An Annotated Bibliography: “Shut up and Calculate” Versus “Let’s Talk” Science Within a TELE

 

Teaching is an honour that I do not take for granted. Daily, I interact with close to a hundred students, within a very personal space, namely my classroom. Although, as an educator, I enact a variety of roles, primarily I serve to help students to navigate along their personal journeys in mathematics and physics. The Piagetian view that children form their knowledge via everyday life experiences opens the doors to their also fabricating presupposed models of phenomena in order to make sense of the adult world (Vosniadou & Brewer, 1992).  My goal as a teacher is to identify these “fake facts” and ideally replace what students once thought to be true, with actual truth. Admittedly, this process is easier said than done.

I do have some boys in my Science 9 class who are at a lower level, and they definitely like using Slides and being able to create that… because it is almost all boys— but they definitely enjoy using the technology a lot. As far as data, to say that it has increased their learning?  Well… they are interested in using it.

(Brown, R., personal communication, January 18, 2017)

In my own experience, the experience of my interviewee and the experience of teachers highlighted in ETEC 533’s “Grounding Issues” videos, utilizing technology within a learning environment seemingly increases student engagement, promotes collaborative working opportunities, and can produce a quality of work that implies that knowledge is being effectively transmitted. Does there exist empirical evidence, however, that can substantiate this plethora of anecdotal evidence, that technology can improve students’ understanding and resolve misunderstandings? The focus of this annotated bibliography is to discuss how teachers can address science-related student misconceptions effectively using researched methodologies in combination with effective technological practices.  I have focused on two methodologies specifically: student-generated analogies and Peer Instruction.  Peer Instruction, formally introduced by Harvard Physics professor Eric Mazur in 1997, is an interactive teaching approach that consists of introducing a problem about which students typically harbor misconceptions.  As individual students vote on their answer (with a paper ballot or other technology, such as clickers), discuss the problem amongst themselves, then revote. Class discussion then ensues, led by the instructor, but often powered by the students (Gök, 2014).

Resource Selection

Two resources were selected from UBC library collection, Summon, and one resource from the CiteULike database.  The keywords that I used for Summon were “conceptions” or “misconceptions” or “alternative conceptions” or “misunderstandings” or “challenges” or “problems” and “high school” and “students” and “technology” and “strategies” or “solutions” and “peer instruction.”  Despite my attempt to find research with high school-aged students, the papers that I found in Summon focused on post-secondary subjects, a finding which suggests that more research is being done with students whose involvement does not require parental permission and who can therefore as adults give informed consent.  I excluded articles that focused on the existence of student misconceptions, preferring articles that contained methodology that reduces or eliminates misconceptions.  In CiteULike, I found my third article simply by searching through the ETEC533’s Group Folders, specifically the folder focusing on the “Dynamics of Schooling.”  My intention was to find a study that centred on the effectiveness of technology-enhanced learning environments.

Annotated Bibliography

Haglund, J., & Jeppsson, F. (2014). Confronting conceptual challenges in thermodynamics by use of self-generated analogies. Science & Education, 23(7), 1505-1529.

The authors, researchers from the Swedish National Graduate School in Science and Technology Education, aimed to investigate the conceptual challenges that students confronted when generating analogies for complex topics, specifically in Thermodynamics, and how the students overcame these challenges. The authors defend that conceptual change occurs when a student shifts from one theory to another, referring to Vosniadou and Brewer’s framework theory (1992). Building on the Piagetian view that learning requires the accommodation of new concepts that do not quite align with pre-existing knowledge, the authors sought to examine self-generated analogies, over teacher-generated analogies, in hopes of capitalizing on socio-cultural approaches to learning. The study, involving two groups of four preservice physics teachers, required students to create as many entropy-focused analogies as possible, through situations in which students were provided “completion problems” in which entropy was partially explained, and the students were required to fill in gaps, to formulate their analogies. Scaffolding was provided to the participants’ part of the way through the process, so that students’ “idiosyncratic” notions could meet with intervention, prior to students’ creating further misconceptions. The authors identified 23 different challenges within the approximately 20 unique self-generated analogies, six of which challenges they discussed in detail. The most prevalent challenge was that the students only applied lines of microscopic reasoning to the problem, thereby routinely avoiding looking at the problem macroscopically (in terms of the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics). The authors conclude that, although students can sometimes sort the material out on their own, teacher interventions are required to keep the students on the right path. They attribute the students’ inability to look at the problem macroscopically to the “shut-up and calculate” nature of their learning within their degree. Moreover, they conclude that student reliance on their intuition proved to be an effective vehicle not only to confront challenges in their reasoning, but to also come to terms with them.

Socio-cultural learning opportunities that address students’ learning is a practice praised by many learning theorists. It can be argued that although the authors felt that ample evidence was shown to promote using self-generated analogies, their subjects were in their fourth year of their education degrees, in the field of physics.  The external validity of their findings may not apply to high school students, who are far from specialized in the field of physics. Nonetheless, this research open the doors to replicating a similar study that focuses on high school students, which in turn may justify high school STEM teachers carving out time in their semester for more social, conversational learning, and less time with “shut-up and calculate” methodologies.

Gök, T. (2014). An investigation of students’ performance after peer instruction with stepwise problem-solving strategies. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 13(3), 561-582.

A Turkish researcher from the Dokuz Eylul University, Dr. Tolga Gök, dives into analyzing a scaffolded version of Peer Instruction (PI), with two first-year university physics classes.  The quasi-experimental approach was applied to a comparison group    (n = 33, 46% female) and a treated group (n = 31, 42% female).  Both groups received PI; however, the experimental group was also instructed using stepwise problem-solving strategy (SPSS). SPSS is a strategy that breaks problems into three steps: identifying fundamental principles, solving, and checking. Gök builds his case on former studies that identify that, although students understand relevant principles and facts, they struggle with applying this information to actual problem solving. He also points out that PI has been proven not only to increase student engagement, despite students’ background knowledge, but also to reduce gender gaps in conceptual learning, and to reduce the number of students who drop the course. Gök concludes by providing ample statistics that show that SPSS with PI increased students’ physics achievement on tests and on homework assignments. He theorizes that, when students are taught how think systematically when approaching their problems, and can share this experience with their peers, they find problem-solving enjoyable and will diverge from purely “plug and chug” methodologies.

 

Again, this study involved university students, hence applying external validity in a high school context is not automatic.  The students in this study were relatively close in age, however, to their high school counterparts.  As ideal questions in PI have been vetted to contain common misconceptions, successfully implementing PI within a physics learning environment should theoretically work to dispel physics myths.  This research highlights the merits of SPSS implementation along with PI, something that I have never considered in my practice until now. Challenges in a high school physics class that may not exist in a university physics class would be reluctance to participate due to shyness, language barriers, or lack of confidence.  Also, with smaller class sizes, there may not be enough MKOs (more knowledgeable others) within the room, to make a positive impact on conceptual change.

Lei, J. (2010). Quantity versus quality: A new approach to examine the relationship between technology use and student outcomes. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(3), 455-472.

The author, Dr. Jing Lei of Syracuse University, investigated quantity and quality outcomes pertaining to student outcomes. Ultimately, she reported the data from 133 of 177 students, eliminating students’ surveys which had one-third or more of the responses unanswered and those students using technology due to special needs. Citing that studies vastly differ on whether technology has increased student achievement rates, some studies, in fact, suggest that technology may even harm children.  Lei’s surveys collected information pertaining students’ demographics, technology proficiency, learning habits, and developmental outcomes (self-esteem, attitudes, social skills, etc.), and technology usage rates. To obtain information regarding academic achievement, GPAs were obtained from individual report cards. Nine students with varying interests in communication technology were selected for a single, brief interview. Her data revealed that there was no significant relationship between the quantity of technology used and student outcomes.  Technology use for socio-communication and general technological purposes had a slight increase in GPA, whereas increased entertainment/exploration and subject-specific technology uses for technology had a negative effect. The author points out, however, that none of the types of technology uses had a statistically significant effect on GPA, and that therefore educators would be wise to be realistic about the affordances that technology can provide. Lei continues by asserting that this finding does not imply that technology does not affect learning, as the categories she used were relatively broad and it was possible that factors within categories negated each other. She concludes by suggesting that research into effective uses of technology is required and that traditional methods of evaluation may not be optimal for evaluating said efficiencies.

This article did not detail the technological experience levels or training of the teachers at this school.  Without knowing this information, I am inclined to think that Lei’s results would be different were she to run the experiment in a different school. Technology’s having only a slight influence on student achievement may lead some to conclude that utilizing technology to address scientific misconceptions is not a good use of time. The categories showing slight improvements include socio-communication and general technology, however.  These categories are where science educators should potentially invest the most time in their TELE design. Moreover, how would surveys such as Lei’s be altered should educators specifically address scientific misconceptions using self-generated analogies and/or PI, assisted with technology?

Analysis of the Issue

In 1992, Vosniadou and Brewer found that 49 out of 60 children they studied held one of six models of the Earth as what they believed to be true. Only 23 of the 49 used a spherical model. These researchers conclude that, from an early age, we yearn to make sense of the world around us, basing our conclusions mostly on observations and our everyday experiences. It is thus reasonable to assume that students entering our science classes will be harbouring other presuppositions, beyond the shape of the Earth. Socio-cultural learning theory from the likes of Vygotsky and Piaget suggest that students optimally learn from interactions in their everyday surroundings and from those with whom they most frequently associate. Practices such as student-generated analogies and Peer Instruction can help educators maximize learning in a socio-cultural context by promoting “Let’s Talk” science over “Shut-up and Calculate” or “Plug and Chug” science. Although the annotated bibliography in this analysis focuses on students who are either older or younger than the high school-aged students that I teach, this merely keeps open the doors of possibility of external validity, as opposed to closing.  All three studies emphasize the importance of effective pedagogical practices. The challenge of determining what is effective, over what is not, remains to be addressed. In my experience, it is important to have students “buy in” to whatever methodology is being presented. In other words, if the students do not see value in what the exercise entails, then its effectiveness will not be actualized. Going forward, I have decided to carve specific time into my Physics classes for PI by removing designated quiz days. I will provide students with take-home quizzes with answer keys; however, during this newly acquired time slot, we will spend 80 minutes doing SPSS-PI. Using Polleverywhere.com, students will be able to vote privately using their mobile devices for their ultimate answer to the question, and use table-top whiteboards to respond to the framing and checking of the question.  As I already have my Physics 11 and 12 classes authoring class blogs, I will assign each team of 3 to 4 students the task of generating and posting their analogies on the blog. Prior to posting, however, it may be important to provide scaffolding; therefore, students will initially submit their analogy on a Google Doc through which all team members can collaborate and I can provide feedback. As Lei recognized in her study, it is not the technology that makes a difference with student outcomes; rather, it is what we do with the technology that makes a difference. The scope of this analysis is limited due to not finding work that was the most up-to-date and did not use older teenagers as subjects. Further research that extends the work of Hagund, Jeppsson, Gök, and Lei to include high school students and educators who are trained in designing TELEs would be a next logical step. Should educators wish to pursue their own inquiry on a more informal approach, I have found it very useful to poll students near the end of course, to gage interest and effectiveness of whatever new methodology is being adopted. Beginning this inquiry with Eric Mazur’s book Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual is a terrific place to launch!

 

 

 

References
Brown, R. (2017, January 18). Personal interview.
Gök, T. (2014). An investigation of students’ performance after peer instruction with stepwise problem-solving strategies. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 13(3), 561-582. doi:10.1007/s10763-014-9546-9
Mazur, E. (1997). Peer instruction: A user’s manual. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Haglund, J., & Jeppsson, F. (2014). Confronting conceptual challenges in thermodynamics by use of self-generated analogies. Science & Education, 23(7), 1505-1529. doi:10.1007/s11191-013-9630-5
Lei, J. (2010). Quantity versus quality: A new approach to examine the relationship between technology use and student outcomes. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(3), 455-472. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00961.x
Vosniadou, S., & Brewer, W. F. (1992). Mental models of the earth: A study of conceptual change in childhood. Cognitive Psychology, 24(4), 535-585. doi:10.1016/0010-0285(92)90018-W

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