Importance of KNOWING our students

The first challenge that popped into my mind when asking myself this question was that many activities that can come from STEM challenges need access to a variety of resources (i.e. technology!). That being said, many resources can come from such things like recycled materials, but when particular items need to be bought, it is not necessarily in the classroom or school budget and generally comes out of the teacher’s pocket. Bybee (2013) discusses how not having access to technology is one of the main issues when trying to incorporate STEM into the classroom. Beyond having access to technology, there are many other conceptual challenges with regards to STEM that have more to do with the students than the resources available.

In the video A Private Universe we were asked to witness numerous conceptual challenges. The video explores a local high school to see if the students have correct assumptions with regards to various scientific topics. Heather, a Grade 9 student, from a local high school was chosen by her teacher as someone who would most likely have a good answer for any scientific question asked. What the teacher did not realize was that Heather had virtually no knowledge with regards to science and more specifically the phases of the moon. Heather sat through a secondary lesson on the phases of the moon and was then re-interviewed 2 weeks later. However, as her private theories were still very much evident, Heather did not accept the correct information on the phases of the moon.

This made me reflect of the importance of diagnostic assessments. Teachers need to be aware of what their students know with regards to starting a new topic/discussion. Without understanding where a student is at, how can one program effectively and make sure that all the students are on the right track with their understanding?

Tabula Rasa, a blank slate, is certainly not the case with students, especially students in high school. Catherine Fosnot (2013) describes education and constructivism by saying that “too often teaching strategies and procedures seem to spring from the naïve assumption that what we ourselves perceive and infer from our perceptions is there, ready-made, for the student to pick up, if only they had the will to do so” (p15). Heather came to the class with pre-existing notions that were not addressed at the very beginning of the lesson or unit and as such, she is holding onto her private theories tightly. In the Confrey (1990) article, he mentions a quote by Osborne and Wittrock (1983) that states, “children develop ideas about the world, develop meanings for words used in science [mathematics and programming], and develop strategies to obtain explanations for how and why things behave as they do” (p. 4). Heather developed pre-existing ideas about the phases of the moon and has believed that for so many years that it is now difficult, half way through the unit, to switch her thinking.

 

References

Bybee, R.W. (2013). A Case for STEM Education: Challenges and Opportunities. United States of America: National Science Teachers Association.

Confrey, J. (1990). A review of the research on student conceptions in mathematics, science, and programming. Review of research in education, 16, 3-56. http://ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/login?url=http://www.jstor.org/stable/1167350

Fosnot, Catherine. Constructivism: Theory, perspectives, and practice. Teachers College Press, 2013 or 2005 version. Chapter 1: Introduction: Aspects of constructivism by Ernst von Glasersfeld or Chapter 2: Constructivism: A Psychological theory of learning or Cobb, Paul. “Where is the mind? Constructivist and sociocultural perspectives on mathematical development.” Educational researcher 23, no. 7 (1994): 13-20. Available in the course readings library.

Schneps, Matthew. (1989). A Private Universe: Misconceptions That Block Learning. Retrieved from: http://learner.org/vod/vod_window.html?pid=9

 

3 comments

  1. Hi Kristen,

    I appreciated your quote…

    “This made me reflect of the importance of diagnostic assessments. Teachers need to be aware of what their students know with regards to starting a new topic/discussion. Without understanding where a student is at, how can one program effectively and make sure that all the students are on the right track with their understanding?”

    I think time restrictions imposed by the nature of our assessment system make it very easy to jump right into content. Diagnostic assessments are necessary if you’re focusing on student growth, and not just performance relative to grade level standards.

  2. Thanks for the post Kirsten. I remember a tangible activity during teacher education where my professor de-constructed a lego airplane into key building directions (ex. plane has long wings, propeller at the tail). He then proceeded to show different ‘constructions’, all resembling airplanes but no one alike the original (or each other for that matter). All students interpret content based on their own experience, and diagnosing previous understanding can be an important first step in personalized learning. Since we cannot ensure students acquire exactly the picture we intend, how can we direct classes towards increasingly more accurate understandings?

    Andrew

  3. Kirsten,

    I completely agree that knowing our students and their preconceived ideas/misconceptions are important, but to be the devil’s advocate, is it practical? Let’s say that prior to each unit taught, you were able to assess each student and figure out their misconceptions about that topic. In the time and resources you are allotted, can you address each and everyone of these? Personally, I teach a class of 160 students, and just thinking about it is daunting. I think this is possible when working with a small number of students (3-4) at a time, but not when the class size gets too big. I guess one method to address this would be to use digital technologies for the assessment, which gives immediate feedback to the student, so they are made aware of their own misconceptions, and for the teacher to address some of the common misconceptions among the class during class time. . . . does something like that exist?

    Mo

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