Saturday, April 4, 2009

Preparing for conferences: AERA and NARST

Well, I've finished my AERA paper and my NARST paper, and now I just need to put the talks together. I thought I'd take a few minutes to write a brief blog post about preparing for these conferences and about what I'll do when I'm there.

Conference preparation is always interesting. You submit proposals eight to nine months in advance, and get around to writing the papers about 3 weeks before the conference (or at least this is how it plays out for me). By then, I find it hard to be entirely faithful to my proposal. Usually the resulting paper is much more than the proposal indicated. Crafting these written works is indeed important, because they are the vehicle by which we first share our ideas and work with colleagues outside of our immediate working group. Also, these papers are often the first formal drafts of manuscripts which will later be submitted for publication in refereed journals.

Once the paper is written, I usually put together the PowerPoint talk about a week in advance. The .ppt is perhaps a dreadful format/means by which to deliver your talk, but it is the expected norm (unless you're giving a poster). The talk itself is between eight and 15 minutes long depending on the session type and format. Usually there is time for a few questions after the talk or at the end of the session. So in all, you may have about 20 minutes "on stage" to communicate and respond directly to your audience.

To me, however, the true value of conference attendance and presentation is not necessarily in the formal delivery of the research talk. While very important and necessary for introducing people to your work, the most valuable part of this whole experience is meeting others who are interested in similar research topics and developing relationships which might lead to connection and collaboration. It is great to get to know other people in your field. to discuss ideas with each other, and to brainstorm new ideas and future work. Much like when I was a classroom teacher and used to go to NSTA every year, I felt recharged and invigorated after talking to other science teachers outside of my own school. In many ways, conference attendance can help to battle the isolation teachers and academics can feel when we're pursuing our own thing most of the year.

Of course, for myself right now at this early stage in my career as an educational researcher, these connections are also essential to make as I'll be on the job market soon. I'm not sure where this PhD will take me when I finish it within the next year, but I've got to keep all of the doors open and going to these conferences is a great way to "collect" those doors. So if you're going to be at AERA or NARST in the next couple of weeks, look me up. My AERA talk is Tuesday the 14th at 8:15 in the San Diego Marriott, San Diego Ballroom Salon B. It is entitled Can Science Teachers' Strategic Knowledge be Conceptualized as a Learning Progression? and is part of the symposium "Learning Progressions for Teacher Development. At NARST, my talk is Sunday the 19th at 4:00 and is a part of the symposium "A Longitudinal Study on Pedagogical Content Knowledge: Synthesizing our Research on Content, Pedagogy, and Practice." It is in Salon III of the Hyatt. 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What defines "expertise" in science teaching?

This is a question that I've been interested in for years, and is central to my current dissertation work (more on that later). Since I've built up a great PLN on twitter which includes many science teachers and science enthusiasts, I decided to pose the question to my tweeps. Here is a sample of their responses:

@gregorylouie said: @Bud_T Expertise ? Subject-Matter expertise + specific understanding of learning progressions based on research using developmental psych
@martywittrock said: @Bud_T A teacher that REALLY knows the subject matter but can explain it in common sense terms that a student can apply immediately
@mwacker said: @Bud_T Expert= experience, fresh ideas, and understanding of processes...what's your answer?
@wgraziadei said: @Bud_T expertise in sci: curious, visual, tactile, analytical, interactive, collaborative, reflective, professional practitioner/learner
@elizabethonline said: @Bud_T thorough interdisciplinary knowledge, know "why we care", excitement about the exciting stuff, and skills for remembering the tedium

Interesting ideas from folks: subject matter knowledge, understanding of student thinking, curiosity, experience, interactive nature, collaborative, reflective, communication skills, etc. I certainly can't disagree with any of these things, and I'm sure the list could go on and on.
But let me refine the question a bit for the purposes of the rest of this post: what knowledge do expert science teachers hold? I purposefully parse this from dispositions in order to try and bring the conversation into teacher education and to figure out what we, as science teacher educators, can teach in order to help prepare good beginning science teachers.
Certainly, knowledge of scientific subject matter is important. I don't think anyone would disagree with this. Two other things, which are at least hinted at in the above thoughts and are central to my dissertation work, are knowledge of specific student learning difficulties in the area being taught, and knowledge of appropriate representations of subject matter. When conceptualized within contextual knowledge, these two things along with subject matter knowledge form the essential components of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK; Shulman, 1986). For a more detailed explanation of my interpretation of this model of science teacher knowledge, please see my research proposal (Talbot, 2008).
Now I'm not saying that these are unequivocally the most important knowledge domains for a science teacher to possess, though I do believe they are very important. Further, they are things we can teach prospective science teachers in our teacher education courses. Many of us already focus on these things through the teaching and inclusion of inquiry, assessment, knowing students, etc. But, can we fully articulate why these things are important? That's something I'm working on- the 30 second "elevator speech" as one of my advisers would call it. Can you (or I) convince someone of what a highly qualified science teacher must know? I think we (science teacher educators) should all be able to do this, and further I believe we should use our voices to inform and even influence policy. 
Please let me know what you think. As always, comments are welcomed.
New twitter responses since this was posted:
@BeckyFisher 73 said: @Bud_T I think understanding misconceptions and being able to unteach them is huge for a science teacher.
@chrisludwig said: @Bud_T A highly qualified science teacher must know how to tell good science from bad and be able to teach students to tell the difference
Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching.Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14.
Talbot, R. M. (2008). Measuring science teacher knowledge: Domain-general or domain-specific? (Research proposal). Boulder, CO: University of Colorado at Boulder.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mining the tweetstream

Last night's inaugural educhat conversation on twitter prompted me to again think about how we might mine the tweetstream for information on teaching and learning. I collected all tweets tagged #educhat (thanks to the help of others, such as @aforgrave), and also did this recently for the tweets tagged #colearning from Colorado Learning 2.0. This morning while driving from place to place, I recorded some of my thoughts (via gcast) on mining and coding this data. I'd be very interested on your input and ideas- please listen and comment, email me, or contact me on twitter (@Bud_T). 

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Educhat discussions on twitter

Rodd Lucier (@thecleversheep) brought up the idea of having an #educhat discussion on twitter, similar to the #journchat discussions among journalists, bloggers, and PR types. Note that in each case, the hash symbol (#) in front of the name facilitates later searching of tweets. See my eariler post on hashtags for more on this. There is great power in using the hashtag and identifying trending discussions. For example, at last weekend's Learning 2.0- A Colorado Conversation conference (or "unconference"), those of us live-tweeting (perhaps 10-20 people?) drove the hashtag #colearning to the 5th highest trending topic on twitter at one point. (*A discussion of these tweets is the subject of a forthcoming blog post). 

#educhat discussions would focus on a particular topic in education which would be determined by the needs and interests of the twitter education/#educhat community. Rodd and I have described #educhats a bit in the Twitter for Teachers e-book. On this page, there is a simple Google form designed to allow folks to suggest topics, times, days, and frequencies for #educhats. Please take a moment to go to that page and enter some suggestions if you are so inclined. There are certainly a lot of topics we could chat about, and this would also be a great way to find like-minded tweeple to follow and build your PLN

We were thinking of having the first #educhat on Monday March 9th. The time has not been nailed down yet, but we were thinking about sometime after 8:30 EST. Of course that time is only a suggestion for starting, as I'm sure the discussion will continue and migrate westward as the Earth rotates. Please suggest a topic, join in, and track the discussion using the hashtag #educhat

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Twitter for Teachers e-book

Recently I came across the Twitter for Teachers e-book collaborative effort, based in a wetpaint wiki. This project was started by Rodd Lucier (@thecleversheep) and has grown to include over 100 members in its first ten days of existence. The project is aimed at developing a Twitter reference for teachers at all levels would would like to get to know Twitter, what it can offer, and how to use it in the classroom. I was very excited to hear about this project, as I've been wishing we had a sort of clearinghouse for information on uses of twitter in education. I think this site has the potential to be a leading dynamic reference on the topic, and more importantly a collaborative hub for those interested in using twitter in educational settings. 

Perhaps the coolest thing about this site (besides the important topic) is the collaborative atmosphere and nature. Within the first day of having joined, I felt welcomed to contribute to the structure of the e-book and to contribute to dialog about the project. Rodd is very active on Twitter and responsive to activity on the Twitter for Teachers site.

The best place to start exploring the site is the developing table of contents. In this space you can see the true collaborative nature of the project. Members suggest and make changes to the structure of the site, and head off to various pages linked from the table of contents to develop the actual content. Rodd has also provided some good information on how to contribute to the project, including videos on indexing yourself as a "twitterteacher" on delicious, and adding yourself to the project's Google map.

I encourage you the check out the site if you are a teacher interested in using twitter, whether you want to contribute or not. There is a quickly-growing wealth of information in this e-book.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

How can web2.0 technologies facilitate classroom-based group work?

In a recent posting, I discussed how I thought the shift in use of technology in the science classroom would place the emphasis on collaboration, rather than on instrumentation (but without losing the many great data collection and analysis uses of technology we now employ). I've been thinking more about how collaborative and communicative uses of technology can enhance group work in the science classroom.

There are many types of collaborative grouping employed in science classrooms: group problem solving, group lab activities, pair-share, peer tutoring, jigsaw, and student teams/games to name a few. I'm sure there are many others. What are some ways in which web2.0 communications technologies can contribute to science classroom-based group learning? I'm thinking of technologies and specific applications such as chat, video chat, blogging, microblogging (e.g. twitter ,, edmodo), online collaborative document/spreadsheet/presentation construction (e.g. Google Docs), and many others.

What follows is a brainstormed list- I certainly hope others will add to it though comments, etc.
  • Extension of group working time: I think the most obvious enhancement has to do with "extending" the time that groups are able to physically spend working together. Continued collaboration via email or chat is not uncommon, but what other possibilities are opened up by things such as Google video chat, nearly synchronous document authoring in Google Docs, desktop sharing applications (e.g. Microsoft Shared View), etc? I'm thinking of this category of use in a synchronous way, with all (or many) group members collaborating and communicating at the same time.
  • Online workspace: Related to the above but conceptualized in more of an asynchronous way is the idea of an online workspace for student groups. Within a classroom Ning or webpage, students could have their own group space in order to share ideas, documents, solutions, etc. Think of this as an online lab table or whiteboard.
  • Working group updates, or "a-ha!" sharing: One really great potential application involves the anytime updating of the group with new ideas or breakthroughs. Because mobile devices make sharing so easy via text message or microblog post, members can notify others when they have an "a-ha!" moment or just an idea which pertains to the group work. More importantly, a record of that idea then exists in the cloud, ready to be harvested and fully documented/explicated later on (see Documentation below)..
  • Sharing of group work to an outside audience: Many teachers are already using blogs as a medium for their students to share their work with a larger audience. This is a very powerful idea, and increases greatly the authenticity of the group product. But that sharing shouldn't end with the posting. The blog post/web page/document/presentation (i.e. whatever artifact gets published) should be advertised to a target audience and serve as a context for developing communication and collaboration with that audience. For example, a student group could post their solution to a complex problem and solicit a network of individuals (perhaps starting with the teacher's personal learning network, or PLN) to give feedback on their work. This would hopefully lead to network building by the students themselves. 
  • Documentation: Perhaps one of the most tangible and useful aspects of using web2.0 technologies for communication and collaboration is the ability with which interactions can be documented. Online chats, tweets, posts, web pages, collaborative documents, etc all exist somewhere in the cloud. This data can later be mined and compiled if the need arises. Of course this also presents a bit of a challenge as different formats and searching methods make this a complex task. However, herein lies an opportunity to develop more 21st century skills.

I'm sure there are many more ideas and applications for using these technologies to enhance science classroom group work. Please let me know your ideas so we can develop this thread together. Post a comment or tweet me (@Bud_T) and I'l add it here, citing you of course.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

AERA and NARST conference tweetup wikis

Paul Baker (@pabaker55) had the idea to create a tweetup wiki for the AERA Annual Meeting in San Diego. I think this is a great idea, and hope that association members will get involved in scheduling some tweetups. Also, I hope that everyone will use the #AERA hashtag in their related tweets so that we can all keep track of what's going on at the meeting.

I also created a tweetup wiki for the NARST annual conference in Garden Grove, CA which follows directly after AERA. Again, I encourage all to use the #NARST hashtag. 
Announcements regarding each conference tweetup wiki were posted to various listservs- please spread the word through your own channels as well. 

More uses of twitter in the classroom

Check out this collaborative Google presentation on interesting ways to use twitter in the classroom. There are some great ideas here, and the presentation is ever-growing.

Is there any single repository on the web that could best act as a clearing house for information related to uses of twitter in education? I've been building a list in diigo but it is far from complete. Please add to it if you can. 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The imminent shift in uses of technology in science education

Technology has long been a part of science teaching and learning. From using some of the first personal computers to collect and analyze data to using the latest visualization tools to help approach abstract phenomena, many of us in science education have a long history of using technology. In my first teaching job back in 1997 I tried to incorporate the use of probeware/microcomputer-based labs (MBL) into every activity I could. Obtaining and having available that kind of technology (not easy to get at that school and in that time) greatly helped me to design inquiry-based activities for my students and I to engage with. Further, graphing tools made engaging with mathematical concepts (such as integration) much more approachable and tangible for my students. More recently in my last teaching job, I made extensive use of visualization and simulation software to help the students and I think about complex and abstract phenomena such as electric and magnetic fields and the variables which affect those fields. 

Those are just a few of many possible examples from my own experience, and I'm sure they echo with some of your own. I always tried to incorporate new technologies based on what they afforded me and my students, not just because they were cool or new. My hope was that I would know when I achieved appropriate use of technology when a student walked into my classroom and didn't notice the computer and MBL apparatus, much like they don't ever notice the existence of a chalkboard as something special. Full, everyday integration was my goal. 

While data collection, data analysis, and visualization/simulation technologies are great and, I believe, will continue to be a very important part of science teaching and learning, I think there is an impending shift on the focus of technological use in science education. We now have the opportunity to move beyond just using technology for facilitation of data collection, etc. and need to embrace how technology can help us with communication and collaboration. The National Science Education Standards are clear on the necessity of communication and on the social endeavor of the scientific enterprise. It seems that we have only begun to see how new communication technologies can help us to enact these goals in the science classroom. Of course, there are some great existing collaborative or communicative projects in science education (e.g. the JASON Project, the GLOBE Project, etc) but they are very focused special projects and don't reach every classroom. What can individual teachers do on an everyday basis to utilize new communications technologies and platforms in their own teaching?

Blogging, texting, IM'ing, tweeting, or any one of a host of other digital communication forms can greatly enhance our students' understanding the importance of communication and community in the scientific endeavor, and they can be adopted and used rather easily on many levels, from one-on-one interactions to one-with-many. I know there are a lot of educators out there exploring these possibilities using mobile phones (see this wikiLiz Kolb's blog, and my last post on formative assessment w/mobile phones to name a few). Here's a great blog post from Tom Barrett about using twitter in a science lesson about length of day. Students communicated with people all over the world in order to find out about their current length of daytime. I also just recently discovered GCast, which allows you to create podcast recordings straight from your mobile phone. This has great potential in classrooms, and some are already using it with their students. As I continue to look into this, I'm sure I'll find more existing applications in the science classroom. 

Having students write about and share their ideas and work in science class makes learning more authentic as well. We know from a host of literature that having an audience for student work beyond the teacher or classroom increases the authenticity of the task for the student. Further, use of these technologies and modes of sharing increase the learning network far beyond the walls of the classroom. A more global scientific community is within our reach as teachers and students. 

I really do think that we are on the cusp of a shift in how we use technology in science education. We will not eschew our current uses for data collection, analysis, simulation, and visualization, but we will begin to incorporate more communications technologies using the web and mobile devices. This can only help science learners and teachers to become better communicators and members of a global community of scientists and science learners. I look forward to seeing how this all takes place. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How can we use new communication platforms to facilitate the formative assessment process?

I don't think there is a "silver bullet" in educational practice, but I do believe that good formative assessment comes pretty close to being our most powerful tool as educators. I am operationalizing formative assessment here in a commonly accepted way. Paraphrasing Sadler (1989) among others, the formative assessment process involves 1) Making explicit the standard or goal for the learner (i.e. Where are we going to go?), 2) Finding out what the students' understandings are with respect to that goal or standard (i.e. Where are we starting from?), and 3) Taking some action to close the gap between where we are and where we want to be (i.e. How are we going to get there?). This process involves both the teacher and the learner working together through these various steps, and it makes transparent not only the goals and current understandings, but also the reasons for taking a particular course of action to achieve that goal. Further, this process can be nicely linked to learning theory, especially Vygotsky's theory of concept formation (e.g. the learner's everyday conceptions approaching the "scientific" conceptions that are the target understandings). I'll leave further explication of that point for a future post, perhaps getting one of my colleagues to guest author.

So how can we take advantage of communications technologies to help us practice formative assessment? Probably the most obvious tools are related to timely communication, which can be used to announce or remind students of target goals or standards, and which can also be used for quick feedback. Email works well for this, and I'm sure it's a tool many of us (especially in post-secondary education) already use to tell students what will happen in class tomorrow, or to give feedback on assignments, or perhaps even what to do next (i.e. How are you going to get there?). But email is asynchronous and a bit clunky for quick, timely communication. 

Course websites are great for these communications as well, but how often do you students log into WebCT or Blackboard? Once a day at most? Checking these sites also requires a bit of commitment: start the browser, navigate to the page, log in, go to message forum, etc. 

Think about how you provide goal statements and feedback or prompt a student to take some action while you are teaching: usually with a short sentence, question, or note on the board. These exchanges are often on the fly, completely synchronous, brief, and efficient (especially in the interactive classroom)- very different from most email messages and course management system interactions. But why should this type of interaction be limited to face-to-face time in class?

Enter the mobile phone. Concise, timely communication via text message or instant messaging client. Learning happens outside of the classroom walls and outside of class time. Imagine texting your class with the day's objective the morning of class, giving them feedback after class or any (reasonable) time via text message, and even prompting individuals or the whole class what to do next via text message. The real advantage here is that suddenly this process is not bounded by some artificial (though real) time constraint. Of course, many students would probably be hesitant to give your their mobile number, so that is where a messaging client comes into play. The same thing could be accomplished with IM, twitter, or a host of other instant messaging/microblogging types of services. 

A recent EdWeek article on mobile devices in 21st century learning brought this idea of mine to the fore. This is all in the brainstorm stage (as are many of my ideas) but I really think that with the right kind of course environment and with a bit of cultural shift, educators could tap into the potential of mobile phone-based messaging explicitly in the service of facilitating the formative assessment process. Hopefully some are already exploring these potentials- I'll be the first to admit that I haven't done a lit review on this one. Do you know of any work related to instant messaging and formative assessment? What are your thoughts and ideas?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Potential uses of twitter in teacher education courses

Twitter is a microblogging platform that allows users to publish brief text updates of up to 140 characters onto the web-based twitter network (aka the "twitterverse"). These updates can be generally broadcast to all of those individuals who choose to follow your updates, or they can be directed at specific individuals (these can be one of two forms:@ replies, and direct messages). Users build a network of people that they follow (followers) and within that network develop "friends" which are loosely defined as those who they interact with the most (through @ replies and/or direct messages). For a more thorough discussion of the "friend" networks developed on twitter, take a look at this paper by Huberman, Romero, and Wu. 

The rapid rise in popularity of twitter in the past year has brought to mind the following question: what are some of the potential uses of twitter or other microblogging platforms in teacher education courses? Others have blogged about uses of microblogging in K-16 classrooms in general, or about uses of twitter use by teachers, but we (@craig_schneider and I) haven't found much about using microblogging specifically in teacher education. I do have an ever expanding diigo list of pages which discuss uses of twitter in education in general. 

What follows then is our brainstorm list about how we might begin to use twitter or some other microblogging platform in our own teacher education courses. 
  • Set up a course group in a twitter app (such as tweetdeck )in order to facilitate general communication with and among students (course announcements, reminders, etc). Unfortunately, groups cannot be created in the twittersphere without the use of one of these external apps. An alternative, of course, it for users to have dedicated twitter accounts just for the course, and follow only the others in that course. This, however, could be limiting the potential of the technology. 
  • Polling. Using sites such as, teacher educators can quickly and easily poll their students about choice of discussion topics for the next class, how practicum placements are going, etc. Students could also use this feature to poll their classmates about teaching ideas or what to do in specific situations.
  • "Teaching moment of the day" tweets or posts. Students can tweet/micoblog a brief message each day they're in practicum about something of interest or something that happened during their practicum experience. These tweets can serve as the basis for class discussions, or can help the teacher educator as a sort of "temperature taking" mechanism in order to keep connected with the students' practicum experiences. A log of these tweets could be valuable for students in their reflection on practicum experiences at the end of the course.
  • Continuing conversations. Our class discussions are often (always?) limited by our time together in a common physical space. Of course we have online discussion forums where we can "continue" these conversations, but these are asynchronous and fairly formal in presentation and format. Microblogging could be used to continue the conversation on a more informal, synchronous basis as thoughts occur. Because it is so quick and easy to "say" something, a student doesn't have to log into a course management system and write out their thoughts.
  • Collaborative planning. In our teacher education courses, we often have students forms teams or pairs and plan lessons together. As students come up with ideas for their co-planned lessons, they could microblog or tweet these ideas and in doing so accomplish two things: 1) create a record of the idea, and 2) share the idea with their partner or team. 
  • "Teaching anytime". I often think of ideas or things to bring up in class discussions when I'm not in class. By using a microblogging platform, a teacher educator could tweet these ideas as they occur, thus extending the notion of the "teachable moment" beyond the walls of the classroom. 
  • Broadening the teacher education course community. We all have colleagues with whom we collaborate about our teaching. If some of these colleagues were willing and interested to be a part of the course group, they could chime in on relevant discussions within the group, and act as external friends or advisors. Further, former students might act as friends of the group and join in. Their experiences, just shortly removed from the course, would be valuable for the students. 
  • General reflection facilitation: students can reflect on the course or their experiences at any time and keep a record of these reflections by microblogging them. We know that the reflective practitioner is constantly reflecting on their practice and experience. Microblogging can help to instill this practice in teacher education students. 
We'll post some updates on this blog as we try some of these things out and as we think of new ideas. It would be nice to get a much larger conversation going about using microblogging in teacher education. That conversation could occur here in the comments, on twitter, etc. We will also cross-post this to the Classroom 2.0 teacher education group and the Science Education Research ning to see if we can drum up some interaction, and try to aggregate comments, feedback, and ideas from each of these venues. Please feel free to share your ideas and experiences. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Twitter hashtags for professional activities

Hashtags are a great way of labeling or tagging twitter posts (aka "tweets") for searching and compiling by others. For more info on hashtags, see They are commonly used by members of some groups for identifying group-related activities (e.g. amateur radio operators often tag their ham related tweets #hamr) or to label events (e.g. the recent wildfire in Boulder, CO prompted tweets tagged #boulderfire). People can then search for occurrences of these hashtags and identify others who are tweeting about a topic or group of interest, and they can save these tweets if need be.

Recently I post to Classroom 2.0 and the Science Education Research ning and proposed using a specific hashtag for science education related tweets: #scied. I've also been using the hashtags #AERA and #NARST to talk about the upcoming respective conferences of the American Educational Research Association and the National Association for Research in Science Teaching. My hope is that we, as a community of educational researchers and science educators, can start to use these and other relevant hashtags in order to facilitate searching and compiling of tweets for community-building and even research purposes. 

The twittersphere is collecting a huge number of new tweets every minute- that is a lot of information to keep track of, much of it very useful but only if we can find it. What hashtags do you use with respect to your professional activities? What others should we be using? 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up" (Pablo Picaso)

I'll always remember this quote as it was taped to a shelf in the darkroom of my Dad's photographic studio. (Forgive Picaso for using the gendered pronoun "he") I read it for year and years as a child, and only later did I come to realize its true significance. I owe my curiosity and penchant for too many hobbies and questions to my father, who promoted that kind of creativity and inquisitiveness in me as a child. I joke now about having too many hobbies, but is that at all surprising for someone with a curious interest about the world? 

Interestingly, I expressed that creative curiosity through the study of science and the natural world, and through my hobbies, rather than through artistic expression like my father the photographer (who is also keenly interested in nature). This brief reflection reminds me of the importance of fostering this kind of creative curiosity is children of all ages. One avenue into that is the venerable (and often much-maligned) "hobby."

When I say I have too many hobbies it's true: amateur radio, cycling, computers, gps, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, camping, reading, weather watching/data, maps, geology, and others I'm sure I've neglected. These hobbies/pursuits/whatever you want to call them are expressions of my curious nature (or some say [intellectual] attention deficit disorder). So why do I pursue all of these things? They're fun and make me think.

We amateur radio operators often lament the lack of younger people in our hobby. Go to any gathering of hams and the mean age is likely to be well past 60. As a teacher, I formed an amateur radio club in my high school to get kids involved in this pursuit of intellectual curiosity and problem-solving. Some of the kids got into it, and others joined just because their friends did or they thought I wanted them to be there. But looking back on that experience makes me realize that my motivation to form that club wasn't really about amateur radio- it was about getting kids to engage in a hobby that make them smile, laugh, and think.

I'm sure there is no prescription or set of rules for fostering intellectual curiosity in children, but I think a good starting point is to model that curiosity yourself. One good way to do that is to engage in a hobby you enjoy and to promote that hobby in your community.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dissertation data collection: A critical time in the next few weeks

My dissertation data collection begins in earnest this week, with the pre-administration of two surveys of science teacher knowledge: the Flexible Application of Student-Centered Instruction (FASCI) and the physics-FASCI. For more information on each of these surveys, visit the FASCI webpage at The FASCI survey is content-neutral, in that the classroom scenarios presented and the questions asked are not placed in the context of any particular science content, only a "high school science class." The physics-FASCI places the same scenarios into the context of specific physics content, such as statements like "you are teaching Newton's 3rd Law..." My goal in administering these two versions of the FASCI is to investigate the domain-specificity of this particular aspect of science teacher knowledge. 

Participants from four universities around the country will be randomly assigned to take one version or the other, both pre- and post-semesters' instruction. The first of these administrations begins this week, and hopefully all pre-administrations will be complete within the next three weeks. I will then conduct think-aloud interviews and observe the teaching practice of a subset of respondents in order to contribute to a validity argument for each version of the instrument. The full research proposal can be seen at the website mentioned above.

Questioning strategies in science teaching

In my opinion and experience, one of the most powerful and useful strategies that a science teacher can use is deliberative, planned questioning. This can take many forms, and I do not mean to imply that planned questioning strategies are purely prescriptive and therefore one size fits all. Although I think they should be planned and structured, questions should also be flexible and tailored to specific situations, students, and concepts being discussed. 

As a teacher and as a teacher educator, one resource that I often use for thinking about questioning strategies is a chapter by Jos Elstgeest in the book Primary Science: Taking the Plunge (Harlen, Elstgeest, & Jelly, 2001). Hans Andersen introduced me to this work in 1995, when I was a student in his in science education methods. Although written for the elementary school teacher, this work is applicable to all levels of science teaching. 

Elstgeest begins by discussing what makes a question a "wrong question", namely that is wordy and might itself contain the answer, indicating that it aims at pure recall. On the other hand, "productive" questions lead a student to show (rather than say) that they know the answer. These "productive" questions can be attention-focusing questions (e.g. "What do you notice about..."), measuring and counting questions (e.g. "How many of..."), comparison questions (e.g. "In how many ways do these things differ?"), or my favorite types of questions: action questions (e.g. "What would happen if...") or problem-posing questions (e.g. "Can you find a way to...").

How do you use thoughtful, planned questioning in your own teaching?