The Best Interest of the Students

The GRS team has been reading a lot on the roles of language and identity in science education over the last few weeks. Language and identity serve an important role in teaching and learning, particularly if you hold a constructivist view of knowledge. I am beginning to see how teachers help students “bridge” the language they bring to the classroom to language that is used by the larger scientific community. They also help students’ reconcile their outside-of-the-classroom identity with a new scientific identity they are developing. In Ball and Wilson (1996) describe a teacher’s duty as a balance between a knowledge endeavor and a moral enterprise. This is a balance that I’m struggling with as I think of how the theory I learn needs to be applied in the classroom.

In Integrity in Teaching, Ball describes teaching fractions to third graders. One student, Sheena, is adamant that 4/4 does not equal 5/5. She reasons that if you have a cookie divided into fourths, you cannot share it with five friends. However, if that cookie is divided into fifths, you can. Ball states:

I worried about what was in the best interest of the children. Which children? Only 4 out of 19 children were waging this battle – all girls. Two of the four – Jeannie and Sheena – were not regular participants in whole group discussions, and I was glad to have them involved. But I wondered what others were thinking. Were they engaged with this argument, and, if so, what was their position? I wanted to help all the students learn, not just teach four children, while the others observed. But how best to do it? (p. 169)

Ball does not come up with a solution that solved this problem and several students believed that 4/4≠5/5 when the class ends. Sheena was given the opportunity to present her, rather strong, argument as to why this was the case and won students over to her side.

I try to reconcile that anecdote with some of the teaching practices suggested in our reading. Cartier, Smith, and Ross (2013) describe “calling for volunteers but then strategically selecting from among them, the teacher signals appreciation for students’ spontaneous contributions, while at the same time keeping control of the ideas that are publically presented” (p. 31). I can understand why the authors recommend that teachers control the ideas that presented in their classrooms after reading Ball describe how conflicted she felt about the misconception that gained traction in her classroom. However, I love the discourse in Ball’s classroom. Though Sheena did not regularly participate in-group discussions, she was willing to present an argument and challenge the teacher. I would feel much more accomplished as a teacher if I had students willing to engage in discourse like Sheena. However, I struggle with whether or not students can afford to hold on to misconceptions. The fraction lesson Ball described happened at the very end of the school year and it is possible some of her students entered fourth grade not understanding this point. Thinking specifically of marginalized students, I wonder if it is in the best interests of the students to teach them the “right” answer or give them the tools and confidence to participate in discourse. I realize, like Ball and Wilson, that there is a balance. Yet there are times a choice has to be made.

Ball, D. L., & Wilson, S. W. (1996). Integrity in teaching: Recognizing the fusion of the moral and the intellectual. American Educational Research Journal, 33(1), 155-192.

Cartier, J., Smith, M.S., Stein, M.K. & Ross, D. (2013). 5 Practices for Orchestrating Task-Based Discussions in Science , NCTM, Reston, VA, (pp1-18).

What, exactly, am I doing here?

Greetings! I’m a doctoral student in the Teaching, Curriculum and Change program at Warner. I’m taking a course with the Get Real! Science teacher cohort and working as part of the GRS research team. I’ve spent this week trying to figure out my role in this community, not succeeding, and trying to be okay with that. I’ve had a lot of great experiences during this week with East students, teachers, and staff so I’m relying on the warm-and-fuzzies from those interactions to keep me buoyed while I figure things out.

Warm-and-Fuzzy #1 – Watching the Ultimate Rock Guy do this:

It’s wonderful being around people talking/doing what they’re passionate about

Warm-and-Fuzzy #2 – being laughed at by a student. We took the first group of students on the trip to the gorge this morning (more about that anchoring experience here). I was there as a researcher, but was able to have enough interactions with the students that I could be laughed at (while laughing at myself). I’ve found that my best interactions with students happen when I’m not taking myself too seriously, so this is a good sign!

Thoughts on the nature of science and the science community

I think a lot about diversity and STEM; it’s what I do in my full-time work and I just spent five days discussing those topics at a conference. I’ve done some reading on the nature of groups and have learned that a) members of a community or group define who belongs to that group and b) since insiders define who is in a group they are naturally resistant to outsiders trying to diversify the group. The work I do makes it very easy to assume that this behavior is always bad and unfair. I consider myself to be comically jaded when it comes to being treated like an outsider by the engineering community. However, I advocate for kids, which makes it really hard to let it go when an adult insiders appear to go out of their way to make those kids know they are outsiders. It was a relief to read about how Settlage and Southerland (2012) describe the importance of a science culture/community and what the nature of science (NOS) is to that community. “To study science without understanding the nature of science is to become familiar with the surface features of that culture but to never fully understand, be comfortable with, or be able to work within the culture of science” (p. 33).

Insider status isn’t gained by secret handshakes or by being born into certain demographics. Outsiders become scientists through understanding the nature of science, which will allow them to work within the scientific community. This isn’t an easy and linear process. There isn’t complete agreement as to what NOS is, and what is agreed upon can change. There are still insiders that think attending certain schools or speaking a certain way precludes insider status. However, as science educators, we can provide opportunities for outsiders to interact with science at a deeper level. We can collaborate, advocate, and challenge biases. The task for me, moving forward, is to be thoughtful and deliberate in the types of opportunities I make available in my programs.

Settlage, J. & Southerland, S. (2012). Teaching science to every child: Using culture as a starting point. New York, NY: Routledge.