I have been challenging myself in my work in MPX to think more deeply and purposefully about how to move my learners into habits of mind of their discipline. Last year when math (Alg 2) was part of my work I really tried to drive in to the habits of mind of mathematicians. This year we realigned our curriculum and my focus has been in NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) – particularly Integrated Science 1 which has topics in physical chemistry. The work I have been developing harkens back to my first year teaching (1982 – was it really that long ago?) when I was working with 8th grade students teaching a program called IPS (Introductory Physical Science). In the summer of 1983 I attended a 2 week workshop run by Haber-Schaim on the pedagogical approach to teaching IPS. I was too green a teacher at the time to appreciate all the depth and complexity of learning theory they moved us through that summer, but I know it left a lasting impact on me because now I know what to call it – constructivist learning. I realized while I am writing this I still have that lab journal somewhere and I should go and pull it out because I am sure it is full of gems that I could rediscover and still use in my students’ work. Let me take a few key ideas that I learned form that experience that still are part of MY DNA as a teacher, though reinforced, elaborated and creatively redesigned in my new “Hines 3.0” teaching framework as we develop our MPX program.
One of the ways to drive an important question or to gain attention is by exposing something we don’t understand well or at all. In the words of the modeling pedagogical approach that came out of the work of Wells and Hestenes ( http://modeling.asu.edu) we need to displace learner’s naïve theories with more complete ones and one of the ways to expose that is by showing them an event that doesn’t play out the way their naïve model shows. In the IPS curriculum, the first event the students are exposed to is the decomposition of wood splints into its constituent matter (solids, liquids, gasses) which drives a semester long investigation into understanding better what wood or truly any matter is fundamentally made of.
Essential Questions and Modeling:
At its core, the entire course was based on a critical essential question that came from the discrepant event mentioned above. In a sentence, it was “what is matter made of?”. All of the experimental designs and all the community building that happened after that was to come up with a high fidelity model of matter based on experimental work that the class conducted day by day, and week by week.
Inquiry, Discovery and Constructivism
In so much of traditional curriculum including science, there is a focus about memorizing the answer from experts, whether it is Newton’s second law of motion, or what events led to a important historical juncture. The role of inquiry at a deep level is to allow the students to form the questions and reach their own conclusions – certainly scaffolded or shaped by the expert (teacher) knowledge and experience, but in a well-designed learning environment, it is the learner who constructs the knowledge, not dished to them by a teacher, text, or other expert. Ultimately, that is what displaces their naïve theories, because it is formed and informed by their experience and active decision-making.
Habits of Mind:
As a learner moves from a naïve thinker to an expert thinker, they inherently begin to own the habits of mind of that discipline whether it is scientist, mathematician, historian, writer, etc. This is not taught passively, the learner needs to walk the walk and do the work of the discipline. No more than you would want a medical doctor treating patients who had not gone through a series of apprenticeships in which they were with actual patients under guidance challenging themselves to address many patients’ health needs to build the right kind of thinking and decision-making that is inherent in their discipline, we need to put students in our classes in those same shoes – developing the essential questions, designing the experiments, making meaning of the data, coming to generalized agreements and reporting it in a way that indicates a deep satisfactory understanding of their research.
One of the things I loved most about teaching IPS were the moments when students were given a challenge that was based on them applying the skills and knowledge they had acquired. Certainly the most significant one was the culminating “sludge test” that students were given at the end of the first semester. Given a flask with a mixture of solids and liquids, the students were challenged to separate and identify all of the materials in their solution. Typically, no two students got the same mixture, so there was no way to game the system and look at what someone else was doing. That kind of real application of knowledge by applying your understanding to a novel situation is the kind of culminating experience I aspire to organize for my students.
As I write this, it strikes me even more so how fundamentally my first teaching of IPS has affected my long-term view of science learning in my classroom. I certainly don’t win that battle every day, but I know the direction I am pointing, and that is already a better place to be rather than just following off-the-shelf curriculum.
So, to that end, this week our MPX students were designing an inquiry lab into properties of matter, not too much unlike IPS. Instead of using the IPS framework, I borrowed some inquiry labs from Vernier Software. I’m using these as a starting point for our students to design experiments to investigate properties of matter that will broaden and deepen their understanding of the properties of matter which are critical for them over the next month as they work on their chemistry and conflict projects. Our good work continues…