February 2008 Archives

Seeing is the Key

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So, this is a little bit of an experiment.  I have to write a rationale for a funding agency that characterizes my research in a way that helps non-educators, and specifically business people, understand why what I am doing has value.  I have to do this in one page.  I am going to post a draft of my one page here in the hopes that some folks, educators or not, out there will tell me if I am making sense.  Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Understanding Professional Pedagogical Vision in Science Teaching

Fewer students are majoring in science and students do not see science as a field of creative expression and personal initiative. The current generation see facts as a keystroke away and they are immersed in dynamically creating for and contributing to the development of their communities through tools such as Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube. We must transform science teaching to engage this new generation. The field of science education, through standards documents and peer reviewed research, is clear the direction of this transformation should be toward classroom inquiry science teaching. However, what classroom science inquiry means has been a debate in the field of Science Education since there has been a field. Inquiry has been used in place of hands-on investigations, described as minds-on activities, and is represented as a continuum from guided or teacher-directed to open or student-directed. One point of agreement is that transforming science teaching will help students understand science better and it will help them experience science as a disciple that requires creativity, initiative, and in which they can make contributions to a larger community.
Perhaps the dominant reason inquiry is not common practice is that prospective science teachers have not experienced inquiry science teaching as students, so they can’t recreate it when they become teachers of science themselves.  We have a self perpetuating system. Many science teacher educators are attempting to address this cycle by modeling inquiry science teaching for prospective science teachers or by engaging prospective teachers in science investigations. There is evidence that these experiences improve prospective teachers’ likelyhood of developing inquiry science in their own teaching, though the effects often wash out quickly.

However, these interventions are built on a key assumption: prospective teachers see the models of inquiry science teaching the way science teacher educator do. Imagine two people in an airport watching a baseball game, one is from the US and the other from the UK.  While they are both watching the same game, they are not seeing the same thing.  The person from the US sees the center fielder make a great catch on a fly ball, hit by a switch-hitting batter, off a left-handed fastball pitcher’s out and away curveball.  While the person from the UK sees all the action, they can’t interpret what they are seeing, and in that sense they literally cannot see the game of baseball.  It is likely that a more subtle version of this phenomena happens with prospective teachers when they watch inquiry science teaching.  They cannot interpret what they see in meaningful ways. What makes this worse, is they know something about science teaching from their own schooling and thus believe they understand what they are seeing.  Charles Goodwin, an anthropologist, described this ability to see and interpret events in a particular way as professional vision.  

The research questions I will be investigating are: (1) How do expert and novice teachers see science teaching differently?; (2) How can these differences begin to define professional pedagogical vision in the context of classroom inquiry science teaching?  Put simply, my research project will attempt to understand the differences between expert teachers and novice teachers when they look at science teaching.  Through the intensive use of teaching experiments, field observations and video analysis, I will develop a framework for how expert teachers see inquiry science pedagogy. I will ask experts and novice to analyze examples of classroom science teaching and use their analysis along with discussion around their analysis to understand what they attend to and how they interpret what they see.  My hope is that by understanding how experts see classrooms, and in particular differentiate between inquiry practice and non-inquiry practice in science, I can help prospective teachers “learn the game”. 

Our Students Rock

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Just a quick note, but Donna, a student in our CI597: Disruptive Technologies course just did a search about Wenger and Communities of Practice and our course Pligg site came up #2 in Google.  Pretty amazing that our students' stuff is getting out there like that.  Take a look.

Define that

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Sloppy language makes me crazy. I am sure I am guilty of it, but I still want people to be clear and clean to the extent that is possible.  The reason for my deep hatred of ambiguity is the the devil is in the details (to coin a phrase), and when you say something I get to interpret it the way I like, so if you are sloppy then we can agree without really agreeing (or more commonly disagree). 

This comes up because as a result of this problem of mine I am causing students in my class to (at best) leave class with head pain, or at worst leave my class believing me to be "crazy".  [Short aside: I am hoping this is why they are saying that, because if I am acting crazy in some other way, then I am more worried]

Here is the question that began all this craziness and head pain:  In the context of Web 2.0 tools, what constitutes a boundary object (In terms of Wenger's framework of communities of practice)?  The discussion centered around whether the thing that is reified (fancy name for written down or captured in some form) is the boundary object or whether the tool was the boundary object?  So is a twitter post an object or is twitter (as an application) an object.  The reason this matters is depending on the choice you make there you get different implications for how you define community and what role technology plays in that community.  The added layer to this is how does RSS (content is king) impact this question.  If you post it to twitter and then it goes to ten other places, what is the object now and which community is it a product of?  Is that a question worth asking? Is your head hurting yet?
There is a great little application that I use to keep track of my books called Delicious Library.  If you have not seen it, I strongly suggest you check it out.  What I have been thinking about around this app is how it's usefulness could be extended.  One of the nice features is that you can use a digital video camera to scan in books via their barcode.  So, you aim the camera (the built in one will do nicely) it scans the book and downloads all the information from Amazon.  What I thought about first was that this would be great for is wine (I had just come from the wine store).  I would love to come home from the wine store, scan in all the wine I just bought, have the information on the wines downloaded from Wine Spectator or some such site.  I could rate the wines and comment on them.  Have it sync up to my iPhone so I can carry my database of great wine with me, and I would be a happy guy. 

It also reminded me that there is a tremendous amount of data that is embedded in our environment that we don't even attend to.  Everything we own these days has (or had) a barcode, and increasingly things have RFID.  Data, data everywhere - crazy.  That then got me thinking about what else might have a barcode that I could scan in and download data on to build my own little local database?  I am sure there are more things out there, any suggestions?

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