I would admit, this is my ever first workshop attendance at STANYS. I would like to thank April and Yen for initiating to this idea of co-presenting with Yen.
What was unique in all of the three presentations was witnessing the experiences of participant teachers: their first reaction to the set up and their ahas and wows during the investigation and final summary discussions. When we were asking teachers to introduce themselves and to tell us their expectations from the presentation, we have made note of the experiences that some teachers have had using some kind of similar activities in their classrooms. But, we were able to witness how engaged the teachers themselves were in the investigations to the extent of extending their investigations and discussions even at final minutes….they kept playing like kids with the flowers….some make some kind of geometry by piling up flower petals, comparing the shape of the petals of the different flower types, even some painting using flower petals, ….some keep hunting their curiosity by mixing various liquids in the PH experiment using the cabbage water….some even talk about connecting to biotechnology, genetics, etc. All sorts of ideas were aired out but there was only flowers. How do flowers just become such robust resources of learning? It was indeed amazing?
Then comes the third workshop: we simply gave them some nuance introduction about the nature of science. How doing and learning science is a non-linear, messy process. Then we just simply provided them a piece of paper and an envelop full of checks and ask them to pull out 4 checks at a time and try to make sense of it. We had never given them what we wanted them to come up with, nor what the goal was. We were simply watching and at times interjecting ourselves in the conversations and pose some questions. As they do the investigation in pairs, whatever ideas emerged in the discussion, we were able to fill out the walls with Warner papers jotting downs conversation ideas, questions, conjectures, etc. As they keep working in their investigation, they throw their eyes to the walls…read at a glance what is written on those papers and keep the momentum of their discussion. In one group they were making tables filling out the tables with any evidence they see on the checks. This is their organizing tool. In another group, they start to make historical records of when the checks were signed. In another table, they came up with this idea of who signed the checks for whom kind of question and trace across the checks. I see full of energy, engagement, every one curious about it. But, one interesting outcome of all these various ways of trying to make sense of the evidences was the fact that when each pair reported their final story line of what they found out form the checks, there were amazingly similar claims though there were other anticipations as well. But, they never stop making a story line for this particular investigation. They rather extended their discussion by making points such as “very much any thing can be used as productive learning resource!”, one participant teacher mutters. Another participant asked: “why we failed to give this opportunity to our kids?” . This last remark by one of the participant teacher captivates me the most. Yes, we witness lots of professional developments for teachers on progressive ideas and teaching tips such as ours, yet the status quo remain in place mainly in urban schools. The same old style of teaching-handing over worksheets to students and asking them to memorize facts is almost a standard in those sschools. I had a chance to ask many science teachers who are teaching in Buffalo public school about what they know and believe about science teaching. These teachers will tell you all the jargons that we talk about now: authentic science, inquiry, etc. Yet, their classrooms are full of worksheets. Why teachers’ beliefs and understandings are so different from what they actually practice in their classrooms?