As I pondered this week’s task on design elements, I was drawn back to a post Jenny Mackness made last week on the science of teaching, or perhaps that should have been the science of teaching science.
Rather than my trying to summarize her summary of a conference presentation, I’ll give the x sentence tl;dr
- Presenting/demonstrating is ineffective, especially when dealing with complex concepts.
- Class time should instead be used for sense-making, where students are presented with situations and collaboratively create and discuss hypotheses about what will happen next.
- Confusion is actually a good thing.
Eric Mazur, the Harvard physicist in question, describes the whole process as “teaching by questioning rather than by telling.” As I mentioned previously. I very much like the idea of a questioning centered classroom. However, Mazur’s work, which is centered around teaching science, raises another question. In a science lab (and here I’m talking about the lab component of an intro course as opposed to a research lab) what happens should be predictable. Whan you set up a scenario and ask a question, there is a right answer.
When you teach human systems (languages, arts, economics, etc.) you can create suce certainty by using very carefully chosen examples that “follow all the rules”. How well does that prepare students for the much less tidy real world?
On the other hand…..
Lisa linked to an Atlantic article, that served as the start point for a debate about teaching writing, contrasting the writer’s workshop approach with one that makes grammar and mechanics more explicit. My most interesting takeaway from this was a reminder of the importance of background knowledge. The students at New Dorp had internalized fewer rules of high-level language structure than had their peers, and teachers found more success when those rules were taught explicitly.
This is an issue that many of us who teach at community colleges face every day. Students don’t come to us with the background knowledge we hope they will have. If we are teaching a subject like art history or physics, which they may have never studied formally before, the gap between what they know and hat we wish they knew may be even larger. If these students are left to do much of their own sensemaking, they can become confused to a fault, not knowing what to do and suffering intellectual paralysis as they wait for someone to tell them. Sometimes they wait without asking or telling us they are lost.
Do we then go back to an instructional model full of explicit knowledge presentation? After all, it’s what many of our students are quite used to. How does that interface with the need for them to develop their own sense making skills, a goal which is probably more important that the material we strive to cover in our survey classes? Also, how does that sensemaking take place when the patterns you are trying to uncover are arbitrary by definition?