Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Private Universe - Second in a Series

As you see from the title, this is the second post about the video "A Private Universe" and its implications. Please do not read this post until you have read the first - A Private Universe - It will change your life!, and watched the video.
Okay. Now that you've seen some of the ideas that can result from teaching science by traditional methods of lecture, textbooks, worksheets, etc., let's reflect on the video itself for just a moment. I hope you'll comment on this post with your own thoughts; here are some of mine:

Visuals are powerful. Heather's idea about the earth's orbit apparently began with a textbook drawing, or a figure on a map or globe, of the analemma. (To learn more about this figure-8 shape that represents the changing position of the sun when viewed from a static position on the earth throughout the year, go here.) The sketch didn't fit the situation being discussed, but it caught her attention and stayed with her.

Observing while another student works with a model isn't the same as doing it yourself. Heather watched closely as the boy manipulated the model in front of the class, but did not touch it herself, so it wasn't especially helpful to her. Later she says, "We learned the phases of the moon, but we didn't learn where the moon is at those times." Indeed, textbooks typically show labeled pictures of the moon's phases, but as she says, "That makes it kind of hard, because you know what the phases are, but you don't know where the moon is. I mean, it could be over here, it could be over here...it could be practically anywhere on its orbit around."

Students can refine their own understandings. Heather reached for the globe pencil sharpener and two balls to clarify her ideas about the full moon, the new moon, and lunar eclipses. SHE knew that a drawing wasn't sufficient for the task, and her teacher confirmed, saying, "...what happened was that she had to hold the things in her hands...she took them and started working with them and figuring it out...too often that doesn't happen..." Sad, but true!

As teachers, we have to determine what our students' misconceptions are. After listening to Heather's description of light "bouncing" in space, her teacher says, "You have to realize that kids really do have the ideas coming in...they have experiences and ideas that they associate with other things...until you...straighten out those initial ideas, it kind of closes off their minds to what you're trying to get across to them..."

We must capitalize on opportunities to replace erroneous ideas with accurate ones. Heather's idea about bouncing light in space wasn't correct, but her sketch accurately represented the Law of Reflection. The next step, in my mind, would be to use mirrors, etc., to show what is correct in her idea, and proceed to what isn't.

If you are unsure how to delve into the misconceptions your students hold, I recommend:
  • Using probes such as those presented in the 4 volumes of Uncovering Student Ideas in Science. (I have all four, and I do operate a lending library for my friends!) 
  • New York Science Teacher, which has an online list of tools for addressing misconceptions.
  • DarylScience, who has an online pre-test (which we can take ourselves if we're brave enough!) that leads to his page of Student Misconceptions.  At the bottom of that page are other links.
  • Modeling instruction - for a clear though scholarly explanation of using student sketches to uncover their ideas, go to Don Yost's article Whiteboarding.
If you have other questions, please leave a comment or email me at nancymcneal@gmail.comI want to hear from you, and I hope you're reflecting on what you've seen so far. The last post in the series will have many, many resources for DOING science with your kids!

UPDATE: The final post is now online - Teaching Science Through Inquiry - Last in the Series

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