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Postmodern science education research

March 29th, 2014 · Uncategorized

An oxymoron?

What would be the contours of such a project? As I (and I am all I’ve got) see it–

  • An understanding of science as a socially constructed set of practices with the purpose of making and evaluating claims about the nature of a taken-as-shared objective world;
  • An understanding that an objective world exists only in the minds of those who observe it;
  • An understanding of the science classroom as a lived experience constructed by those within it;

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Handling children’s questions

March 23rd, 2014 · Uncategorized

Here is a link to a chapter by Wynne Harlan about inquiry questions.

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balancing equations: algebra v. chemistry

March 16th, 2014 · College teaching

Yesterday in our content pedagogy class, we were talking about key ways of thinking in the disciplines, which we called signature pedagogies. A proposal for a signature pedagogy brought up by a chemistry teacher included balancing equations. One of the high school math teachers suggested that balancing equations is a concept in algebra also.

The goal of the discussion was to consider disciplinary ways of thinking. While it is true that there is a procedure called “balancing (or solving) equations” in these two disciplines, they involve very different ways of thinking.

In chemistry, balancing equations is grounded in the big idea that matter cannot be created or destroyed. The key  idea is that the same atoms we start with must be the ones we end up with. I used to tell students that balancing chemistry equations is just bookkeeping.

In algebra, we start with a true statement, and “balancing” equations is part of solving them. The solution, finding out what x can be, is about maintaining the integrity of the original true statement. The procedures for solving equations include balanced operations on either side of the equal sign.

Balancing mathematical equations is about logic. Balancing chemical equations is about processes which occur when different atoms react. To some extent, both require bookkeeping. However, understanding them as only bookkeeping does not go to the heart of the disciplines.

While this might seem like a philosophical quibble, I think it has important consequences for learners. When I used to tutor algebra, I would focus on the procedure for solving equations as being about maintaining the truth of the statement. When they went from a procedural understanding to a conceptual one, every young person (but one) that I tutored went from low grades to A’s. One high school student decided she didn’t need to go to class anymore, and started skipping, still getting A’s, at which point her mother ended the tutoring. What kind of commentary that is on math teaching in the US, I will not venture to say since it’s not very comprehensive data.

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Content Area Presentations 6598/6950

March 2nd, 2014 · Uncategorized

I’m posting these for the convenience of the class, since D2L is being uncooperative. I’ll be taking them down in a week or two, since they don’t really belong in the public sphere. However, they are quite worthy of being seen!

Click on the links.

Social Studies. (Just click on the url.) Social Studies. (Just click on the url.)




Science Part 1

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February 8th, 2014 · Uncategorized

Please click to download.

STEM Writing Heuristic

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GSTA Conference Presentation 2/7/2014

February 7th, 2014 · Uncategorized

Click on the links to download


Newton’s Cars Lab Instructions

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4th Annual Institute for Teachers of Color

February 3rd, 2014 · Uncategorized

This will be held at San Jose State University in California, June 25-27 2014.

The application deadline is April 1. Go to to register.

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Diversity Conference Forum

February 1st, 2014 · social justice

The Middle Georgia Diversity in Education Conference will be held at Georgia College on March 24, 2014. Dr. Thomas M. Philip of the UCLA Graduate School of Education will be the keynote speaker:  Beyond Disaggregation: Examining
and Addressing Racialization in Classrooms and Schools. The url for  conference information and registration is 

At Georgia College we are moving forward in our efforts to prepare teacher candidates for diverse learners. We face many of the same challenges as other selective teacher colleges in rural areas: predominantly Caucasian and female cohorts of teacher candidates, schools for field placements which are lacking in resources and serve high-poverty populations. Click here for our diversity conference  forum.

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Teaching research methodology

January 23rd, 2014 · College teaching, research methodology

This is a blog post I made after class, which started out as an email to a student who had to be absent. Like most successful students, she views the purpose of class as imparting information and asked me what information she had missed. Part of my role as an instructor is to pry students’ fingers off this notion. Of course there is information that happens. We have just started reading Writing the New Ethnography by H.L. Goodall.

As for what we did in class tonight in terms of information, hmm, well, I talked about the "crisis of representation" and modern social science. I talked a little about positivism, positivistic science, the death of positivistic science with the development of quantum mechanics and Einsteinian relativity, and how this coincided with the collapse of "civilized" Europe in WWI, the ensuing worldwide depression, the Russian Revolution, WWII and then the atom bomb. The foundational assumptions of the European intellectual tradition were challenged by both science and historical catastrophe. This led to people in the social sciences questioning the enterprise of scientifically describing the experiences of others, and to the question of how it is possible to represent the experience of others. What gives anyone the right to make pronouncements about others? And besides that, how can anyone claim that any amount of data collection can give a complete picture of an experience? And furthermore, how can words in a journal article or a book accurately convey the reality of the people it describes? This is the "crisis of representation." How do we represent the world? It is not possible. We just do the best we can, acknowledging the limitations.

I would add, which I did not in class, that the research rings truest when the limitations are discussed as specifically as possible. There are always of course unknown limitations, but the researcher does the best she can with identifying them, beginning with her own biases. Another way researchers make clear what limitations might exist is by being very forthright about how the data was collected, what she was doing during the data collection, how she reacted emotionally and intellectually to the data. When observing, recording these reactions is crucial.

A researcher is her or himself the ultimate instrument of data collection. It is through his brain and the connections he makes in his mind that the data acquires meaning. The self of the researcher interacts with the selves in the research setting. Therefore it is important to acknowledge the role of the self in doing research, and to be open and self-reflective about it. This is discussed a little in Goodall Ch. 1. He’s going to talk more about it in further chapters. We talked about good writing being transformative.

In discussing students’ responses to the Goodall book, we got off onto the topic of nothing ever being good enough in academia, it is always open to critique. There is a sense that we should have done more. While this is true of society to some extent, it is a major practice in academia. Critique is the lifeblood of the academy.

We spent most of the class time reviewing each other’s research questions through a gallery walk and comments made on sticky notes. I don’t know that this is something we could tell you about. You had to be there. I deliberately design in-person class using a Vygotskian scaffolding model, as discussed in the Walqui and vanLier chapters I sent you. This means me and other students responding to each other in ways which allow for "authoring" of knowledge rather than its consumption. ("Authoring" is a term from literary criticism, originated by Mikhail Bakhtin.) My goal is that a ZPD arises spontaneously based on my intuition about what might be a productive direction for generating new knowledge. I know I miss things, and let drop threads of conversation which might be valuable, but on the whole I’m satisfied that this provides an environment for deep learning.

So we considered research questions at length, and worked together to think about how to help each other with our questions.

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what’s up with this?

December 28th, 2013 · social justice, Standards and accountability

How am I going to write about this topic which makes me so very angry? What is it we think we’re doing as educators? This is for real, it affects children’s lives. If teachers don’t do the best for kids, they are harmed, and if a ghetto child gets poor teaching 3 years in a row, well, you know. It’s practically set in stone.

My friend Konny asked me if I would be willing to diagnose reading difficulties of her bookkeeper’s daughter. This isn’t my field of expertise, although I learned some things about literacy in grad school. Plus I taught first grade. So I said I would see if there was anything I could do. I suggested the child bring two books with her, one that was easy for her to read, and one that was difficult.

The girl I will call Jamila arrived at my door, with her mother,  quiet and downcast. I had been expecting an 8 year old, but Jamila is 10. Konny remembered her as a lively, creative, happy child with a wonderful spark.

Well, it quickly became apparent that Jamila could decode but wasn’t comprehending. I did a short reciprocal teaching session and discussed with her mom that Jamila was perfectly smart, she just didn’t know that reading is thinking. The kinds of problems she was having, not reading longer words correctly, was due to her not knowing that the words were supposed to make sense in the sentence, or even that sentences are supposed to make sense. If you don’t know that, then any long word is as good as another. Somehow, her reading instruction in school had missed this point.

Konny saw Jamila shortly thereafter, and the child proudly told her, “I’m not stupid!”

Wow, how many other kids in Jamila’s public school think they’re stupid not because they are, but because their teachers don’t know what they’re doing? These are schools where kids are tested every week, do benchmark tests every 9 weeks. But nobody is teaching.

So that’s what I mean, I’m really really angry about this. We have known about reading as thinking for at least 25 years—this research was done in the 1980’s. What kind of education leads an intelligent 10 year old girl to think she is stupid?

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