Thursday, December 23, 2010

Do science to learn science?

Sir Ken's talk hits so many issues really well.  The creativity of children.  The "not one right answer."  Collaboration. 

I can't think of a better example of these themes has just come out in Biology Letters.  It's an article published by 25 8- to 10-year-old children.  It's a delightful piece (made open access for the time being) written in the language of the children with hand-drawn figures.  I can't put it better than the abstract, which is downright poetic:


Background Real science has the potential to not only amaze, but also transform the way one thinks of the world and oneself. This is because the process of science is little different from the deeply resonant, natural processes of play. Play enables humans (and other mammals) to discover (and create) relationships and patterns. When one adds rules to play, a game is created. This is science: the process of playing with rules that enables one to reveal previously unseen patterns of relationships that extend our collective understanding of nature and human nature. When thought of in this way, science education becomes a more enlightened and intuitive process of asking questions and devising games to address those questions. But, because the outcome of all game-playing is unpredictable, supporting this ‘messyness’, which is the engine of science, is critical to good science education (and indeed creative education generally). [...]
Principal finding ‘We discovered that bumble-bees can use a combination of colour and spatial relationships in deciding which colour of flower to forage from. We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before. (Children from Blackawton)’.
Download the paper, and take a look at the video in the supplement (Royal Society doesn't support embedding).


The paper doesn't cite any scientific literature, which led to its rejection by Science and Nature.  The abstract also gives a persuasive argument about why:

Although the historical context of any study is of course important, including references in this instance would be disingenuous for two reasons. First, given the way scientific data are naturally reported, the relevant information is simply inaccessible to the literate ability of 8- to 10-year-old children, and second, the true motivation for any scientific study (at least one of integrity) is one’s own curiousity, which for the children was not inspired by the scientific literature, but their own observations of the world. This lack of historical, scientific context does not diminish the resulting data, scientific methodology or merit of the discovery for the scientific and ‘non-scientific’ audience. On the contrary, it reveals science in its truest (most naive) form, and in this way makes explicit the commonality between science, art and indeed all creative activities.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ken Robinson: Changing education paradigms

Carl's comment on the last post is a perfect segue to this next Ted Talk. Also, I LOVE the animation! Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes

Here is a ten minute ted talk on experiential learning:





I like how she talks about the idea of moving away from 'one right answer', getting rid of standardized testing, and how failure is a part of learning. I know there are some issues with experiential learning (so this is not a panacea for our educational system), but are also definitely many things we can learn from successes in this area. This is one way to get students motivated by and involved in their own education.
Enjoy!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Formative Assessment

A few weeks ago we opened our meeting with a quiz. The quiz was designed to demonstrate one method of formative assessment, using a pre-test and a post-test. We reflected on how this made us feel as 'students' and discovered that some people felt calm, others competitive, and others neutral. In our friendly environment, no one felt pressured or nervous. This is one goal to strive for during formative assessment, encouraging the students to be comfortable so that they accurately represent what they have learned.

We then discussed formative assessment. The definition of formative assessment is assessment designed to allow the teacher to assess learning during the course of instruction and adapt their teaching style to the needs of their students. The assessment process involves four main components: instruction, assessment within a relatively short time, prompt evaluation, and distribution of constructive feedback. It is especially important for the teacher to provide constructive feedback on formative assessments in order for students to respond and learn from their assessment. It is also equally as important for the teacher to adapt their teaching methods when students do not demonstrate sufficient learning.

According to some instructors formative assessment should have the following distinct characteristics: Questions should be open-ended, allowing the students creativity in their answer and avoiding the tendency for teachers to test the students ability to complete a specific type of exam. Students should not be graded on assessments so that they do not feel pressured and are comfortable communicating what they have learned. Lastly, assessments should be frequent enough to demonstrate continued learning and changes in learning throughout the instruction period.

Formative assessments do not have to be quizzes. They can take a variety of forms. In class discussions can serve as a formative assessment. Work in small groups can be used. Open-ended writing prompts or student reflections on a concept or topic can all be used as formative assessments. Using a variety of assessment techniques ensures that all students will have the opportunity to contribute in a manner in which they feel comfortable during the learning period.

After discussing formative assessment, we discussed in groups how we would each engineer formative assessments for our own area of teaching. As a biologist, I feel diagramming or explaining biological processes would be serve as good formative assessments. Discussions on concepts, such as symbiosis and mutualisms for example would also be good. Others in my group discussed asking the students to explain the steps to a complex math problem or dissect a historical argument.

When used frequently and effectively, formative assessment can be valuable in making us more aware of areas to improve and ensuring that our students are achieving our learning goals during the course of instruction.