Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Week 2 Memo!

            This week’s readings centered on the concept of the model and its application to the science classroom.  In their article on Modeling Instruction, Jackson et al make and argument for the success of modeling and the correlated teacher training program in physics.  Jackson et al point to modeling as a form of student-centered learning that most closely parallels the construction and application of conceptual models used regularly in learning and doing in professional research science.  By inducing students to critically engage with their experiences, develop independent lines of inquiry, and articulate their findings, modeling is able to produce thoughtful students who more thoroughly understand the underlying principles of physics.     
            The two Lehrer and Schauble chapters look to consider the developmental roots and applications of the modeling success that Jackon et al describe.  In their chapter on the model, Lehrer and Schauble discuss the disparity between the absence of modeling in the classroom and the ubiquity of its use in scientific research.  They present the reason for this as two-fold- first that teachers misunderstand the meaning of experimentation and use them as explanations instead of interactions, essentially scripting inquiry to avoid ‘failure’.  Second, they describe modeling as an alien process for novices to understand, as children may not have the cognitive structure to understand modeling relationships that are not literal representations of the world.  They devote the rest of the chapter to providing solutions to these problems, pointing to ‘failure’ and ‘struggle’ as key opportunities for students to learn and revise their misconceptions, and promoting step-wise inquiry that builds from superficial models to more complex, abstract forms. 
            In their next chapter on experiment, Lehrer and Schauble provide more tangible applications of modeling as experiment.  They argue that experimentation based in rhetoric, representation, and modeling provides opportunity for more honest inquiry than exists in the couched, predetermined experiments of contemporary classrooms.  In their prescription of experimental modeling, Lehrer and Schauble emphasize the importance of teacher scaffolding as a support and guide for student’s independent, organic progression from inquiry to experiment, allowing students to create their own logical inscriptions and ultimately providing greater engagement with the theories.  Their examples point to the success of argument over assertion resulting in comprehension over superficial learning.        
            While I absolutely believe in the importance of modeling in the classroom, it is hard to ignore that both sets of authors used modeling as a sort of catch all term for many other educational theories and best practices that were woven into the presentation of modeling in the classroom.  By providing variety of experiences, you appeal to multiple learner types and by asking students to explain and defend their positions at many stages, you are essentially using Socratic method to promote critical thinking and providing the teacher with lots of opportunities to assess student learning.  Student motivation is driven by ownership over their product and comprehension is aided by peer review and support.  What I’m trying to get at is, could another method be as successful if taught so thoughtfully? 
            Another question I’m interested to discuss this week is Lehrer’s theory that modeling is inherently unnatural for children.  In my experiences, I have found children to be naturally inquisitive and creative, so what are the other necessary cognitive skills to model?  Jackson et al point to metaphor as a fundamental tool of human thought, can we not then appeal to the desire to build connections and relationships that exists in humans of all ages?  Lehrer and Schauble say that children have ‘not necessarily mastered the strategies and heuristics for experimentation that adults typically use’, are adult strategies necessarily the best or should we look more to expound on the glorious ways kids already think? 


  1. First, is modeling considered any type of learning where the students are working hands on with some sort of materials? What would you call the other educational theories and best practices described in this week’s readings if they are not considered modeling? I’m curious to hear your opinions about what ways could students acquire knowledge that include ownership of products and peer review and support but would not be considered modeling in the classroom. Do you consider research or mathematics to be modeling? Lastly, do you think that adult strategies are best when designing experiments for young students? It was discussed sometime last week about how as students we have participated in similar if not identical science class experiments throughout primary and secondary school and undergraduate courses. Doesn’t this extinguish inquiry thought from students?

  2. I see where you're coming from with regard to Lehrer's seemingly 'adults-only' presentation of some modeling techniques and the cognitive skills necessary to master them. I think that Lehrer was implying that much of modeling can require complex, abstract types of thinking that are commonly thought to be beyond children's developed abilities. I don't know if this is a natural cognitive development thing, where children deal strictly literally until they can deal partially abstractly, or if it perhaps has to do with some way in which children learn initially that encourages them to insist on literal similarity, but it seems to me that the remedy is simply more practice with modeling, teasing out specific characteristics and ignoring/controlling all others, so that students can grow accustomed to manipulating ideas and observations with those "fundamental tools of human thought."


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