Promoting “Science for All” Through Teacher Candidate Collaboration and Community Engagement

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Kahn, S., Hartman, S.L., Oswald, K., & Samblanet, M. (2018). Promoting “science for all” through teacher candidate collaboration and community engagement. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/promoting-science-for-all-through-teacher-candidate-collaboration-and-community-engagement/

by Sami Kahn, Ohio University; Sara L. Hartman, Ohio University; Karen Oswald, Ohio University; & Marek Samblanet, Ohio University

Abstract

The Next Generation Science Standards present a bold vision for meaningful, quality science experiences for all students. Yet students with disabilities continue to underperform on standardized assessments while persons with disabilities remain underrepresented in science fields. Paramount among the factors contributing to this disparity is that science teachers are underprepared to teach students with disabilities while special education teachers are similarly ill-prepared to teach science. This situation creates a pedagogical and moral dilemma of placing teachers in classrooms without ample preparation, thereby guaranteeing attitudinal and practical barriers. To address this challenge, the authors of this manuscript developed a novel project in which, through voluntary participation, members of Ohio University’s National Science Teachers Association student chapter co-planned and co-taught inclusive science lessons with members of the university’s Student Council for Exceptional Children at the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery, a local hands-on discovery museum. This manuscript describes the motivation for, methods, and findings from the project, as well as recommendations for other programs wishing to implement a similar model.

Introduction

The Next Generation Science Standards present a bold vision for equitable and excellent science opportunities through a call for “All Standards, All Students” (Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS] Lead States, 2013, Appendix D). Following in the footsteps of the earlier “Science for All” efforts, the NGSS articulate a range of supports for marginalized groups in science, including students with disabilities. For those of us who have worked on issues of science equity and accessibility throughout our careers, it seems implausible that profound educational disparities and attitudinal barriers persist in the 21st Century. Yet despite decades of work on inclusive science research and practice, persons with disabilities continue to be underrepresented in science careers while students with disabilities underperform on science assessments (National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2011; National Science Foundation [NSF], 2013). Paramount among the factors contributing to this disparity is that science teachers are underprepared to teach students with disabilities in their classrooms, while special education teachers are similarly ill-prepared to teach science ( Irving, Nti, & Johnson, 2007; Kahn & Lewis, 2014). An obvious solution is to have science and special educators co-teach in the classroom, yet research suggests that without preparation and experience in such models, teachers face tremendous obstacles including lack of co-planning time, challenges with establishing roles and responsibilities, and simply lack of familiarity with discipline-specific accommodations (Moin, Magiera, & Zigmond, 2009). This situation creates a pedagogical and, as we believe, a moral dilemma of placing teachers in classrooms without ample preparation, a set-up for attitudinal and practical barriers.

We were therefore interested in developing flexible opportunities for science teacher candidates to interact and co-teach with special education candidates in an effort to provide meaningful experiences for all of our students, contribute to the research base in inclusive science teacher education, and support our greater community. To that end, we developed an Inclusive Science Day during which members of our Ohio University National Science Teachers Association (OU-NSTA) student chapter co-planned and co-taught inclusive science lessons with student members of our Student Council for Exceptional Children (SCEC) at the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery (OVMoD), a local hands-on discovery museum. In doing so, our candidates learned about inclusive science practices, experienced co-planning, budgeting, and delivering science activities for a diverse audience, gained appreciation for the benefits of informal science community partnerships, and learned about themselves as future teachers of all students. This manuscript describes the motivation for, methods, and findings from our project, as well as recommendations for other programs wishing to implement a similar model.

Theoretical and School Context

Teacher Preparation and Science for Students with Disabilities

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, later reauthorized as the IDEIA (2004), guarantees a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. For the more than 6 million students in American schools identified as having disabilities, this means that they are guaranteed opportunities for learning commensurate with their abilities across subjects, including science. While most science teachers at all levels will teach students with disabilities in their classrooms, most receive little formal education in inclusive science practices. In their nationwide survey of 1088 science teachers, Kahn and Lewis (2014) found that, while 99% of the participants had taught students with disabilities during their careers, nearly one-third had not received any training on the subject and of those who had “on the job training” was cited as the most prominent context for learning. Similarly, special education teachers receive little training in science education (Patton, Palloway, & Cronin, 1990), leaving them to frequently be marginalized in inclusive science settings, with science teachers taking the lead. It is perhaps, therefore, not surprising that students with disabilities underperform on standardized science assessments and are underrepresented in science fields. Without the benefit of teachers who have been adequately prepared to develop accessible lessons using inclusive pedagogical approaches, students with disabilities will continue to be underserved in the sciences.

Although science and special education are often characterized as representing different philosophical stances (McGinnis & Kahn, 2014), contemporary frameworks like Universal Design for Learning (UDL; Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2015) can mediate these differences by capitalizing on the abilities and acknowledging the challenges of all students, thereby creating a cohesive approach to ensuring access for the greatest number of learners. We hypothesized that allowing candidates to co-plan and co-teach UDL activities would provide them with the unique opportunity to discover each other’s strengths, assess their own weaknesses, and become exposed to different perspectives. As in most teacher education programs, however, these opportunities were scant for our candidates due to the structural requirements of their different programs of study and teaching placements. It seemed that a less formal opportunity was needed to explore possible benefits and challenges of collaborative inclusive programming. We decided to turn to the OVMoD for assistance.

Informal Science Learning

Informal science learning spaces, such as museums, zoos, aquaria, botanical gardens, provide unique opportunities for contextualized science learning for their visitors (Bell, Lewenstein, Shouse, & Feder, 2009). By providing materials and exhibits that are not otherwise readily accessible, allowing for open, unstructured discovery, and welcoming learners of all ages and backgrounds, these spaces offer incomparable resources to their surrounding communities (Fenichel & Schweingruber, 2010). Informal science learning spaces also provide powerful contexts for learning, not only for visitors but also for teacher candidates (Duran, Ballone-Duran, Haney, & Beltyukova, 2009). By providing candidates with teaching opportunities in such spaces, candidates learn to “think on their feet” as they are met by learners about whom they have no prior information, and must therefore anticipate challenges and respond quickly. They are also exposed to visitors representing a variety of ages, backgrounds, and abilities, thus necessitating a true “science for all” attitude and approach (McGinnis, Hestness, Riedinger, Katz, Marbach-Ad, & Dai A., 2012). Finally, bringing teacher candidates to informal science learning spaces allows them to learn about and serve their community, and of course, allows the community to become better acquainted with the programs and services available through the university, thereby promoting symbiotic learning opportunities (Bevan et al., 2010).

Our Programs

The Patton College of Education at Ohio University serves approximately 1600 undergraduate and 900 graduate students and uses a clinical model for teacher preparation, thus ensuring extensive in-school opportunities for students beginning in their sophomore year and benefitting from close relationships with partner schools (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2010). Within our Department of Teacher Education, undergraduate and masters students can select from a wide swath of science teaching majors leading to certification in middle and secondary science areas. In addition, we have a thriving early childhood program that includes courses in both preschool and elementary science methods. Likewise, our nationally-recognized special education program leads to multiple graduate and undergraduate licensures. Undergraduate licensures include programming for intervention specialists seeking degrees to work with students with mild-to-moderate or moderate-to-intensive educational needs.

As vigorous and comprehensive as our programs are, teacher candidates from science education and special education interact infrequently during school hours due to their divergent course and placement requirements. Fortunately, our college supports (both philosophically and financially) our professional organization student chapters which afford opportunities for flexible collaboration. Our Ohio University National Science Teachers Association (OU-NSTA) student chapter welcomes all students with an interest in science teaching and learning. This chapter experienced a renaissance recently with regular meetings, numerous fundraising activities, learning opportunities including attendance at a regional NSTA conference, and a concerted commitment to service learning in our community. This chapter currently has approximately 25 members representing both undergraduate and graduate programs, although most are undergraduate secondary (middle and high school) science education majors. Our Student Council for Exceptional Children (SCEC) boasts a large, consistent membership of approximately 35 to 40 teacher candidates who meet regularly, assist with functions held by the local developmental disabilities programs, and provide fundraising support for members of the community with disabilities as well as schools in need of resources for serving students with disabilities. This organization enjoys the leadership of a long-term and beloved advisor who has developed the group through many years of mentoring and modeling. In addition to our college of education, our university’s center for community engagement provides small grants for service learning projects. We were fortunate to receive funding for our Inclusive Science Day project to cover the cost of training materials used with our teacher candidates, consumables for science activities, and refreshments. In addition, this grant provided funds for two of our students to attend a regional NSTA conference early in the year at which they interviewed various leaders in the science education community as well as publishers and science education suppliers about their inclusive science materials. This experience was eye-opening for our students, who presented their findings at subsequent group meetings, as it set the stage for our Inclusive Science Day planning.

The Intervention: Inclusive Science Day

In order to determine the potential for an Inclusive Science Day at an informal learning space, the OU-NSTA advisor raised the idea with a colleague from the College of Education, who is also on the board of the OVMoD to discuss possibilities. The colleague indicated that the museum had made concerted efforts to reach out to visitors with all abilities through use of universally-designed displays and a “sensory-friendly” day; she was completely open to the idea of having teacher candidates plan and teach at the museum but would need to discuss the idea with the museum’s executive director and other board members.  The OU-NSTA advisor then met with the SCEC advisor, who was equally enthusiastic about the prospect of collaboration. Both the OU-NSTA and SCEC advisors then presented the idea to their respective executive board members who were highly receptive. Concurrently, the OU-NSTA advisor participated in an 8-week course on service learning offered by the university’s center for community engagement in order to better understand the dynamics of collaborative endeavors with community entities and to consider in depth both the potential learning opportunities for the teacher candidates and the service opportunities for the museum. While it might have been possible for this project to come to fruition without that training, the advisor felt that it undoubtedly prepared her for the potential benefits and challenges. Once all parties embraced Inclusive Science Day, the two advisors began to plan the training and research.

Planning and Orientation

One of the most daunting tasks was simply identifying a day/time that students could meet for an orientation and training. As this was a voluntary endeavor, we knew that we would need to ensure that our meetings were highly efficient, focused, and would inspire our teacher candidates to collaborate on their own time to ensure availability and convenience. Once we had an announced orientation time, the two advisors met to plan the training. We determined that the 2 1/2-hour evening training would include the following agenda:

  • Welcome, Refreshments, and Survey Invitation
  • Why Inclusive Science Day? and “Can You Name This Scientist?”
  • Collaborative Hands-on Simulation Activity (“Helicopters”) and Debriefing UDL
  • Lesson Planning and Budgeting Activities
  • Next Steps!

As we had decided to conduct research on teacher candidates’ experiences and attitudes regarding inclusive science practice, we applied for and received IRB approval for a pre and post survey that was distributed anonymously online at the orientation (pre) and after the Inclusive Science Day (post). Students were recruited for the Inclusive Science Day and associated research via e-invitations sent to organization membership lists in advance of the orientation. Because of our desire to avoid exerting pressure on students to participate in either the research or project, we did not require students to RSVP. We were very pleased to see that 18 students attended the training (ten special education and eight science education, including one elementary science methods student). When the students arrived at the orientation, they created nametags, had the opportunity to complete the survey online, and enjoyed pizza. We then distributed students among five tables so that at least one special education candidate was at each table. After introductions, we engaged in a brief brainstorming challenge to identify why inclusive science education might be important.  Candidates actively identified reasons including:

“There aren’t enough scientists with disabilities in the field.”

“Science is part of every child’s life and body.”

“You can teach science through different in different ways (e.g., visual, tactile, kinesthetic, etc…).”

“Knowing about science is important for everyone!”

“We need to know how to teach all students.”

We added three others to the list that students did not mention:

  • Science benefits from having all students contribute to its advancement.
  • There is a moral imperative for all students to have the opportunity to experience science.
  • Science is beautiful!

We then engaged in a “Can You Name This Scientist?” game in which candidates viewed pictures of famous scientists with disabilities and were asked to identify them.  Scientists included Alexander Graham Bell (Dyslexia), Thomas Edison (Hearing Impairment and Dyslexia), Temple Grandin (Autism), Geerat Vermeij (Visual Impairment), Jack Horner (Dyslexia), and Stephen Hawking (Motor Neuron Disease), among others. Most of our candidates were unaware that such accomplished scientists also had disabilities and that their disabilities, in some cases, may have enhanced the scientists’ interests and abilities in their fields. For example, Geerat Vermeij, a world-renowned paleobiologist attributes his nuanced abilities in identifying mollusks to his ability to feel and attend to distinctions in shells that sighted scientists might overlook (Vermeij, 1997). We were excited to see our students’ interests so piqued after this activity.

We then introduced the Universal Design for Learning (UDL; Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014) framework, which allows teachers to develop lessons that meet the needs of the most number of learners thereby reducing the need for specific disability accommodations. The three principles of UDL are: 1) Multiple Means of Engagement (How students access the lesson or materials); 2) Multiple Means of Representation (How teachers present the material to the students); and 3) Multiple Means of Action and Expression (How students interact with the materials and show what they know). To help teacher candidates to better understand the potential barriers that students with disabilities might have in science class, we co-led a science activity in which students followed written directions for making and testing paper helicopters while assigning students equipment that helped them to simulate various disabilities. For example, some students received handouts that had scrambled letters to simulate Dyslexia, while others wore glasses that limited their vision. In addition, some students wore earplugs to simulate hearing impairments while others listened to conversations on headphones to simulate psychiatric disorders. Finally, some students had tape placed around adjacent fingers to simulate fine motor impairments, while others utilized crutches or wheel chairs. Students progressed through this activity for several minutes and then discussed their challenges as a class. We chose the helicopter activity because it required reading, cutting with scissors, throwing and observing the helicopters, and retrieving them; thus, this activity required a variety of intellectual and physical skills. We found that our students were quite impacted by this activity, as many indicated that they had never really thought about the perspective of students with these disabilities. In particular, the student who utilized a wheelchair said that she had never realized how much space was needed to accommodate the wheelchair easily during an active investigation. This led the group to discuss the need for us to set up our tables at the museum with sufficient space for all visitors to comfortably traverse the museum. Of course, we were careful to remind students that this type of simulation cannot accurately represent the true nature and complexity of anyone’s experiences, and that people with disabilities, like all individuals, develop adaptations for addressing challenges. However, this brief experience prompted our students to think about how they could redesign the lesson to ensure that as many students as possible could access it without specific accommodations.

We then informed the groups that they were each to develop plans for two activities that would be presented at the Inclusive Science Day. Based on discussions with museum administrators, we decided that having several “make and take” activities was desirable, in part because it allowed the learning to continue at home, but also because our university is in a very rural, high poverty region thus making these types of materials a particularly welcome benefit for many families (United States Census Bureau, 2014). Together, we reviewed the lesson plan document which was less formal than our typical lesson plan document (due to the informal nature of the museum activity stations format) but nevertheless, had specific learning outcomes, considerations for diversity (including gender, socioeconomic status, English language proficiency, and ability), and a budget (See Figure 1 for a Sample Lesson; a blank lesson plan template is available for download at the end of this article in supplemental materials). We then informed teams that, thanks to the grant we had received, they had $50 to spend on their two lessons and that they should anticipate approximately 50 visitors to their tables (based on prior museum visitation counts). Teacher candidates then used their laptops and various resource books we provided to identify activities and develop materials lists with prices. We decided the easiest way to ensure that all materials would be received in time, and to avoid dealing with reimbursements and other financial complexities was to have students submit their final budget sheets to us during the week following the orientation. We would then order all the materials using one account and notify students once the materials were received. Students were responsible for bringing in “freebie” materials such as newspaper, aluminum cans, matches, etc. Once materials were received, student groups came to the central storage room at their convenience to check and prepare their materials in ample time for the program. We also encouraged students to create table signs for display at the Inclusive Science Day. They did this on their own time as well. Some of the activities that students developed were:

  • Fingerprint Detectives
  • Creating a Galaxy in a Jar
  • Chemical Reactions in a Pan (using baking soda and vinegar mixed with food coloring)
  • Exploring Static Electricity with Balloons
  • Egg Drop
  • Making and Testing Kazoos
  • Blobs in a Bottle (with vegetable oil and Alka-Seltzer tablets)
  • Inflate a Balloon Using Chemistry
Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample lesson plan for “Inflate a Balloon Using Chemistry.”

In addition to identifying activities that engaged different senses, our students thought about how to meet a variety of learners’ needs. For example, magnifiers and large ink stamp pads would be available at the fingerprint station for all students, while the “Blobs in a Bottle” activity station had alternative “jelly balls” that could be felt by visitors who couldn’t see the vegetable oil “blobs.” The kazoo station, which used toilet paper tubes, waxed paper, and rubber bands, allowed visitors who could not hear to feel the movement of the waxed paper when the kazoos were played. The station also had adaptive scissors and pre-cut waxed paper for visitors needing fine motor skill support. The UDL considerations and accommodations provided for each activity are contained in Table 1 below.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
UDL Considerations and Accommodations for Accessibility on Inclusive Science Day

The Day of the Event

The Inclusive Science Day was announced by the museum on social media, through our local schools, and through the local newspaper. The museum generously waived their admission fee for the day in order to encourage attendance as well. On the day of the program, students were asked to arrive two hours in advance to set up their stations. We provided lunch to ensure that we had time to speak to the group about the importance of the work they were about to do, and to allow the museum staff to convey any final instructions to the students. When the doors were opened, we were thrilled to see large numbers of families entering the museum space. Over the two hours that our program ran, the museum estimated that we had over 150 visitors, approximately three times their expected attendance. The attendance was so good that some of our student groups needed to send “runners” out to purchase additional materials; our “Galaxy in a Jar” group even began using recycled bottles from our lunch to meet the demands at their table.  Safety was a consideration at all times. Goggles were made available at all tables with splash potential, and safety scissors were used at stations with cutting requirements. In addition, our students (and we) wore our clubs’ T-shirts so that visitors could easily identify instructors. Each activity table had at least one science education and one special education candidate co-teaching. We supervised the students by assisting in crowd control, helping to ensure that visitors could easily navigate through the rather limited museum space, obtaining written permissions for photos from parents/caregivers, and responding to candidate questions. Some photos from the day are shown in Figures 2-4.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). “Blobs in a Bottle” activity demonstrating density and polarity of water and oil. Tactile “jelly balls” and magnifiers were available for visitors with visual impairments.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). “Chemical Reactions in a Pan” activity using baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring. Varied sizes of pipettes and pans were available to address diversity in visitors’ fine motor skills.

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). “Exploring Sound with Kazoos” activity. Visitors were encouraged to use their senses of vision, touch, and hearing to test the instruments.

Research Findings/Project Evaluation

Overall, our teacher candidates found this project to be highly meaningful and helpful for their professional learning. Perhaps one of the most important themes that emerged from our evaluative research was that science and special education candidates welcomed the opportunity to collaborate as none of them had reported having opportunities to do so in the past. Some of the student post-activity responses included the following:

“[Inclusive Science Day] allowed me to gain more experience and to really learn what it is like to teach students who have disabilities. I also was able to see how students with different disabilities reacted to the same activity. I found that those students who had a disability found a different way to cope with their disability than we had thought they would.”

“I saw how different general education and special education teacher think. There were many differences to our approaches to creating the lesson.”

“I really liked that I was able to consult with the special education teachers if I was unsure of how to help a student with disabilities.”

“I had a great time sharing my content knowledge of science with those whose specialty is special education. Conversely, I had a great time learning from experts in special education and I really enjoyed seeing them be so in their comfort zone when we did have kids with exceptionalities. I envy their comfort levels and it makes me want to reach that level of comfort.”

“We were well prepared for any differentiation that would have needed to be done. And we all learned from each other.”

“I feel this was an awesome experience. The people I worked with really added something to our experiments that I otherwise may not have thought about.”

Challenges cited by our students included feeling a bit overwhelmed by the number of visitors at each station, not having knowledge about the visitors’ backgrounds in advance, and difficulties in maintaining visitors’ focus on the science content. We found one student’s reflection to be quite sophisticated in its recognition of the need for more training on inclusive science:

“I still feel that I would like more professional development when it comes to leading science activities for students with disabilities. I had an experience with a wonderful young man and I felt very challenged because I don’t feel comfortable enough to gauge what I should be allowing him to do on his own and at the same time I didn’t want to hinder him from reaching his full potential. So, I feel like further professional development in that area is needed for me.”

Qualitative  analysis of candidate pre and post responses resulted in themes that included: 1) candidates’ assessment of collaboration as a powerful professional development opportunity; 2) identification of different perspectives between science and special education candidates; 3) a common desire to do good work by making accessible for all students; 4) recognition of informal learning spaces as viable teaching venues; and; 4) a strong need for more training and opportunities to teach science to students with disabilities. Our findings support earlier research suggesting that teacher candidates are inclined toward inclusive practices (McGinnis, 2003) and that opportunities for collaboration with special education candidates enhance their comfort level in co-planning and co-teaching (Moorehead & Grillo, 2013). Our teacher candidates’ expressions of the depth of impact this professional development experience had on them makes sense when considered in light of Kahn and Lewis’ (2014) study which suggested that teachers’ experience with any students with disabilities increased their feelings of preparedness toward working with all students with disabilities. In addition, our findings reinforce studies suggesting that informal learning spaces can provide unique and flexible learning opportunities for teacher candidates, particularly in that they provided multiple opportunities to teach the same lesson repeatedly, thus allowing for reflection and revision (Jung & Tonso, 2006). Perhaps most importantly, this study underscores the desire for and efficacy of increased training and experience in implementing inclusive science practices during teachers’ pre-service educations.

Future Plans and Conclusion

Based on the feedback from the teacher candidates and the museum, we are planning to make Inclusive Science Day an annual event. However, we are considering several changes for future projects including:

  • Multiple training evenings for teacher candidates
  • Pre-registration for Inclusive Science Day so that we can anticipate attendance size and specific needs of visitors
  • Creating a “Quiet Zone” area at the museum for visitors who would benefit from a less bustling environment
  • Identifying additional sources of funding for consumable materials
  • Greater outreach to our early childhood teacher candidates to encourage participation

As students with disabilities are increasingly included in science classrooms, it is incumbent of teacher education programs to ensure that their science teacher candidates acquire the tools and the dispositions for teaching all learners. While more formal approaches, such as dual licensure programs and co-teaching internship placements are on the horizon for many programs, teacher education programs should not overlook the power of extracurricular events, informal learning spaces, and student organizations to provide important professional development opportunities for teacher candidates, pilots for new program development, and occasions to both serve and learn from the community.

 

Supplemental Files

Lesson-Plan-Template.docx

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Personal Science Story Podcasts: Enhancing Literacy and Science Content

Citation
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Frisch, J.K. (2018). Personal science story podcasts: Enhancing literacy and science content. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/personal-science-story-podcasts-enhancing-literacy-and-science-content/

by Jennifer K. Frisch, University of Minnesota Duluth

Abstract

Podcasts (like “You are Not So Smart”, “99% Invisible”, or “Radiolab”) are becoming a popular way to communicate about science. Podcasts often use personal stories to connect with listeners and engage empathy, which can be a key ingredient in communicating about science effectively. Why not have your students create their own podcasts? Personal science stories can be useful to students as they try to connect abstract science concepts with real life. These kinds of stories can also help pre-service elementary or secondary teachers as they work towards understanding how to connect science concepts, real life, and literacy. Podcasts can be powerful in teaching academic language in science because through producing a podcast, the student must write, speak, and listen, and think about how science is communicated. This paper describes the personal science podcast assignment that I have been using in my methods courses, including the literature base supporting it and the steps I take to support my teacher candidates in developing, writing, and sharing their own science story podcasts.

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Designing a Third Space Science Methods Course

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Vick, M.E. (2018). Designing a third space science methods course. Innovations in Science Teacher Education 3(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/designing-a-third-space-science-methods-course/

by Matthew E. Vick, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Abstract

The third space of teacher education (Zeichner, 2010) bridges the academic pedagogical knowledge of the university and the practical knowledge of the inservice K-12 teacher.  A third space elementary science methods class was taught at a local elementary school with inservice teachers acting as mentors and allowing preservice teachers into their classes each week.  Preservice teachers applied the pedagogical knowledge from the course in their elementary classrooms.  The course has been revised constantly over six semesters to improve its logistics and the pre-service teacher experience.  This article summarizes how the course has been developed and improved.

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References

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Supporting Preservice Teachers’ Use of Modeling: Building a Water Purifier

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Kim, Y. & Oliver, S.J. (2018). Supporting preservice teachers’ use of modeling: Building a water purifier. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 3(1). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/supporting-preservice-teachers-use-of-modeling-building-a-water-purifier/

by Young Ae Kim, University of Georgia; & J. Steve Oliver, University of Georgia

Abstract

Research has shown the value of modeling as an instructional practice. As such, instruction that includes modeling can be an authentic and effective means to illustrate scientific and engineering practices as well as a motivating force in science learning. Preservice science teachers need to learn how to incorporate modeling strategies in lessons on specific scientific topics to implement modeling practice effectively. In this article, we share an activity designed to model how the effectiveness and efficiency of a water purifier is impacted by creating a primary purification medium using different grain sizes and different amounts of activated charcoal. We seek for the preservice science teachers to learn how modeling is a process that requires revision in response to evidence. The water purifier activities in this paper were adapted for use in a secondary science teacher preparation program during the fall semesters of 2015 and 2016 as a means to introduce an effective modeling activity that is in the spirit of NGSS. These activities also support preservice teachers’ development of teacher knowledge relative to ‘model-based inquiry’ as well as teaching systems thinking. In addition, preservice science teachers learn how to think of modeling as an assessment tool through which they might gauge students’ understanding. Modeling may be used as a form of authentic assessment where student accomplishment is measured while in the act of constructing a model, revising a model or any of the other modeling related processes.

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References

Crawford, B., & Cullin, M. (2004). Supporting prospective teachers’ conceptions of modeling in science. International Journal of Science Education, 26, 1379–1401.

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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

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The Home Inquiry Project: Elementary Preservice Teachers’ Scientific Inquiry Journey

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Kazempour, M. (2017). The home inquiry project: Elementary preservice teachers’ scientific inquiry journey. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(4). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/the-home-inquiry-project-elementary-preservice-teachers-scientific-inquiry-journey/

by Mahsa Kazempour, Penn State University (Berks Campus)

Abstract

This article discusses the Home Inquiry Project which is part of a science methods course for elementary preservice teachers. The aim of the Home Inquiry Project is to enhance elementary preservice teachers’ understanding of the scientific inquiry process and increase their confidence and motivation in incorporating scientific inquiry into learning experiences they plan for their future students. The project immerses preservice teachers in the process of scientific inquiry and provides them with an opportunity to learn about and utilize scientific practices such as making observations, asking questions, predicting, communicating evidence, and so forth. Preservice teachers completing this project perceive their experiences favorably, recognize the importance of understanding the process of science, and reflect on the application of this experience to their future classroom science instruction. This project has immense implications for the preparation of a scientifically literate and motivated teacher population who will be responsible for cultivating a scientifically literate student population with a positive attitude and confidence in science.

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A Lesson to Unlock Preservice Science Teachers’ Expert Reading Strategies

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Mawyer, K.K.N. & Johnson, H. J. (2017). A lesson to unlock preservice science teachers’ expert reading strategies. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(3). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/a-lesson-to-unlock-preservice-science-teachers-expert-reading-strategies/

by Kirsten K.N. Mawyer, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa; & Heather J. Johnson, Vanderbilt University

Abstract

New standards for K-12 science education task science teacher educators with providing preservice teachers strong preparation that will help them to embrace their role as teachers of science literacy (National Research Council, 2012). Even though there is a growing trend for teacher preparation programs to offer literacy courses that focus on reading in the content areas, often they do not provide aspiring science teachers the science-specific tools needed to teach reading in secondary science contexts. This article addresses the question, “How can we, as science teacher educators, prepare our teacher candidates to teach reading in the context of science?” We designed an initial literacy lesson to help preservice teachers enrolled in two science methods courses to unpack their content knowledge about literacy in science. Our hope was that by unlocking their personal strategies they would be better positioned for engaging in conversations about literacy. We found that using this initial literacy lesson provided our preservice teachers with a solid foundation for engaging in conversations about how to scaffold student reading. This lesson also provided preservice teachers an opportunity to collaboratively develop a common beginner’s repertoire of reading strategies that we subsequently used as a building block for designing activities and lessons that engage middle and high school students in big science ideas and understanding real-world phenomena through reading a variety of kinds of science texts.

Introduction

According to literacy researchers, different disciplines demonstrate both social and cognitive practices that embody distinct ways group members use reading and writing within their discipline (Buehl, 2011; Goldman & Bisanz, 2002; Heller & Greenleaf, 2007). The Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012), Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) and Common Core State Standards (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) all specify that literacy—the ability to read in the context of science—is an essential scientific practice. These recent national reform documents emphasize that by the time students graduate from high school they should be able to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information from scientific texts (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010; NGSS Lead States, 2013; National Research Council, 2012). Thus, it comes as no surprise that science teachers must incorporate literacy into their curriculum and instruction. In the wake of these reforms, the expectation that students will have more opportunities to engage with scientific texts is now firmly in place. However, this vision of ‘literacy for all students’ (Carnegie Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy, 2010) can only be achieved to the extent secondary science teachers are able or inclined to meet this goal (Cohen & Ball, 1990).

In response to this call for literacy, experienced secondary science teachers we talked to expressed that they feel they “have a responsibility to work on literacy” but do not know how to go about teaching and incorporating reading in their instruction. Unfortunately, the majority of otherwise competent or even expert teachers do not have the knowledge or training to teach literacy skills required to engage students with science texts (Norris & Phillips, 2003; National Research Council, 2012). Secondary science teachers are largely unprepared because their teacher preparation programs included little or no coursework focused on literacy. Even though there is a growing trend for teacher preparation programs to offer literacy courses that focus on reading in the content areas, often they still do not provide aspiring science teachers the science-specific tools needed to teach reading in secondary science contexts. One inservice teacher we spoke with commented that while she had taken a literacy course in graduate school it “really didn’t help me at all because it was too general and disconnected from the kind of reading you have to do in science.” Her sense that strategies introduced in her graduate school preservice coursework were too generic is not surprising given that science texts require content specific approaches and an understanding about how to read and engage with various disciplinary-specific genres (Carnegie Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy, 2010; Lee & Spratley, 2010). This raises the question, “How can we, as science teacher educators, prepare our teacher candidates to teach reading in the context of science?”

Instead of depending on general content area courses designed for preservice teachers regardless of discipline or specialty, science teacher educators need to design lessons for secondary science methods courses that target how to teach reading as an integral and integrated component of 6th-12th grade science curricula. Fortunately, preservice science teachers are not walking into science methods classes as blank slates. They enter with extensive science content expertise and are generally proficient or advanced readers of scientific texts. The challenge for science teacher educators is that even though preservice secondary teachers know how to read and make meaning of texts within their discipline, it is difficult for individuals to leverage well-developed personal strategies for reading a variety of science texts in their planning and instruction to support struggling readers (Carnegie Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy, 2010; Norris & Phillips, 2003). If reading is to play a more prominent role in secondary science, preservice teachers need help in making tacit knowledge about how to read common genres of science texts, such as popular science texts, textbooks, and primary scientific literature, explicit so they can use this knowledge as a foundation for learning how to teach middle school and high school students to read and make sense of science texts.

Context & Framing

The context for this study was a one semester secondary science methods course we taught at our respective institutions to a mix of undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, and masters students. We co-designed and taught a sequence of seminar sessions on how to use literacy activities, specifically reading different genres of science texts, to meaningfully help students learn science. This paper describes the first session in the sequence. We framed the design of the lesson using Ball & Bass’s (2000) notion of decompression. This is the perspective that as individuals learn to teach they need to unpack, and make visible the connections between the integral whole of their content knowledge so that it is accessible to develop pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1986) In this particular case the knowledge and skills necessary to use literacy strategies to teach reading in the context of science (Figure 1). Why is unpacking preservice teachers content knowledge about science reading strategies important? Unless one’s content expertise is the study of reading, the act of reading can seem or intuitively be thought “a simple process” in which “text can seem transparent” (Norris & Phillips, 2003, p. 226). Helping preservice teachers identify their existing “expert” knowledge of how to read science texts—and preparing them to design lessons that productively incorporate literacy activities into their science instruction—is foundational for developing strategies to teach middle school and high school students how to read science texts.

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). As preservice secondary science teachers decompress their content knowledge about literacy and their personal reading strategies they develop PCK for teaching reading in science.

 

 

Lesson Design

In order to unpack preservice teachers’ genre specific strategies, we designed a structured introductory literacy activity that would:

● Help preservice teachers identify existing personal reading strategies for reading science texts
● Compare personal reading strategies with other preservice teachers
● Identify general and science genre specific reading strategies
● Engage preservice teachers in a dialogue about text features of different genres of science texts
● Brainstorm ideas about when and why teachers would want to use different genres of science texts in instruction
● Provide a foundation for designing lesson plans that include literacy activities that support ambitious science teaching practices—eliciting student ideas, supporting ongoing changes in student thinking, and pressing for evidence-based explanations (Windschitl, Thompson, Braaten, & Stroupe, 2012).

Specifically, we asked our preservice teachers to read three common genres of science texts—a newspaper article (popular science text), a science textbook (science text for education), and a scientific journal article (primary scientific literature)—that a science teacher might have their students read in class (Goldman & Bisanz, 2002). Relatively short texts about the same content—global climate change—were purposefully selected. Each student was given a packet of the readings that they were welcome to write on. We instructed preservice teachers to read each article with the goal of making sense of the text. They were given 10 minutes to read each text. How they spent this time, including what order they read the different texts, was left up to them.

After reading all of the texts, we made the preservice teachers aware of our purpose. We did not seek to assess them on their understanding of the content within each text. Instead, we wanted to make visible the strategies they used to read each type of text. Before we debriefed as a group, we asked each preservice teacher to respond in writing to the following questions for each genre of text:

● What did you do as you read the text?
● How did you make sense of the text?
● How did you interact with the text?
● Why did you approach the text in this way?

Asking preservice teachers to notice strategies encouraged them to make visible the latent expert knowledge they use to analyze the texts (Sherin, Jacobs, & Philipp, 2011). After students individually responded to the prompts on how they read each of the three texts, we split them into small groups of 3-4 to identify and record the reading strategies used to make sense of each text type. This activity was followed by a whole class discussion about reading order, reading strategies, and patterns in reading approaches across the three genres of science text: a newspaper article, a science textbook, and a journal article. Our preservice teachers’ discussion and written reflections revealed that they did indeed have both general and subject specific approaches to reading different kinds of science texts.

Reading the Newspaper Article

Popular texts, such as newspapers, magazines, online sites, trade books, and longer nonfiction science texts, take complex scientific information and phenomena and simplify it for the public—generally for the purpose of raising awareness and increasing understanding of important issues that are relevant to and impact citizens’ everyday lives (Goldman & Bisanz, 2002). The newspaper article our preservice teachers read introduced international efforts to draft a world climate policy to limit global warming to 2oC by drastically cutting down on fossil fuel emissions to head off the negative impacts, such as rising sea-levels, of global warming (Gillis, 2014).

The discussion kicked off with one preservice teacher noting that the “writing was very straightforward” so it was not necessary to take notes as compared to engagement with the textbook or journal article. Another echoed this sentiment commenting that she read it like a story with a “main thread…which I grasped and everything else revolved around”. Several made remarks that were consistent with the objective of this text genre such as, “I wasn’t really ever exposed to the 2o C global climate change goals before so I felt I had to keep ready to gain more insight as to what it is and why it is important” and “science is controversial—one group may agree and another group may disagree”.

It was clear from the discussion that preservice teachers had a deep, established, and readily accessible understanding of the structure and purpose of a scientific newspaper article and that these pre-existing orientations to this genre shaped how they read the text (Figure 2). Strategies our preservice teachers used to read the newspaper article included:

● Using the title to identify who/what/when
● Using the first sentence to identify the tone
● Identifying the writer’s position and identifying bias
● Identifying stakeholders and different opinions with respect to the issue
● Evaluating the credibility of the source
● Identifying evidence, notably by locating quotations from scientists
● Skimming for the main idea and ignoring the “fluff”

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Preservice teachers’ strategies for reading newspaper articles.

Reading the Textbook

Science textbooks, the mainstay of secondary science, are expository which means they are written to inform, describe, explain or define patterns, and to help students construct meanings about science information (Goldman & Bisanz, 2002). Even though the objective of textbooks is to scaffold student learning, students often find them difficult reading because of content density, complex text structures, domain specific vocabulary, multimodal representations, lack of relevance to students’ lives and prior knowledge (Lee & Spratley, 2010). The textbook reading on global climate change detailed specific consequences of global warming including warmer temperatures, more severe weather events, melting ice and snow, rising sea levels, and human health (Edelson et al., 2005).

As preservice teachers reflected on and discussed how they read the science textbook we observed a high degree of commonality across the approaches utilized. Most notably, conversation centered on text features that organize information in the text. For example, one preservice teacher shared that he “figured that a textbook would give the big ideas in the title and probably within the first couple of lines of the section so this helped me to get to the point faster, it helped me understand with less reading”. Similarly another said “I first flipped through the text [and] read all of the headings and subheadings” upon which other students elaborated that “the headings and subheadings are great clues as to what the text is talking about” and that headings and subheadings helped to “identify the main idea of each section”.

As with the newspaper article, the discussion of the textbook reading revealed that our preservice teachers have well developed strategies for reading science textbooks. Their strategies included:

● Reading the title to identify the focus of the entire reading
● Reading headings and subheadings to determine the main idea of each section
● Asking how the section relates to the title
● Asking how each section is connected to the sections before and after
● Reading for the main idea
● Reading first/last sentences of each paragraph
● Making a distinction between main idea(s) and evidence
● Skimming for unfamiliar science words, bolded vocabulary and associated definitions

Reading the Journal Article

Goldman and Bisanz (2002) point to the research report, such as a journal article, as the primary text genre used by scientists. Research reports are of particular interest because they are vehicles through which scientists present a scientific argument for consumption, evaluation, and response by their peers. Publication, circulation, evaluation, and response serves as a mechanism for providing information about research, making claims, and generating new scientific knowledge. According to Phillips & Norris (2009) journal articles present arguments about the need for conducting research, enduring or emerging methodology, analysis and provisions against alternative explanations—all in the service of supporting interpretation of authors’ findings. Generally, these types of texts are infrequently used in the science classroom. The journal article we asked our preservice teachers to read presented an index for when temperature will increase beyond historic levels yielding worldwide shifts in climate (Mora et al., 2013).

Preservice teachers agreed that of the three texts the journal article was hands down the most difficult to read and understand. Even though they struggled with this article they had no trouble articulating how they read this text. As with the other two text types, preservice teachers used specific text features of journal articles to scaffold their reading. One shared that she “usually start[s] with the abstract of a journal article because it tends to give some sort of summary of the whole article.” Another built on this by saying that the “abstract is a good summary of key points.” In addition to the abstract, preservice teachers focused on reading the “intro and conclusion because they highlight scientist’s argument and claims,” as well as on “tables and figures because they provide evidence visually.” There was also widespread agreement with one preservice teacher that if the goal is to understand the article, it was fine to “skim the methods [because]…taking the time to read the methods portion would not provide me with the important information to understand the context.”

The discussion of the journal article reading uncovered that our preservice teachers have well developed strategies for reading scientific texts. Their strategies included:

● Reading abstract, introduction and conclusion for summary of argument and primary findings
● Reading discussion for explanation of findings
● Looking at graphs, tables and figures for evidence supporting claim
● Skipping or skimming methods
● Asking do I understand what this article is about
● Reflecting on whether I can tell someone what this article is about

Reading Across the Science Texts

We noticed that in addition to the genre specific strategies outlined above, preservice teachers talked about how—as they read with the goal of making sense of the texts—almost all indicated that they annotated the text in some fashion. When we collected and analyzed preservice teachers’ annotated texts, we observed that they had underlined, highlighted, and jotted down questions or comments directly on the text. When they reflected on their textual reading practices, they indicated that they marked-up the text because they planned to re-read the texts and that annotating and highlighting specific features (headings, main ideas, or writing questions), would facilitate their future re-skimming of the texts and allow them to focus on only re-reading the most relevant sections or re-engaging with the most salient information in the article (Mawyer & Johnson, 2017). It seems that preservice teachers engaged in a meta-dialogue with the text that would allow for the most effective and efficient interaction with the text to maximize understanding.

Preservice Teachers’ Ideas for Scaffolding Literacy

After students discussed the various texts and worked together to identify patterns and commonalities in how they read the three texts, we asked them to talk about implications of their personal strategies for reading different types of science texts for their own teaching. One of the preservice teachers commented that going into the activity she did not really think that she had any specific strategies for reading science texts and “felt uncomfortable and overwhelmed about the prospect of teaching literacy” and that the activity helped her to see that she “had more experience with literacy” than she originally thought. We noticed that in both of our classes the literacy activity our preservice secondary teachers engaged in and their subsequent small group discussions allowed them to think deeply about how to concretely support literacy. They were able to work together to develop ideas about how they could build on the reading strategies they identified in our class to design their own lessons and curriculum in order to integrate literacy activities into their teaching practice. Specifically we observed students leveraging their personal strategies into supports that could be helpful to students before, during, and after they directly interact with the text (Table 1).

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Preservice Teachers’ Ideas for Scaffolding Literacy for Different Types of Science Texts

Formal lesson plans and classroom observations revealed that after this literacy lesson our preservice teachers began incorporating these three genres of science texts into their science instruction and put the strategies and supports they identified into practice. For example, one student adapted a journal article to make it easier for her students to read. She structured reading by giving her students the following instructions:

“You will mark the text, highlight words you do not know or feel that are important, write in the side columns thoughts/responses/ideas, and form a thesis summary. To form a thesis means to make a conclusive statement (claim) on what you read. You will support this claim by providing 3-5 key details.”

The observation that our preservice teachers started using science texts after this literacy session, suggested they had more confidence in engaging their own students with literacy activities in the science classroom.

Implications for Science Teacher Educators

The Framework specifies that preservice science teacher education needs to be aligned with the scientific practices. Furthermore, it tasks science teacher educators with providing preservice teachers strong preparation that will help them to embrace their role as teachers of science literacy (National Research Council, 2012). In response to this call we designed this initial literacy lesson to help preservice teachers enrolled in our science methods courses to unpack their content knowledge about literacy in science with the hope that by unlocking their personal strategies they would be better positioned for engaging in conversations about literacy. In the words of one preservice teacher this activity helped him realize that his reading strategies were “so intuitive that they were tacit” and that previously he never “consciously thought about the text and how I approach reading”.

Challenges in implementation

As noted earlier one challenge that arose during this lesson was that our preservice teachers struggled with reading the journal article. Often journal articles are quite lengthy so we purposefully selected the shortest article we could find about global climate change in the hope that they would be able to read it in its entirety in the allotted 10 minutes. As the lesson unfolded we realized that this particular article was exceptionally dense conceptually and included a large number of visual representations.

Suggestions for future implementation

As we tweak this lesson for future use we plan to select another article that is more typical of scientific journal articles. That said, the very rich conversation that we had around the difficulties surrounding reading this particular article led to productive lines of inquiry in subsequent literacy sessions. In particular, we used it as a jumping off point for talking about adapting primary literature (Philips & Norris, 2009) to make scientific journal articles accessible to middle and high school students. We also realized that we needed to include explicit instruction around scaffolding reading visual representations such as tables, graphs, and diagrams. Another modification that we are considering is assigning the three readings and written responses to the four prompts as homework. This would allow preservice teachers to read each text at their own pace and take away the artificial constraint of a time limit.

Conclusion

This lesson highlights that preservice teachers’ actual familiarity with reading strategies and content specific literacy expertise is different from their initial self-perception that they know very little about literacy. The combination of genre specific and general reading strategies our preservice teachers used demonstrated that they use visual and symbolic cues in the text in combination with prior knowledge to construct new meaning from the text by utilizing comprehension strategies as they read. The fact that preservice teachers have these highly developed metacognitive strategies to pinpoint important ideas, make inferences, ask questions, utilize text structure, and monitor comprehension while reading highlights a high level expertise (Gomez & Gomez, 2006; Pearson, Roehler, Dole & Duffy, 1992; Yore, 1991, 2004; Yore & Shymansky, 1991).

We found that using this initial literacy lesson provided our preservice teachers with a solid foundation for engaging in conversations about how to scaffold student reading. This lesson provided preservice teachers an opportunity to collaboratively develop a common beginner’s repertoire of reading strategies that we subsequently used as a building block for designing activities and lessons that engage middle and high school students in big science ideas and understanding real-world phenomena through reading a variety of kinds of science texts. Also, compared to previous years, we noticed that how these preservice teachers were able to design and scaffold reading with their students was objectively more sophisticated and would allow students to engage with the science in more meaningful ways.

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Why is the Good Stuff at the Bottom of the Cooler? An Inquiry about Inquiry for Preservice Secondary Science Teachers

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Burgin, S.R. (2017). Why is the good stuff at the bottom of the cooler? An inquiry about inquiry for preservice secondary science teachers. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, (2)3. Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/why-is-the-good-stuff-at-the-bottom-of-the-cooler-an-inquiry-about-inquiry-for-preservice-secondary-science-teachers/

by Stephen R. Burgin, University of Arkansas

Abstract

The following article describes a lesson that was originally implemented in a high school chemistry classroom for the purpose of teaching students about density and was subsequently revised in order to teach preservice science teachers about inquiry and the practices of science. Lesson plans turned in after the experience revealed that preservice teachers demonstrated an understanding of the importance of allowing students to engage in the practices of science in order to construct their own meanings of natural phenomenon prior to being provided with an expected result. Practical examples of how science investigations can be modified for the purposes of science teacher preparation are included.

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References

Bell, R. L., Smetana, L., & Binns, I. (2005). Simplifying inquiry instruction. The Science Teacher, 72(7), 30-33.

Herrick, R. S., Nestor, L. P., & Benedetto, D. A. (1999). Using data pooling to measure the density of sodas: An introductory discovery experiment. Journal of Chemical Education, 76, 1411.

National Research Council (NRC). (2000). Inquiry and the national science education standards: A guide for teaching and learning. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

National Research Council (NRC). (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington DC: National Academies Press.

 

A College – Science Center Partnership for Science Teacher Preparation

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Steinberg, R. & Saxman, L. (2017). A college-science center partnership for science teacher preparation. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(3). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/a-college-science-center-partnership-for-science-teacher-preparation/

by Richard Steinberg, City College of New York; & Laura Saxman, CUNY Graduate Center

Abstract

This partnership between a college and a science center addresses the need to improve the recruitment and preparation of science teachers in an urban setting. We describe the integrated teacher preparation model where undergraduate science majors simultaneously participate in the City College of New York science teacher preparation program and serve as interns on the museum floor at the New York Hall of Science. We report on how graduates of our program are prepared to teach science and how they performed in the classroom. We found that the program was successful at recruiting students from the communities in which they intend to teach and successful at preparing them to teach inquiry-based science.

Innovations Journal articles, beyond each issue's featured article, are included with ASTE membership. If your membership is current please login at the upper right.

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References

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You Learning Cycled Us! Teaching the Learning Cycle Through the Learning Cycle

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Hick, S.R. (2017). You learning cycled us! Teaching the learning cycle through the learning cycle. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 2(2). Retrieved from https://innovations.theaste.org/you-learning-cycled-us-teaching-the-learning-cycle-through-the-learning-cycle/

by Sarah R. Hick, Hamline University

Abstract

Frustrated by how much difficulty my preservice secondary science teachers were having understanding the essence of the learning cycle and crafting learning cycle lessons, I changed both the language of the learning cycle and the way I taught it.  Using ConceptDiscovery,” Concept Clarification, and Concept Application (DCA) as the names of the stages, I began to teach the learning cycle through a learning cycle.  In my series of lessons to help them build understanding of the DCA learning cycle, I first have students analyze vignettes of learning cycle lessons in order to “discover” the critical elements of each stage.  To “clarify” the concept of the DCA cycle, I spend several class sessions leading model lessons and engaging my pre-service teachers in discussions about each stage.  To help them “apply” their understanding to teaching, I scaffold them through writing their own learning cycle lesson with help from a categorization scheme I developed for types of discovery learning experiences.  Finally, in a short additional learning cycle, I have my pre-service students compare and contrast this model with others learning cycle models as a way to become knowledgeable about the history of the learning cycle and competent in the dominant discourse around it.

Introduction

When I started teaching high school biology, I figured out early on that my students were motivated by puzzles.  I made it my challenge, then, to devise lessons in which the learning experiences were structured as puzzles for my students to solve.  My early attempts included the extremely popular—though cognitively questionable—“Word-Scramble Treasure Hunts.”  In teams, students answered fill-in-the-blank questions from the text, then rearranged the circled letters of each answer to reveal the location of their next set of questions.  The treasure hunts—and the bag of donut holes for the winning team—were a huge hit with lecture-weary students.  For me, though, the logistics of the seven separate treasure hunt paths on seven different colors of paper for five different periods was overwhelming.  Plus, I had to be honest: it was simply a worksheet cut into strips.  Surely, I could do better.

Over my next few years teaching, the clues of my puzzles shifted from being words to being data.  I developed a habit of beginning instruction on a new topic by providing students with a puzzle in the form of an experimental question or a set of data—numbers, graphs, images, observations—that they collected or that I provided to them.  Their challenge was to analyze the data and draw a conclusion.  The conclusion they drew was—by my design—the concept that I wanted them to learn that day.

When I began taking courses in my doctoral program, I learned that what I was doing with my students was, in the main, a form of constructivist and inquiry teaching.  More specifically, this approach (and the learning experiences that followed) closely paralleled what was known in the field as a learning cycle.  Briefly, a basic learning cycle involves students 1) beginning their learning about a concept usually through a hands-on investigation of a phenomenon or materials; 2) getting a clearer understanding of the concept through a variety of instructional approaches including additional labs, readings, lecture, videos, demonstrations, and others; and 3) applying the learning in a new context (e.g., Bybee, 1997; Bybee, Taylor, Gardner, Van Scotter, Powell, Westbrook, & Landes, 2006; Bybee, Powell, & Trowbridge, 2007; Karplus & Thier, 1967; Lawson, Abraham, & Renner, 1989).

As I looked to move from my career as a high school science teacher to the one ahead as a science teacher educator, I was thrilled to learn that what I had been doing had a name, theory, research (e.g., Bybee et al., 2006; National Research Council 2006), and even curriculum behind it.  Because my own teaching had become so much more powerful for my high school students—and so much more enjoyable for me—I was driven to teach the learning cycle to the new science teacher candidates so that they could use it to support learning and thinking in their own classrooms.  I was pleased that I would have more legitimacy behind my aspirations for my pre-service teachers’ instructional designs than simply, “Hey, this really worked for me and my students!”  The published and researched versions of the learning cycle were so well developed, so well articulated, and so integrated into the world of science education, that I felt that helping new teachers learn to plan using that model would be fairly easy—certainly easier than the fumbling around that I had done for a few years.

Naming Rights—or Naming Wrongs?

I was caught entirely by surprise, then, when the preservice science teachers whom I mentored and supervised in my doctoral program struggled so much to learn and adopt the learning cycle in their planning.  What seemed to be such a straightforward concept to me perplexed and befuddled them.  For all the time they spent learning and writing using the Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate (5E) model (e.g., Bybee 1997, 2002, 2006; Bybee et al. 2007)—two four-credit secondary science methods courses over two terms—they struggled enormously to write lesson plans using the model.

A troublesome aspect of the 5E model seemed—ironically—to be the clever, alliterative 5E naming system itself: the preservice secondary science teachers struggled to remember what each of the Es of the 5E model stood for.  Worse, tripping up over what the Es stood for made them lose track completely of the overarching idea of the progression of thinking and learning that make up the pedagogical foundation of the learning cycle.   The typical response to being asked about the 5E Learning Cycle was a variation on a theme: “The five Es?  Um, I think explore, and expand, . . . explain, and . . . and . . . oh yeah, evaluate, and . . . shoot.  How many is that?”  The few students who could come up with all five names could not name them in order.  It seemed that while “5E” was catchy, the real meat of the learning cycle was not.  The students were—I really cannot resist this—missing the forest for the Es.

When I graduated from my doctoral program and began teaching science methods courses myself, I tried both the 5E model because of its power, presence, and ubiquity in science education and the three-part Exploration, Term/Concept Introduction, Concept Application model (Karplus, 1979; Karplus & Butts, 1977; Karplus & Thier, 1967; Lawson et al., 1989) because of its simplicity, permanence, and historical importance.  But the Explore/Exploration name in both models was too loose for my students.  What did it mean to “explore”?  “Exploration” could be a lot of interesting but aimless wandering.  My students could come up with all sorts of cool hands-on “explorations”—opportunities for students to put their hands on materials and play around with them—but to what end?  That was the problem with “exploring;” there was no promise or expectation that one would actually find anything.

The implication set by the words “exploration” and “explore” was setting the bar too low for both teacher and students.  With the publication of both A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (NGSS Lead States, 2013), the importance of using planning schema that emphasize scientific and engineering practices—especially, in this step, making hypotheses, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, constructing explanations, and engaging in argument from evidence (NRC, 2012)—cannot be underestimated. Bybee et al. (2006) articulated about the Explore stage that, as “a result of their mental and physical involvement in the activity, the students establish relationships, observe patterns, identify variables” (p. 9). The language of “exploration,” however, allows the novice teacher-planner to underestimate the possibility for real conceptual learning and for engagement in scientific practices.

Re-Branding the Stages

Based on the difficulties with the stage names that I saw my preservice science students experiencing, I devised a new naming system to use as I introduced the learning cycle to them. I stuck with the original core three stages—or, put another way, I lopped off the first and last of the 5Es that had been added to the older models (Bybee et al., 2006).  My reasoning for the lopping was not that engagement and assessment (“evaluation” in the 5E) were in some way insignificant; to the contrary, I lopped them out of the learning cycle because they are critical components that should frame—and be seamlessly woven throughout—all lesson plans, not just those using a learning cycle approach.  Our licensure program uses a lesson plan template that requires our preservice teachers to articulate their assessment plans (prior knowledge, formative, and future summative) as well as their plans to motivationally, physically, and cognitively engage their students in the learning.  Because of that requirement, and because of the months that we have already spent in class building skills in engaging students and designing assessments, including the “Engage” and “Evaluate” portions of the learning cycle were unnecessary—and, in fact, a bit awkward—in instruction about the learning cycle as a distinct approach to teaching and learning.

For the first stage, I decided on the name Concept Discovery.  In this stage, students are provided with a phenomenon, a structured or guided inquiry lab opportunity (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005), or a set of data to examine.  Often, they are provided an investigable question for which they propose a hypothesis, then design and carry out a test of that hypothesis.  Using inductive reasoning, they examine the data and draw a conclusion—often the noticing of a pattern, relationship, or cause and effect—which they then justify with evidence and share out with peers.  As they work, the teacher supports learning by watching, listening, asking probing questions, and providing scaffolding as needed.

I am intentional about using the word “Concept” in the name: I want it to be exceptionally clear to the teacher-planners that students are discovering a particular concept in this stage; they are not simply being tossed into a murky sea of data or materials with the hope that they may discover something.  The quotation marks are also intentional. The “Discovery” going on is akin to Columbus “discovering” America: students are not really discovering anything new to the world, they are discovering something new to themselvesToo, the discovery is contrived: they are participating in a learning experience specifically engineered to allow them—through the processes of interpreting data and making and defending claims (and, quite often, brainstorming variables, making predictions, designing tests, and engaging in scientific debate)—to come to the intended meaning.

The second step I named Concept Clarification.  The focus in this step is the teacher making sure that, regardless of—but built through discussion of—individual or group findings, the whole class comes to a common understanding of the main idea arising from the discovery experience.  The teacher makes sure that appropriate terms are introduced and defined, preferably with definitions crafted as a class based on their experiences of the concept during the Concept Discovery stage.  The teacher also uses discussion, notes, video clips, images, modeling, readings, additional laboratory experiences, and other instructional strategies to help students refine the understanding they built in the Concept Discovery stage.

The third step I left intact as Concept Application, the step in which students apply their new learning—often in conjunction with their understanding of previous concepts—in order to solve a new problem.

The naming and structure of the Concept Discovery, Concept Clarification, Concept Application (DCA) learning cycle is intended to help my preservice secondary science teachers plan single lessons or multi-day instructional sequences that allow their students to discover one concept, achieve clarity on that same concept, and then apply it to a new situation before moving on to learn the next concept.

Practicing What I Teach

The naming systems were, of course, not the only thing—and likely not the major thing—holding back mastery of the learning cycle.  I realized as I began to teach science methods courses myself that the very thing that had made learning science so difficult for me in high school—traditional instruction that started with terms, notes, and readings—was keeping the preservice science teachers from learning the learning cycle.  If leading with new terminology and following with notes and examples did not work for teaching meiosis or the rock cycle, why would it work for teaching the learning cycle?  I realized that if I wanted my own preservice teachers to learn to teach using the learning cycle, I would need to help them learn it through a learning cycle.  Over the past decade, then, I have worked to develop and refine a way of helping preservice teachers master the learning cycle in a way that honors the pedagogy of the approach itself.

I begin my lessons on the learning cycle with an assessment of prior knowledge that also serves to pique my preservice students’ interest.  I ask my students to write out or diagram what they regard to be a good general structure for the teaching of their content, be it life science, chemistry, or physics.  I have my students share their representations with their content-area partners to see if they find any similarities.  With little variation, they include lecture and lab—always in that order—as central to science teaching.  I then let them know that we will be learning a lesson structure called the “learning cycle” over the next several class periods.  In my efforts to model good instructional technique, I post the following objectives on the board:

  • Name and describe the stages of a learning cycle;
  • Create an instructional sequence using the learning cycle.

Concept Discovery

To begin the Concept Discovery stage for my students to learn the DCA learning cycle, I pass out vignettes of four lessons, one each for class sessions in Language Arts, World Language, Mathematics, and Health (see Appendix A for these vignettes).  I use examples from non-science classes because I want my students to focus on the type of thinking and tasks happening, not on the content or if they think there is a “better” way to teach that content.  Each vignette is divided into three short paragraphs, each paragraph describing what the teacher and students are doing in that stage of the learning cycle.  Importantly, I do not label the names of the stages at this point as that would undermine my preservice students’ opportunity to “discover” the heart of each stage.

I ask my students to read through the vignettes—the “data,” though I do not call it that—first without making any notes.  Then, I ask them to read through them looking at just the first stage in all four, then just the second stage, then just the third stage.  I then ask them to make notes about what the students and the teachers are doing in each stage and try to come up with a name for each stage.  Once they have completed that individual work, I put my students into groups of three to four to share out their ideas.  I spend my time roaming the room, informally checking in on their ideas as they talk and write.

Concept Clarification

Once my student groups are ready to share out, I put a chart on the board with “Stage 1,” “Stage 2,” and “Stage 3” down the left side and “Teacher does” and “Students does” on the top.  I ask them to tell me which stage they feel most confident about and want to start with (it is always the third stage).  I get them to fill in the boxes in the chart for that row and suggest a name (it is almost always “application,” lending support to the appropriateness of this name).  We then move on to the other rows and do the same.  Once we have the table filled in and I have circled the things they contributed that are central to the learning cycle and not simply to good teaching (for example, “students looking for patterns” is central to the first stage of the learning cycle but “students working as individuals and then small groups” is not), I unveil my “real” names for the stages and we craft short definitions of each from what we have recorded on the board (Figure 1).

Figure 1 (Click on image to enlarge). Sample chart on board.

I then have students read a handout I wrote that summarizes each stage of the DCA learning cycle (see Appendix B).  For the next several class sessions, I model learning cycle lessons in science for them, with them as my mock middle and high school students.  The examples I use (see Appendix C for summaries of the example lessons) involve an array of concepts (both declarative and procedural) from life science, chemistry, and physics; contain Concept Discovery experiences that use a wide variety of data types, data-gathering techniques, and data analysis approaches; and vary tremendously in the length and complexity of both Concept Clarification and Concept Application activities.  My goal in using such a broad range of experiences is to help my methods students see a) that learning cycles can be used in all areas science, and b) that while the type of student cognitive work in each stage is consistent across different topics, there is great diversity in the types of learning tasks, instructional strategies, and assessment practices that a learning cycle can employ.

After each model lesson that I lead, I ask students to first write individually and then discuss with their partner where each stage began and ended in that lesson.  Though I have shown for the reader how the three parts of each lesson are broken up, I do not reveal those transitions to my students while I am leading the lessons.  I want them to have to puzzle through the boundaries of the stages as part of their cognitive work in learning the stages.

After informally keeping track of student ideas as they work, I lead a discussion of their perceptions and my intentions about the boundaries of the stages. I also help them see the fuzziness of those boundaries in transition: Is group share-out part of Concept Discovery or Concept Clarification?  Is practice part of Concept Clarification or Concept Application?  I remind my students that relative order of learning experiences is what is paramount, not how we divide up the sometimes fuzzy borders.

After the wrap-up discussion of the last lesson, I ask them to reflect on how I had helped them learn about the learning cycle: What did I have you do first? Then what did I have you do?  Very quickly, someone cries out, “You learning cycled us!”  I ask them why they think I “learning cycled” them instead of having them learn it in a different way.  Someone is always quick to suggest—correctly—that I must think that using a learning cycle is the best way to help people learn something new.

Concept Application

I then ask my preservice teachers what stage we haven’t done yet (Concept Application) and what an effective application for the concept of the learning cycle might be.  They gulp when they realize that, of course, I’ll be asking them to create a learning cycle lesson.  I start their work on learning to write learning cycle lessons by assigning students concepts in their discipline and asking them to brainstorm things they might include in a DCA learning cycle lesson that would help students learn that concept.  While I observe and scaffold with prompts as needed, students combine into groups to create and share a DCA lesson on their assigned topic.

Students then are asked to plan one learning cycle lesson on their own as part of a larger summative assessment for the course—a unit plan that they research and build over the term.  I ask them first to submit to me—for points—the objective(s) for the lesson as well as a rough description (a few sentences) of their plan for each stage of the learning cycle.  If the idea is viable, I allow them to move forward with their planning.  If the idea is confusing or not viable, I ask them to resubmit it as many times as necessary.  If they are unable to make a workable plan, I point them in a workable direction for the lesson with the understanding that they will not get credit for the draft.  I then have the students lead the Concept Discovery portion of their lesson, and other stages if time allows, either in their clinical placement or with their peers in our class.  They gather feedback from the students, reflect on what they learned from their experience teaching, and use that information to write the final draft of their lesson (see example student lesson plans in Appendices E and F).  The learning cycle aspect of the lesson plan is then evaluated using a brief scoring guide that evaluates the degree to which each stage achieves its goal:

  1. Concept Discovery section is appropriately designed so that students can “discover” a new-to-them concept (60%).
  2. Concept Clarification section sticks to the exact same concept, not just same topic or benchmark, and fully clarifies it with examples, notes, definitions, and whatever else would be helpful and relevant for that concept (20%).
  3. Concept Application asks students to use exactly the same concept in a new way, alone or in conjunction with previously learned concepts (20%).

I weight the Concept Discovery section three times as much as each of the other two stages because it is the lynchpin of the learning cycle.  Excellent Concept Clarification and Concept Application plans are evidence of excellent learning cycle planning skills only if the Concept Discovery phase is workable.  Without a workable Concept Discovery stage, I do not have evidence that my students can plan a learning cycle lesson.

Next Steps

Once my students have had the opportunity to complete their application of the learning cycle concept by writing a learning cycle lesson plan, I move to the next need: translating their understanding of the DCA learning cycle to the models used in the field of science education.  It is critically important to me that my preservice students are able to engage in the discourse around the learning cycle in their professional networks, in their planning, and in their professional development.  In the end, the DCA learning cycle is not meant to be an end in itself—I have no interest in seeing any of the other models ousted—it is only meant to serve as a clearer means to teach the underlying framework or philosophy of “the” learning cycle, whichever final model one chooses.

For this brief learning cycle, I set the objectives as, “Explain the evolutionary roots and development of ‘the’ learning cycle” and “Defend a lesson plan using published learning cycle theory.”  For Concept Discovery, I ask my students to examine the 5E model and Keeley’s (2008) SAIL model, then craft text or a diagram that articulates the areas of alignment and divergence that they see (Figure 2, Figure 3, Figure 4).  After students share those models with each other, for Concept Clarification, I diagram the areas of alignment on the board along with a branched evolutionary timeline showing the learning cycles by Karplus (Karplus, 1979; Karplus & Butts, 1977; Karplus & Thier, 1967), Lawson (Lawson et al., 1989; Lawson, 1995), Bybee (1997), and Keeley (2008) as a background for why the alignments are present.  For application, my students need to rewrite the rationale for the pedagogy of their lesson plan using one of the published models of the learning cycle as the theoretical base in place of the DCA cycle.

Figure 2 (Click on image to enlarge). Student Comparison 1.

Figure 3 (Click on image to enlarge). Student Comparison 2.

Figure 4 (Click on image to enlarge). Student Comparison 3.

Additional Support for Creating Concept “Discovery” Activities

I recognized a few years into my career as a science teacher educator that my preservice teachers struggled the most with creating discovery portions of the learning cycle.  After a couple years of beating my head against a wall and wailing at the reading of some of my students’ derailed, tangled, or simply traditional confirmation labs (Bell et al., 2005) they were calling “discovery,” I realized that they needed more help in conceptualizing and building true, inductive, Concept Discovery experiences for their own secondary students.  They also needed help moving beyond simply thinking about labs as ways of learning, especially for content that did not lend itself to laboratory investigations

As I analyzed my own learning cycle lessons trying to figure out how I was crafting them, I realized that there were some unwritten templates that I was employing.  I first identified three main categories into which the Concept Discovery activities fit: drawing conclusions from data; inferring rules, definitions, or relationships from examples; and ordering or sorting based on observable characteristics. As I used those categories over the years and added examples, I found that all three categories—not just the first—really involved students in “drawing conclusions from data.” Additionally, I realized that I was subdividing the examples in the first category in ways that were more helpful than the larger category itself.  I then arrived at six main—and, at times, overlapping—categories into which Concept Discovery learning experiences fall:

  • investigating a hypothesis in a laboratory investigation;
  • finding patterns in extant data sets;
  • experiencing the phenomenon (live or through simulation);
  • mimicking the way the relationship or phenomenon was discovered by scientists;
  • ordering or sorting based on observable characteristics; and
  • inferring rules, definitions, or relationships from examples.

Each approach involves students in using the science practices of “analyzing and interpreting data” and “constructing explanations” as well as one or more additional science practices (NRC, 2012).  I provide my science methods students with a handout on these categories of Concept Discovery experiences (Appendix D) and ask them to identify which type each of my example learning cycle lessons employed.  Providing my preservice science teachers with this categorization of Concept Discovery has helped them to expand their imagining of Concept Discovery experiences from just laboratory investigations to a myriad of data-driven inductive cognitive experiences.  That freeing of their imagination has been especially helpful to students in chemistry and biology who frequently find themselves needing to address standards that do not seem to lend themselves to laboratory investigations.

Taking Stock, Moving Forward

Student Perspectives

My methods students and I have a tremendous amount of fun with the learning cycle in my courses.  The amount of laughter and engaged conversation during the learning cycle experiences lets me know that they are enjoying themselves; the quality of their related assignments, lessons plans, and microteaching lets me know that learning and growth is happening.  Responses to open-ended questions in on-line course evaluations, too, show that students really value the learning cycle experiences in shaping them as teachers.  One student’s entry into the “best part of the course” section nicely captures the range of sentiments that students share:

I really enjoyed and got a lot out of all of the mini inquiry/discovery lessons we got to experience. They were fun, but they also gave me many concrete and easy­to­remember examples of how to get students involved in discovering concepts. Very good meta­teaching. I also enjoyed planning for and teaching the mini lessons. It was good, low­pressure practice.

The bulk of the comments each term focuses on the role of “modeling” of effective instruction.   When students write about modeling, they are at times referring to the fact that I practice “what I preach” in the instruction of our class: I teach the learning cycle through a learning cycle.  At other times, they are referring to my leading of demonstration science lessons with them as stand-ins for secondary students.  Comment after comment makes clear that whether the student has never seen constructivism in action, learns best by doing, wants to see more practical examples of best practices or inquiry in science, or just appreciates the alignment of my expectations of their teaching and my teaching, they find the modeling to be powerful.  One student, for example, wrote,

I liked seeing the activities from the point of view from the students. Moreover, I like the way you role played the teacher trying not to break character. This gave me more insight on how the flow of the classroom should be directed and how to use open questions.

Students also express relief in finally being able to put some meat on their skeleton ideas of what “constructivism,” “inquiry,” and “student-centered” really mean.  One student wrote, “I liked having the opportunity to see lots of discovery and inquiry activities, instead of just hearing that I’m supposed to use inquiry.”  Another shared,

Before this class I had lots of vague ideas about the importance of student centered learning…I have been able to focus my ideas and see examples and practices to turn these ideas into great instruction. I feel much more confident as I proceed into teaching.

The comments also confirm for me that part of why these learning experiences are effective is that they are, after all, constructivist.  Occasionally, a student recognizes the constructivist possibilities that the approach affords, like my student who wrote, “I learn sciecne [sic] best by hands on and that is exactly what this course was and by doing activites [sic], it was easy for me to see where students may stumble.”  Fortunately, the constructivism can be just as powerful for students who are traditional in both their own learning preference and their teaching philosophy.  One student wrote that the modeling and micro-teaching “pushed me toward a more student centered teaching and away from my own way of learning.”

Given that I see my two main professional challenges in science methods instruction as 1) changing the belief structures of my traditional learners towards a constructivist paradigm for teaching, and 2) supporting the motivated constructivists to develop constructivist practices, the comments from my students let me know that the learning cycle experiences are helping me make progress towards those goals.

The View from Here

After almost a decade teaching the DCA learning cycle in a learning cycle format and six years providing examples of the types of discovery experiences teachers can design, I have gotten to a place of more comfort with what my preservice science teachers are able to do.  Sure, I still have a few students who cannot create a coherent discovery experience as part of a meaningful learning cycle, but they are now the exception rather than the rule.  They are students whose content knowledge, focus, beliefs, or academic skills are simply not aligned with those needed for the immense cognitive task of creating Concept Discovery experience.  But my other students, most of my students—including many with in-coming traditional beliefs about teaching and learning—are able to successfully craft excellent learning cycle experiences and are able to articulate the theory supporting that lesson model.  They are thus, I believe, well-positioned to enter the field of science teaching ready to build their planning, instructional, and assessment skills in ways that align with what we know in science education about effective teaching.  My next big task?  To help them do just that in their first few years in the classroom.

References

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