educators using the toolkit resources. The following sections describe our design approach, specifically illustrating the utility of particular features in a multimedia format that guided our development of the modules. Additionally, we provide an illustration of the first author’s use of these multimedia learning modules during professional development for science teachers. This example is intended to highlight how the flexibility of these modules allows teacher educators to modify and adapt them to their own setting.

Module Design

We developed four multimedia teacher learning modules around scientific argumentation. The four modules consist of an introductory module, which introduces teachers to argumentation using the four common student challenges previously described, and three advanced modules, which provide teachers with additional depth and practice related to teaching argumentation. More information about these modules is provided in Table 1, and on the toolkit website under the “Teacher Learning” tab (http://www.argumentationtoolkit.org/teacher-learning.html). Each module consists of four sessions, which can be presented all at once in a 3 hour long session, or as individual, 45 minute sessions. Modules provide teachers with the opportunity to engage in a variety of argumentation activities, review student artifacts and student talk (e.g., writing and video), and design or revise their own argumentation lessons. Additional information about the design and organization of the modules is provided below in the section of this article entitled, “Using the Module.”

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Description of Teacher Learning Modules

Each module, and its corresponding sessions, was designed to incorporate four features intended to support teacher learning of the science practices: (1) providing images of practice, (2) problematizing instruction, (3) offering the student perspective, and 4) encouraging teacher reflection. Table 2 provides a summary and a description of how each feature is incorporated in the modules.

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)
Module Design Features to Support Teacher Learning

We next describe and illustrate each of these design features using examples from one session, the fourth session from the Introductory Module on Scientific Argumentation, entitled, “How do we support students in interacting with peers during argumentation?” (The agenda for this session is provided in the Appendix, and can also be accessed on the toolkit website.) This session was designed to help teachers develop an understanding of argumentation as a social process in which students question and critique claims using evidence and reasoning.

Design Features to Support Teacher Learning

Providing images of practice

To incorporate the first feature, providing images of practice, the modules make rich images of classroom enactment of science argumentation available to teachers. Images of practice serve as useful instructional models for teachers in preservice classes and professional development, particularly for those who are unfamiliar with the practice and lack context for how argumentation activities may differ from traditional science instruction (Reiser, 2013). In our learning modules, these images are incorporated through videos of teachers and students engaging in argumentation activities.

As compared to text-based supports, these videos provide teachers with real world examples of argumentation in science classrooms. The videos feature footage of real classrooms with teachers enacting a curriculum on argumentation with their students. The teachers in the videos were using a curriculum with a strong focus on scientific argumentation. This context was used with the hope that it would provide strong examples of what argumentation may look like in a classroom. Each video was created with a particular goal for teacher learning. For instance, while some videos provide an overview of the elements that are particularly challenging for teachers and their students, other videos highlight classroom activities and strategies to support engagement in argumentation. For each video, specific clips were selected to illustrate the particular goals of the video. Further, the videos are edited and have voice overs to emphasize particular goals, and teachers reflect on challenges and successes of implementing these activities in their classroom.

The fourth session begins with an activity “Video & Discussion.” This video supports the dialogic elements of argumentation, and is specifically focused on encouraging student interaction (Figure 2). The videos support teacher learning by providing an overview of the practice, a rationale for supporting student interaction in the science class, and footage of students in actual science classes critiquing each other’s ideas across different types of argumentation activities (e.g., pair feedback on written arguments). These videos also provide a vehicle for helping teachers see the interconnectedness of argument structure and dialogic interactions. For example, in this video, students draw upon evidence to convince their peers.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Image of practice and problematizing instruction.

Problematizing instruction

The second feature, problematizing instruction, helps teachers recognize how their current instruction may be different from instruction authentically incorporating the science practices, such as argumentation (Osborne, 2014). As mentioned earlier, our four modules were explicitly designed to address four elements of argumentation that research has found to be particularly challenging for teachers and students (evidence, reasoning, student interactions, and competing claims) (McNeill et al., 2016). Across the four modules, each session title is a key question of practice related to an argumentation challenge, which serves as a guiding question for session activities. The question both identifies the argumentation focus for the session, and also encourages teachers to make connections between this science practice and their current instruction. For example, the fourth session in the Introductory Module is entitled, “How do we support students in interacting with peers during argumentation?” This question focuses on the challenge of student interactions, and all activities are around helping teachers provide support for student interactions in their science class.

Moreover, discussions following different activities in this session prompt teachers to consider challenges their students face. For example, in a discussion following the first activity, “Video & Discussion: Encouraging Student Interactions,” participants are asked: “What are the benefits to having students interact with peers during argumentation tasks?” Questions like these encourage teachers to consider the ways in which incorporating argumentation into their instruction supports student learning (Figure 2).

Offering the student perspective

Teachers are given the opportunity to engage in numerous argumentation activities during sessions from the student perspective. Research has shown it is important for teachers to develop knowledge of how students learn (Lee & Luft, 2008; Park & Oliver, 2008). One way to support teacher understanding of how students learn about argumentation is to have them engage in argumentation activities as a learner themselves. This feature addresses the lack of familiarity and experience many teachers have with argumentation, and allows them to understand the challenges students may encounter. For example, session four in the Introductory Module introduces teachers to the experience of student interactions by having teachers work in groups to collaboratively analyze data from three different studies related to a claim about metabolism (Figure 3). Teachers are encouraged to interact around evidence by asking each other questions, building off of one another’s ideas, critiquing each other’s claims, and persuading one another—all key dialogic aspects of argumentation. Following the activity, teachers are prompted to reflect on their experience of having engaged in this argumentation task as a student (“What did you talk about when you engaged in this task? How did interacting with others influence the argument you developed?”). Afterwards, they shift back to a teacher perspective to discuss instruction, particularly the supports they anticipate their students may need to productively interact with their peers in this argumentation activity (“What types of supports do you think your students might need to engage in this element of argumentation?”).

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Student perspective.

Encouraging teacher reflection 

The fourth feature we incorporated into the modules is encouraging teacher reflection. Research has shown that professional development supporting teachers’ PCK should provide teachers with opportunities to both enact instructional strategies and opportunities to reflect on those enactments, both individually and as a group (Van Driel & Barry, 2012). Thus, in each session, multiple opportunities for discussion among teachers are provided. Questions prompt teachers to reflect on their own instruction after different activities, such as after viewing a video or engaging in an argumentation task. In the example discussed earlier, numerous opportunities are provided for teachers to engage in sustained reflection on how to support student interactions in their science classroom. For instance, all sessions include an optional extension, which can be used to encourage teachers to further reflect on their argumentation instruction. Session four in the Introductory Module begins with a debriefing of an argumentation task teachers were asked to try with their students following session three. Teachers are encouraged to reflect on a lesson they developed addressing reasoning with their peers, specifically discussing what went well and what was challenging, as well as sharing student writing (Figure 4).

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). Teacher reflection from extension discussion.

Teachers also engage in a reflective discussion following “Activity: Analyzing data with peers.” Specifically, they are prompted to consider, “What type of supports do you think your students might need to engage in this element of argumentation?” Additionally, in a culminating activity for the module, “Discussion: Connections between argumentation elements,” teachers make connections across all four argumentation elements introduced in the session, and consider the strengths of science instruction incorporating these elements, as well as any challenges students may encounter. Such a discussion is meant to support teachers in considering the needs of their students in planning for instruction.

As these examples from just one session illustrate, the four design features underlying this module (providing images of practice, problematizing instruction, encouraging teacher reflection, and offering the student perspective) are synergistic, working together to support teachers in developing their understanding of argumentation and how to incorporate it into their instruction. In particular, the videos (which offer teachers an image of practice) provide the teacher educator with a natural vehicle to facilitate teachers’ ability to engage in two other features, problematizing their instruction and reflecting on their practice. Moreover, although each session focuses on one particular challenge identified in the question framing the session (evidence, reasoning, student interaction, or competing claims), the other challenges are interwoven across different session activities. For example, the focal session described above addressed the challenge of supporting student interactions, but activities also incorporated the structural elements of argumentation, notably student use of evidence and reasoning.

Using the Module

Our experience leading professional development and working with other teacher educators guided our approach to the development of these modules. Though the modules were developed as self-contained units, the fact that these modules are provided online enable these resources to be flexibly used and easily customized.

The first author used the modules to prepare a professional development (PD) session about scientific argumentation for a school district. The district requested a PD session specifically focused on the structural elements of argumentation (i.e., how a claim is supported by evidence and reasoning). The district had a particular goal to better support student writing of science arguments, and requested a focus on reasoning, which they found had been an area of challenge for both teachers and students. Furthermore, because this PD request was designed to support a new district initiative that encompassed a goal for vertical alignment, the audience included teachers of science from grades 4-12 (most of whom were new to argumentation). As such, the goal of the PD was to introduce teachers to argumentation, and to begin the process of modifying instruction to incorporate more opportunities for authentic student argumentation.

Because no individual module aligned with the district’s request and goal of focusing solely on the structural components of argumentation (evidence and reasoning), I identified sessions across the four learning modules that provided a variety of activity types for teachers to learn about evidence and reasoning and consider implications for their instruction. (See the Teacher Learning tab on the toolkit website for more information: http://www.argumentationtoolkit.org/teacher-learning.html). Specifically, I used the first session and the third session from the Introductory Module (What is the role of evidence in a scientific argument? and What is the role of reasoning in a scientific argument?) to introduce teachers to evidence and reasoning. Then, to support teachers in identifying opportunities in their current curriculum and instruction to support student argumentation, I drew upon sessions from different advanced modules, specifically session 3 from the Advanced Module on Evidence and Reasoning (How can you support student use of reasoning in a scientific argument?) and session 1 from the Advanced Module, Designing Rich Argumentation Tasks (How can you design rich argumentation tasks to encourage student use of evidence and reasoning?). Even though the selected sessions and activities were designed to support teacher learning about argument structure, the videos included in these sessions also provided footage of students engaged in argumentation activities. Videos encouraged teachers to problematize their instruction and reflect on their practice to incorporate the dialogic components of argumentation, notably student interaction. For example, the video in the session introducing reasoning not only provides examples of classroom activities that can support student use of reasoning, such as group work, but also provides teachers with footage of students using reasoning in real classrooms engaged in argumentation activities. The discussion questions following this video (“How do the activities featured in the video encourage students to use reasoning?” and “What challenges do your students encounter using reasoning?”) encourage teachers to reflect on this practice and the implications for their own instruction.

As illustrated in this anecdote showing how the modules can be used, the online platform makes them flexible and easily modified to serve different purposes and audiences. For example, the modules are flexible with respect to time, since each module can be delivered as one 3 hour session, or four separate 45 minute sessions, depending upon the timing and format of the PD session. If presented as four separate sessions, optional “extension” activities are included to provide connections across session topics. Furthermore, though designed for a middle school audience, the sessions can be utilized with teachers across grades K-12, and even with a preservice audience. This flexibility is facilitated with references and supports around science content to enable teachers to engage in the argumentation activities regardless of their content knowledge.

Additionally, the modules can be used in any desired combination or order. They were designed to be presented as stand-alone learning experiences, or as a series, with an introductory module and several options for more advanced practice on argumentation. Or, as illustrated by the previous example, teacher educators can organize the learning experience based upon the needs and interests of their audience. Each session is cross referenced by the argumentation element (evidence, reasoning, student interactions, and competing claims) and by the argumentation activity focused on in the session (Figure 5) to facilitate teacher educators in customizing the learning experience.

Figure 5 (Click on image to enlarge). Argumentation element and activity.

Finally, each session can be viewed in one of two ways to allow teacher educators easy access to resources for planning and presenting. Specifically, each session can be displayed on the website as either 1) a scrollable lesson plan, which provides an outline of all activities, with links to session resources, or 2) as a slideshow, which includes any videos at the bottom of the page. Both views offer the same learning experiences to teachers. Additionally, an agenda is provided for each module, which includes tips for facilitators, and time estimates. This document can be edited, allowing facilitators to customize the lesson plan for their session.

Evidence of Success: Teacher Beliefs and Understanding of Argumentation

There is evidence that the types of supports included in our learning modules are desired by teachers and teacher educators who are interested in incorporating the scientific practice of argumentation into classroom teaching. This demand is evident in the number of hits the modules have received. Specifically, since we posted the first module in June 2016, we have had 10,508 unique page views for the teacher learning modules in just over six months (as of January 2017). The last module was posted in late December 2016.

Although we have not yet collected data from teachers who participated in PD using these modules, we can report data about changes in teacher beliefs about argumentation from a pilot of resources for teachers provided in the toolkit, including the videos featured in the teacher learning modules. We explored teacher beliefs about scientific argumentation through a survey consisting of 22 items measuring three aspects of teacher beliefs (self-efficacy, learning goals, and beliefs about student background and ability) after using a web-based teacher’s guide that included videos and other supports. Sample items and consistency ratings for these three scales are reported in Table 3.

Table 3 (Click on image to enlarge)

Teachers’ Beliefs About Scientific Argumentation

Overall, we found significant increases in teachers’ self-efficacy, their learning goals for their students, and beliefs related to student background and ability as a result of learning about argumentation using these supports (Table 4).

Table 4 (Click on image to enlarge)

Changes in Teachers’ Beliefs About Scientific Argumentation

Interviews with teachers about how they used these videos in preparing for instruction offered insights into how teachers interact with these features, resulting in instructional changes. In interviews following their instruction of a focus lesson on argumentation, teachers were asked to comment on how they used the resources to prepare their argumentation instruction. Several teachers commented on the benefits of the videos in helping them develop their own understanding of argumentation and of what it looks like in the classroom. One teacher described how the videos were helpful in providing a clear explanation of the structure of a scientific argument.

[I] watched the video… just to go over what a claim is, because I think I’ve had different definitions of it over, you know, different iterations, the definition over the past three years and these definitions seem very tight, and there’s not a lot of wiggle room with what it means, so that was my biggest concern, is talking about the evidence and talking about the process of making an argument.  

Another teacher found the videos to be particularly helpful in supporting her understanding of what argumentation looks like in a science classroom, and instructional strategies that can facilitate student engagement in the dialogic components of this science practice.

So I did watch the video, and it was more specific in terms of language than the previous ones I had looked at had been, so I did take the time to watch it a second time and freeze the screen and write down some of the questions because it was new language to me, and I just wanted to integrate it more and to, so that I would be able to reinforce it as I was talking to individuals. 

As such, the videos that we included in our teacher learning modules have shown promise in supporting changes in teachers’ beliefs about argumentation, as well as shifts in their instruction around this science practice. This suggests that the modules themselves may have promise to support changes in teachers’ beliefs.

Conclusion and Implications

Our work contributes to bridging the gap between teacher education and the classroom, specifically in helping teachers incorporate the science practice of argumentation into their science classes. Our modules provide teacher educators with a tool to better support teacher learning around argumentation in their professional development efforts. Specifically, in this paper we described the research-based features we incorporated in our design of the modules, and offered contextualized examples of what each of these features look like. Research on argumentation, and personal communication from teacher educators, reveal there is a need for these types of resources. Our teacher learning modules, freely available online, are both flexible and easy to access and use with a variety of teacher audiences, easily modified for particular instructional goals related to argumentation, and engage teachers in meaningful, reflective activities to support their understanding of argumentation.

 

Supplemental Files

Appendix.docx

References

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A Scientist, Teacher Educator and Teacher Collaborative: Innovative Professional Learning Design focused on Climate Change and Lessons Learned from K-12 Classrooms

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Stapleton, M.K., & Sezen-Barrie, A. (2017). A scientist, teacher educator and teacher collaborative: Innovative professional learning design focused on climate change and lessons learned from K-12 classrooms. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(4). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/a-scientist-teacher-educator-and-teacher-collaborative-innovative-professional-learning-design-focused-on-climate-change-and-lessons-learned-from-k-12-classrooms/

by Mary K. Stapleton, Towson University; & Asli Sezen-Barrie, Towson University

Abstract

The new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call for a dramatic shift in science teaching and learning, with a focus on students engaging in science practices as they make sense of natural phenomena. In addition, the NGSS have a significant and explicit focus on climate change. The adoption of these new standards in many states across the nation have created a critical need for on-going professional learning as inservice science educators begin to implement three-dimensional instruction in their classrooms. This paper describes an innovative professional learning workshop on climate change for secondary science teachers, designed by teacher educators and scientists. The workshop was designed to improve teachers’ capacity to deliver effective three-dimensional climate change instruction in their classrooms. We present the structure and goals of the workshop, describe how theories of effective professional learning drove the design of the workshop, and address the affordances and challenges of implementing this type of professional learning experience.

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Comparing Classroom Inquiry and Sociological Account of Science as a Means of Explicit-Reflective Learning of NOS/SI

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Meyer, D.Z. (2016). Comparing classroom inquiry and sociological account of science as a means of explicit-reflective learning of NOS/SI. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, Volume 1(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/comparing-classroom-inquiry-and-sociological-account-of-science-as-a-means-of-explicit-reflective-learning-of-nossi/

by Daniel Z. Meyer, Illinois College

Abstract

Research has shown the importance of an explicit-reflective approach to improving individuals' understanding of nature of science and scientific inquiry.  What has been less explored is a variety of ways for carrying out an explicit-reflective approach.  The purpose of this paper is to share a particular strategy.  At the heart of the approach was the comparison of an in-class inquiry based activity and a reading of a sociological account of scientific work.  Following this exposure, participants are able to generate a number of key aspects of NOS/SI.  Additional suggestions, as well as misconceptions, are able to be used as the starting point for further class discussion.  The activity has been utilized in preservice methods courses and inservice professional development programs for teachers at all levels, as well as classes for non-teacher education students.

The Problem

Reform in science education has long had as a central goal student understanding of meta level concepts related to the epistemology and process of science – what has come to be termed nature of science (NOS) and scientific inquiry (SI).  Of course, the reason it has long been a goal is that meeting it has proved so challenging.  Research has shown the importance of an explicit-reflective approach to improving students’ understanding of nature of science and scientific inquiry (Khishfe & Abd-El-Khalick, 2002).  That is, simply involving students in authentic inquiry experiences with the aim that students will implicitly learn those meta level understandings about science will not work.  Experience with inquiry is crucial, but aspects of NOS/SI must be addressed explicitly. The explicit-reflective approach has been shown to be effective with K-12 students (Khishfe & Abd-El-Khalick, 2002), preservice teachers (Scharmann, Smith, James, & Jensen, 2005; Schwartz, Lederman, & Crawford, 2004) and inservice teachers (Akerson, Abd-El-Khalick, & Lederman, 2000; Akerson, Hanson & Cullen, 2007).

The focus of this body of research has been on detailing the impact of an explicit-reflective approach, rather than providing guidance on the details of such approaches.  In fact, there are a number of clear impediments to carrying out explicit-reflective teaching of NOS/SI.  Engaging students in authentic inquiry has its own inherent challenges (Meyer, Antink-Meyer, Nabb, Connell, and Avery 2013).  Engaging in meaningful scientific inquiry practices such as understanding and forming scientific questions, employing appropriate methodology, interpreting results all entail background knowledge.  The subject of an inquiry has to have something in question, but the scientific content of most K-12 science classes (or even college level science classes) have, by definition, been resolved (Meyer and Avery, 2010).  Indeed, the process of validating scientific knowledge often includes removing the particularities of its production (Latour & Woolgar, 1986).

In addition, thinking about NOS/SI is not a natural activity for students.  The concepts are not black and white, and have the non-binary, qualitative aspects of many sociological concepts.  Furthermore, it is difficult to imagine how to prompt students to think about such issues.  Put bluntly, asking students “What do you think the nature of science is?” is not a meaningful question, regardless of what their ideas about it actually are.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate an approach that put participants (preservice and inservice teachers in the cases presented here) in the position of being able to meaningfully generate ideas about NOS/SI.  The basic structure is the comparison of two cases – one an in-class inquiry based activity that participants complete and the second a case study drawn from sociology of science.  The content of each is completely different, and thus the comparison focuses participants on aspects of NOS/SI, which each is designed to illustrate.

In-Class Inquiry Activity

The in-class inquiry activity is called the Flow Lab (Meyer and Avery, 2009).  It is intended to provide participants with an authentic experience of scientific investigation. Specifically, it requires participants to investigate a question without clear methodological guidelines, grapple with ambiguous data, provide empirically-based warrants to claims, and respond to the arguments of others.

Participants are presented with an inverted plastic beverage bottle that has had the bottom cut off and a hole drilled into the cap (See Figure 1).  They are directed to see how much water would flow out in 10 seconds for different starting volumes.  They are given the specific challenge to continue to do so until they have a good enough sense of the relationship between starting volume and out flow to predict the outflow volume for a starting volume they had not tested.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Basic set-up for the flow lab.

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Participants often begin trying a few volumes in a less systematic manner.  Reminding them of the challenge – to be able to make a future prediction – helps focus and guide them to a more systematic approach.  Likewise, participants might ask for more specific instructions, akin to traditional cookbook labs, such as the number of volumes to try.  Again, reminders of the challenge serve to frame and drive the choices participants must make.

Figures 2 and 3 are examples of the results participants get.  A feature of the activity is that there is a strong tendency towards a variety of results.  Moreover, results tend to be “messy” enough that there are multiple interpretations possible.  For example, the data in Figures 2 and 3 could be interpreted as linear, but also could be interpreted in other ways.   The data in Figure 2 could be increasing with a decreasing slope or be two linear sections.  The data in Figure 3 could be increasing with an increasing slope or be a curved and then linear section.  The selection of the challenge starting volume can be used to push participants towards a conclusion.  For example, if there is a data point that appears like an outlier, a new starting volume could be given as a challenge that forces an interpretation of the data point in question.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Example of student data.

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Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Example of student data.

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This is demonstrated in Figure 2.  The group’s original data only extended to 500 ml.  That data could be interpreted as linear or it could be interpreted as leveling off.  So their challenge was to make a prediction for 600 ml, forcing a particular conclusion.  This means that participants are not merely collecting data – they need to reach conclusions from that data.  Groups are encouraged to come to a consensus position, but occasionally cannot.  The group in Figure 2 had a split, hence the two predictions at 600 ml.  The upper value is based on a linear interpretation; the lower value is based on a curved interpretation.  The subsequent measured value corresponded to the latter prediction and is circled.

After making a prediction (and checking it), the different groups are brought together to discuss what claims about the phenomena can be reached.  As shown by Figure 2 and 3, there will be a range of claims with a range of levels of agreement and certainty.  For example, there will be pretty clear evidence and agreement on the idea that outflow generally increases with starting volume.  But some data-sets/participants might support a linear function, some an increasing slope, some a decreasing slope, some with different sections with different behaviors and some even inflections points.  An ambiguity that can arise (including being introduced by the instructor) is the possibility that because different bottles and different hole sizes are used, data that looks different may actually be consistent.  For example, given the changing diameter of the bottles, two data sets with different patterns may be looking at different parts of the same phenomenon.

There are a couple of features of the activity that should be noted.  Participants were given a very specific challenge, but not any guidance for how to achieve it.  This required them to develop their own methodology, but also provides the instructor with a response when participants ask for more direction.  The phenomena itself is effective in providing a certain degree of variability, to allow for authentic argumentation.  In particular, the relationship between starting volume and out-flow is more ambiguous than water height and out-flow because of the various shapes of bottles.  In addition, the use of a variety of bottles and hole sizes introduces more variability.

Case Study from Sociology of Science

Participants then read Harry Collins’ account of early gravitational wave research (Collins & Pinch, 1989).1  This is a classical case in the sociology of science, demonstrating the essential social element to epistemology.  The case begins with Joseph Weber attempting to detect gravitational waves, a phenomenon predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, and widely believed to exist, but also considered extremely difficult to detect.  Weber claimed to have succeeded.  Moreover, he claimed to detect waves at a higher flux level than predicted by current theory.  His claims were taken seriously, however, and a number of researchers responded with investigations of their own.  Collins details the subsequent progression in the scientific community, detailing the change in the social and epistemological status of the claims that were made.  Specifically, early reports were considered failures to confirmation of Weber’s claims.  But over time these transformed into active confirmations of the invalidity of Weber’s claims.  The difference between these states is one of Collins’ key points.  The final resolution was agreement in the community that Weber’s claims were false.2

Collins uses the Weber case to illustrate the concept of experimenter’s regress.  Novel claims in science have no purely logical way of being validated or refuted: Weber tries to build a gravitational wave detector.  How can it be determined if he did it correct?  Turn it on and see if it detects gravitational waves in the right manner.  How do you know what the right manner is? Build a gravitational wave detector.  Collins describes how the social interaction among the actors provides the resolution to this infinite loop.  Science proceeds through an alternation between interpretive flexibility, where there are multiple conclusions can be reached, and closure, when the community reaches consensus on one interpretation.

Prompt for Participants

Participants are then given the following prompt:

Please come up with as many generalizations about science as you can through reflection on the class activity and the reading.  The subjects of the class activity and reading are clearly different.  But are there commonalities that can be identified to form generalizations about the process of science and the nature of scientific knowledge?

Each of the cases alone provides material for participants to draw on.  But in addition, the comparison provides a means to focus on NOS/SI, and have the question of providing “generalizations about science” have actual meaning.

Student Generated Aspects of NOS/SI

Table 1 shows data from two participant groups.  Participants in a preservice elementary science teaching methods worked in pairs during class time to generate statements.  Participants in an inservice professional development course on inquiry-based teaching generated statements individually as a homework assignment.  Table 1 shows the frequency of connections between participant statements and standard aspects of NOS/SI.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)

Frequency of References to Aspects of NOS/SI

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Each suggested generalization can then serve as a discussion point.  Roughly speaking, they can be seen as coming in four types, with corresponding responses from the instructor.  Some generalizations will align very directly with standard aspects of NOS/SI that are the target of instruction (Abd-El-Khalick et. al., 2001; Lederman et. al., 2014).   The following are examples:

  • The body of knowledge about science topics changes with time, further research, and technical advancements. (Tentativeness)
  • There is variance in how data is interpreted (Subjectivity)
  • Scientists don’t always agree or come to the same conclusions (Scientists may get different results)

Others are opportunities to introduce ideas.  For example, the statement “Science is full of controversy, but it can also solve controversies” has a ring of truth to it, but more importantly, it creates an opening to discuss issues such as the centrality to argumentation in science.

Perhaps the most important type of suggested generalizations are those that are deeply flawed.  The most consistent examples of this is reference to “the Scientific Method” and statements about the necessity of hypotheses.  The key here is that the activity allows such misconceptions to be brought out into the open.  When they occur, the instructor can challenge students to consider if they – and Weber – really used “the Scientific Method” and if a hypothesis was necessary to carry out their work.

Lastly, participants make suggestions that are important issues, but that are not part of what is generally considered NOS/SI.  Often these relate to inquiry process skills and routines.  For example, students consistently make the point that more data is beneficial.  This often leads to a discussion potential for statistical power to reduce error.

Logistics and Variations

The pacing and other logistics of this approach will depend on the specific context in which it is used, as well as the participants involved.  Depending on participants background (e.g. comfort level with inquiry, ease with measurement, etc.) the Flow Lab itself can take one to two hours.  Participants can more formally present their findings, or the instructor can lead the discussion over different groups’ data.  An optional follow up activity is to have participants propose (and possibly carry out) a follow-up investigation.

The sociology of science reading is a standard journal paper length reading.  While relatively accessible, participants do appreciate and benefit from a modicum of review, and so that should be scheduled accordingly.   Participants can also benefit from a warning ahead of time that the reading may be a very different type of reading than they have experienced in the past.

The formation of generalizations statements can take a variety of logistical forms.  For example, the preservice participants shown here formed their statements during class time and in pairs, while the inservice teachers formed theirs individually and as an out-of-class activity.  This was both because of the difference in numbers and timing.  It should be noted, however, that even in the case of a face to face class discussion, explicitly writing down statements has important benefits.  It encourages care and precision in language and provides a concrete point of reference for further discussion.

There are also alternatives for debriefing participants’ generalizations.  If logistics allow, generalizations can be organized, either by the instructor or by students.  However, simply going through the list without any intentional order also has merit.  Participants can be directed to respond to and critique each other’s generalizations.  One important note, however.  There are certainly misconceptions, as well as poorly articulated notions, that will be generated.  The instructor’s role should be to challenge those.  As noted above, this can often be done by questioning if the generalization was true of the two cases.

Lastly, there are two possible follow-up activities.  First, particularly if there is the sense the participants have not responded to a particular aspect, custom prompts can be used to spark more conversation, followed by an invitation to create more generalizations.  Table 2 shows a set of possible questions.  (Note that this was not used with either of the groups shown here, due to time restraints and satisfaction with their work.) Second, participants can compare their lists with standards lists.  This can include considering what aspects correlate with their generalizations, what aspects were demonstrated in the case studies but not reflected in their generalizations, and what aspects where not demonstrated in the case studies.  This comparison can help with the issue of there being different ways to articulate the same concept.

Table 2 (Click on image to enlarge)

Prompts for Further Thinking about Science

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Coverage

As with any such activity, this activity certainly does not cover all the standard aspects of NOS/SI, and covers some much more consistently and strongly than others.  There is a limit on what these two cases can represent, and understanding that limit is important for instructors. Tentativeness is perhaps the strongest covered standard.  Participants recognize that conclusions are not absolute.  They also clearly see both the subjectivity in scientific work, but also the central role of empirical data.  The notion of social and cultural embeddedness tends to be completely absent.  The difference and roles of theories versus laws will arise, often through statements reflecting the misconceptions that theories become laws.  This provides an opportunity to explicitly correct the misconception, but the cases themselves do not actually provide helpful references to discuss the issue.

The following model may help explain what is relevant and therefore useful in this pair of cases and what is not.  The enterprise of science does not only consist of what occurs during an investigation, and three levels can provide some order by clarifying where an aspect of NOS/SI is manifest.  First, there is the level that contains everything within a particular investigation.  Second, there is the level that expands outward to include the work and actors that are directly connected to the original work.   It includes what is utilized in the original work and how others respond to its claims.  The level realm expands outward more to include the discipline as a whole.  Different aspects of NOS/SI are manifest in different realms.  The notion of the empirical basis of scientific claims clearly occurs in the first realm (as well as others).  But the notion of theory spans an entire field.  One bit of work, even including responses to that work, cannot, by definition, illustrate the concept of theory.  The two cases in this activity – and any other pair like them – deal with the first two levels.  To provide useful references for aspects occurring in the third level will require a very different sort of experience.

Conclusion

This activity has shown effective in prompting explicit discussion on many aspects of NOS/SI.  The comparison of an authentic, in-class inquiry experience and a sociological case study – with very little content in common – allows illumination of the meta level ideas that they have in common.  This in turn gives participants a reasonable opportunity to spontaneously offer ideas about those meta level concepts.  Many of the ideas are strong.  Perhaps more importantly, even those statements that are weak, unclear or contain outright misconceptions do the work of putting those views out in the open where they can be addressed. The activity is not a panacea.  It works for concepts closely tied to individual works of science, how they draw on past work, and the scientific community’s reaction to specific works and claims.  Large issues that look at the community as a whole – such as the relationship between theories and laws – must be approached through a different strategy.

Author Notes

  1. There are actually three almost identical versions: the original journal article (Collins, 1981), a chapter in Collins’ book on replication in science (Collins, 1992), and a chapter in the Collins and Pinch book on science The Golem (Collins & Pinch, 1998).
  2. It should be noted that though this story ends there, the effort to detect gravitational waves has continued on in the decades since, eventually become NSF’s largest single project and resulting in the detection of gravitational waves in February 2016.

References

Abd-El-Khalick, F., Lederman, N. G., Bell, R. L., & Schwartz, R. S. (2001). Views of nature of science questionnaire (VNOS): Toward valid and meaningful assessment of learners’ conceptions of nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching39, 497-521.

Akerson, V. L., Abd-El-Khalick, F., & Lederman, N. G. (2000). Influence of a reflective explicit activity-based approach on elementary teachers’ conceptions of nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37, 295-317.

Akerson, V. L., Hanson, D. L., & Cullen, T. A. (2007). The influence of guided inquiry and explicit instruction on K–6 teachers’ views of nature of science. Journal of Science Teacher Education18, 751-772.

Collins, H. M. (1981). Son of seven sexes: The social destruction of a physical phenomenon. Social Studies of Science, 11, 33-62.

Collins, H. (1992). Detection gravitational radiation: The experimenters’ regress. Changing order: Replication and induction in scientific practice (pp. 79-112).  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Collins, H. M., & Pinch, T. (1998). A new window on the universe: The non-detection of gravitational waves (pp. 91-108). The golem: What you should know about science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Khishfe, R., & Abd-El-Khalick, F. (2002). Influence of explicit and reflective versus implicit inquiry-oriented instruction on sixth graders’ views of nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39, 551-578.

Latour, B. and Woolgar, S. (1986). Laboratory life: The construction of scientific knowledge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Lederman, J. S., Lederman, N. G., Bartos, S. A., Bartels, S. L., Meyer, A. A., & Schwartz, R. S. (2014). Meaningful assessment of learners’ understandings about scientific inquiry – The views about scientific inquiry (VASI) questionnaire. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51, 65-83.

Meyer, D. Z., & Avery, L. A. (2009). The Flow Lab: A Simple Activity for Generating NOS Principles. School Science and Mathematics, 109(8), 484-495.

Meyer, D. Z., & Avery, L. A. (2010). Why inquiry is inherently difficult…and some ways to make it easier. The Science Educator, 19(1). 26-32.

Meyer, D. Z., Antink Meyer, A., Nabb, K. A., Connell, M. G., & Avery, L. A. (2013[online July 2011]). A Theoretical and Empirical Exploration of the Problem Space of Inquiry Design. Research in Science Education. 43(1) 57-76. DOI 10.1007/s11165-011-9243-4.

Scharmann, L. C., Smith, M. U., James, M. C., & Jensen, M. (2005). Explicit reflective nature of science instruction: Evolution, intelligent design, and umbrellaology. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 16, 27-41.

Schwartz, R. S., Lederman, N. G., & Crawford, B. A. (2004). Developing views of nature of science in an authentic context: An explicit approach to bridging the gap between nature of science and scientific inquiry. Science Education, 88, 610-645.