April 2007 Archives

In developing curricula for science education we base our work in part on the misconceptions students bring with them to the classroom. As part of my research I examine classroom science practice, and in particular the practice of one exceptional Chemistry teacher that is a part of my research group. He has infused his curricula, which he developed from scratch by himself, with a great deal of the history of chemistry. One of the units he does on burning involves having students do a series of experiments and then they are asked to draw on these experiments to support or refute phlogisten theory. This got me thinking about curriculum development and its relationship to the history of a field. My question is: has there ever been a curricula designed (in science or not) that uses the historical development of ideas in a field as a analog to help structure activities in a classroom?  For example, in Physics this would start with the Aristotelian ideas that are considered core misconceptions current students have when entering Physics classes. You would design a set of experiences that challenge these core Aristotelian misconceptions. Then work through the ideas that Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, etc. in response to particular problems. The idea is not to focus on the history per se, but on the problems in the disciplines that great scientists grappled with and solved.  For example, using the data that supported a geocentric model of the universe, what were the weaknesses of the model, and what was the final piece of data that caused the revolution to a heliocentric universe. To analogize to learning theory, you could view the revolutionary moments in the development of a science discipline as a reorganization of the facts of the field analogous to an accomodation in conceptual change. In this way you can use a map of the history of the discipline as a sort of roadmap to the likely development of an individual's understanding of the discipline. The development of scientific disciplinary culture becomes an analog for the development of individual understanding of the ideas of that culture. I know there have been curricula that focus on the history of science and primary source readings, but has anyone every considered history as an analogical guide for curriculum development? Thoughts would be appreciated.
I have just returned from the annual meeting of the National Association for Research on Science Teaching (NARST) in New Orleans, LA. What struck me clearly this time was the completely outmoded way that conferences (not just NARST) are run. I have been reading about the concept of an un-conference recently in Fred Stutzman's blog. The idea is based on Open Space Technology. Generally, the idea is that of a self organizing conference. People are invited and then create an agenda on the fly (sometimes in advance via Web 2.0 tools) including break-out sessions based on emergent issues of interest. How would this work in an academic research conference? That is the question I have been wrestling with. One of the difficulties is that most universities tie reimbursement for conference travel to presenting, so no presentation means no reimbursement. This makes a conference without a fixed agenda very difficult to populate. One solution is to allow all participants to be named as presenters. The solution I think is strongest, is to sandwich the unconference between poster sessions. In the morning have a poster session with refreshments. People are official presenters so there is no issue with support. Then there is a large middle section that is unconference. Then in the evening there is a poster session again with wine and cheese refreshments. It seems to have potential for a really powerful microtime learning community. I just found out today that one of my amazing colleagues here at PSU, James Nolan, has been using Open Space Technology in his work with teachers in PSU's professional development school. I am hoping to see this in action and report back how it updates my thinking on the academic unconference.

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