Some thoughts on knowledge construction

As we continued our work this week for our project on chemistry and conflict, our science class launched into a series of investigations into the properties of matter. Instead of everyone doing the same activity, which does insure that everyone gets to the same place, but limits how far we can go, we started the investigation of eight different inquiry labs that looked at reactions, physical properties, and other investigations about chemicals. All of these came from the excellent Vernier resource “Investigating Chemistry through Inquiry” click here.

Three broad goals frame this series of investigations:
– Understanding the process by which we asked questions about the nature of matter
– Considering the experimental designs that can deepen our understanding of the nature of matter
– Developing a common set of terminology about properties of matter that we can construct together and adopt into our language

This work will take a couple of more weeks since we only have a couple of class periods each week to work on, but there is already been the starting of questions about what were seeing in the nature of matter which is a good place for us to be. We have also been having the students continue their research and build their outlines now that we have settled on either a podcast or a “TED”-like talk for their final presentation.

While we have been working on this, I have been ruminating about some of the work that was part of my doctoral research. In the process of thinking about how learning happens, one of the phrases that I found valuable was the idea of knowledge construction.
As Scardamalia says: “Following the definitions of Garrison et al. (2001) and Gunawardena et al. (1997), knowledge construction … is understood as the process whereby students undertake social exchange with their instructor or peers in order to create and apply new understandings that resolve dilemmas and/or issues they are facing. The closer the students are to resolving their issues, the more advanced their level of knowledge construction.”

It is of note to me that knowledge construction is conversational and therefore an observable phenomena. One of the things we’ve been talking about in our work recently is the ways by which we can observe and assess students progress towards skills, competencies and even knowledge. Scardamalia researched and developed 12 principles to help examine the kinds of ways that knowledge building can and should occur. This list isn’t hierarchical, nor is it a checklist, but it provides insight into the different ways that the dialogical way that knowledge construction happens can be observed. The 12 are

Real Idea, Authentic Problems
Improvable Ideas
Idea Diversity
Rise Above
Epistemic Agency
Community Knowledge
Democratizing Knowledge
Symmetric Knowledge Building
Pervasive Knowledge Building
Constructive uses of authoritative sources
Knowledge building discourse
Concurrent, embedded and transformative assessment

The description for each one of these principles is located here. (It would be a little bit long to include all of that on this post). A couple of examples may help explain what I’m thinking about.

The principal called Improvable ideas we often see in our classrooms where students develop an idea or a notion that they want to act on, and as they try and implement they shape it and refine it through feedback from their peers and their teacher.

Real ideas, authentic problems is centered in our work for MPX since we try and locate all of our essential questions around a real or authentic problem.

Community knowledge matters greatly to us because it emphasizes the value that a community brings to understanding an idea and adopting it as a group.

Considering all of these principles affirms and challenges the work we do in how we design our learning, and the ways that we observe how students construct and co-construct their meaning through transactional exchanges with each other. Over the course of this year, it is my hope to develop better systems to record this as it happens so that it can become a more powerful part of our assessment in the service of learning.

Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2010). A brief history of knowledge building. Canadian
Journal of Learning and Technology, 36(1).

**Since this was a short week, I surprisingly and somewhat irresponsibly didn’t get any pictures of what happened in class to document and support the summary.**

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