Monday, April 6, 2009

Do borders stop students from understanding?

From the Art of Teaching science Blog: The world might be flat, but in Science class, there are borders to cross. According to research, flattening the classroom is a bit more difficult in science classes due to a different worldview than they experience. Their social worlds (and the way they view things) influences and interferes with the way they view and understand the natural world. Science requires identifying with a different subculture and way of thinking that is foreign and difficult to many. Identifying where a student is, past experiences and misconceptions, and how to make information relevant to them is a way to reach all students. Here are the groups of students suggested according to the research (and quoted from the Art of Teaching Science blog):
  1. Potential Scientists: Worlds of family and friends are congruent with worlds of
    both school and science. These students will have smooth border crossings that will most likely lead to deep understanding of science. These students’ self image closely aligned with Western science.
  2. I Want to Know: (this category was added by Glen Aikenhead to the others shown here that were developed by Victoria B. Costa). As described by Aikenhead, these students have adventurous border crossings that lead to a modest yet effective understanding of science (there are hazards, but students want to know). Their self-image and lifestyle resonate with the world of science, but the nature of Western science concepts is often a challenge to them.
  3. Other Smart Kids: Worlds of family and friends are congruent with the world of
    school but inconsistent with the world of science. Many students in this category can easily do well in science, but show no real interest in science. They get by in science class. And according to some researchers, they apply “Fatima’s Rules” to manage themselves in science class.
  4. I Don’t Know Students: Worlds of family and friends are inconsistent with
    worlds of both school and science. For these students, they will make hazardous border crossings in the world of science, but according to researchers, they can get by in science class through perserverence.
  5. Outsiders: Worlds of family and friends are discordant with worlds of both school
    and science. For some of these students, they simply drop out physically or intellectually. Science simply does not fit their self-image or their life styles.
  6. Inside Outsiders: Worlds of family and friends are irreconcilable with world of
    school, but are potentially compatible with world of science. But in general these students face impossible border crossings, perhaps due to institutional discrimination.

In another blog post on the Art of teaching Science, a case is made for informal learning as a means for making the border crossings with students. No matter how much we say and understand the connections between material ourselves, it is perceived mostly like disconnected ideas. The current model of teaching science does not address the border crossings.

We can make it relevant for students, but what this points to is a need to make it relevant for all students. And that means meeting them on their terms, in their interests, for every student to make that border crossing. Again it makes the case for individualized work that is collaborative and relevant and based on student interest allows students to identify the content and the relevance. Border crossings are then much easier.

So there are always students who do well. What about other students who are smart but have difficulty in class, needing much more time to understand science? Why do some of us "dig it" and others are just perplexed by the verbage? We have to think who we are teaching. Some students have lost all curiosity or did not have an opportunity to explore growing up. Many students have deeply ingrained misconceptions as well as their social structure they live in.

Why is there a lack of inquiry to determine the truth. Is it years of spoon feeding curriculum without opportunities to seek, identify and develop their own thoughts? Or is it deeply ingrained beliefs not having to do with scientific concepts but make border crossings difficult? Really, our society has this problem. We rely more on what we think others believe we should think. Deep culture and religious values can also interfere (this is not faith bashing, but it is a factor that changes how we see the world and how we connect ideas.) Unless we address where students are coming from and how we think through material, students may not make it across the border. The push for knowing content and passing tests does not help us deal with these border crossings which are highly individualized to the student.

A post by pharyngula provides this quote:
The difference is not in intelligence. It's on the foundation of their education. Intelligent people who are indoctrinated into a faith can build marvelously intricate palaces of rationalization atop the shoddy vapor of their beliefs about gods and the supernatural; what scientists... must do is build their logic on top of a more solid basis of empirical evidence and relentless self-examination. The difference isn't their ability to reason, it is what they are reasoning about.

Open mindedness and thinking critically (again to show how people connect evidence differently):

Fatima's Rule : (Where deep learning seems to have happened but actually memorization of key terms and processes have instead happened. This is a negotiated practice with the leaner.)
Science education: Border crossing...
Learning Science in Informal Environments: Peoples, Places, and Pursuits

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