Evidence Based Science Education

This blog will examine research and evidence as it relates to science education and science education issues. It is an attempt to bring together the science of education and the practice of education.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The nature of teaching has changed

I recently was having a discussion with Dr. Kent Seidel an Associate Professor and Chair of the P-20 Leadership programs at the University of Denver. We were discussing how the job of teaching has changed over the last 10 or so years. It used to be the primary job of a teacher was to create a content based lesson, deliver that lesson to students, and check to the degree to which students had learned it.

A few trends have really changed this role. The first and biggest of these is the internet. My first year of teaching in the mid 90s our school had one internet connected computer hooked up to a dial up modem. By the year 2000 our school had over 100 internet connected computers with broadband connections. So by the year 2000, if I needed ideas about a lesson or activity, I now turned to the internet and the vast area of lessons and ideas that were there, and not just the activity tool box I had from my own experiences and education.

Another trend is in textbooks and materials. When I started teaching in the mid 90s the science textbook was primarily a reference book filled with factual information about science with just a few suggestions for hands on activities that students could do. I started to see a shift in what textbooks offered in the 90s first the It’s About Time’s publication of Active Physics. The textbook and teaching materials that went with it started to look more and more like a curriculum and lesson plans. I have seen this trend only increase with high quality, tested and vetted materials such Project Learning Tree and Project Wild, FOSS kits, and the SEPUP science program. With the rigor of thought and testing that goes into many of today’s materials teachers would be foolish not to use them.

Thanks to the internet and these new types of materials, no longer did I need to come up with my own inquiry based activities based on my prior knowledge, experience, PD, and research. Lesson planning became much more streamlined and a little less creative.

At the same time standards based education became much more prominent where teachers were asked to focus on what kids learned in a class, not what the teacher covered (focusing on outputs instead of inputs). Schools often had the mentality the students had the right to fail if they wanted to and this was not the teacher’s problem. But now the idea of assessment is much expanded. Now one must assess not just to see to what degree students learned what was taught, but assess the students learning progression along the way in order to adjust instruction to make sure that students are achieving mastery.

Time saved by the streamlining of coming up with high quality lessons and activities was replaced by tailoring these lessons and activities to individual students.
In the last decade we have also learned much more about how the brain works and how people really learn. The importance of making connections (to prior knowledge, to other content areas, to life outside school) in order for real learning to happen. We know the importance of processing time and sense making for the brain to make these connections.

On top of this we also layer 21st century skills and RtI and we can see the switch in the nature of teaching. Teaching is now about knowing your kids, knowing your content, having a pool of resources to draw on, then adapting the resources to where your students are and where you want to take them, and then make connections for kids, push their thinking, have them work collaboratively on problems related to a concept so they have to think creatively.

It is certainly a different view of teaching, but an evidence based science teaching approach wouldn’t have it any other way.

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