Education Development Center, Inc.
Center for Children and Technology
The World in the Classroom:
Making Sense of Seasonal Change Through Talk and Technology
CTE Technical Report Issue No. 11
Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
The Literacies Institute
In our observations of science lessons
in elementary school, we find an almost systematic dissociation of data
and theory. Students and teachers are observed either collecting and graphing
hands-on data or examining a theoretical model. Very seldom do we find students
and teachers using the model to make sense of the data or using the data
to develop a theory. Technologies introduced into science classrooms can
be expected to participate in the system of instruction already in use.
This paper examines science teaching in classrooms that participated with
us in an experiment on ways of integrating technology into a sixth grade
science curriculum on the earth's seasons. We develop a framework for looking
at the classroom conversations in which students can make sense of the phenomena
being studied. Our analysis points to the ways that a common curriculum
design, which takes the scientific theory as the objective, can result in
the dissociation of the data from the theory and suggests some of the difficulties
in bringing together the conditions for scientific sense-making. It also
points to the ways that technologies such as simulations and telecommunications
can fall into the same trap.
We believe that the development of a
notion of sense-making discussion is of critical importance to improving
science learning. Too often science, like many other subjects, is taught
from the textbook as a set of facts to be learned in sequence. But conducting
discussions that engage students in sense-making is difficult. Researchers
at TERC report that only 5% of the classes they observed using microcomputer-based
laboratories had the students discuss the data after it was collected (Mokros
& Russell, 1988). They also report that a major issue for the National
Geographic Society Kids Network project in which students join a nationwide
collaborative data-collection exercise is to get teachers to discuss the
data with the class once it has been collected (Julyan, personal communication).
In virtually none of the classroom sites observed did the teacher and students
go beyond graphing the data to discussing its meaning (Lenk, 1990). Telecommunications
technology can bring information and data from all over the world into the
classroom. But unless a sense-making process can be understood and its conditions
supported, the data flowing into a classroom will have little impact on
students' scientific understanding.
Recent work in mathematics instruction
has provided important analyses of classroom discourse illustrating the
ways that authentic problem-solving activities that give rise to extended
sense-making discussions can be instantiated in classrooms (Lampert, 1986,
1990; Resnick, 1987; Schoenfeld, in press; Stigler & Perry, 1988). In
contrast, typical approaches to school math emphasize rules and algorithms
for getting the right answer. Students do not expect and are not expected
to make sense of what they are learning. The recent work takes seriously
the need to change students' and teachers' assumptions about what mathematical
learning is. The issue is not just how more effectively to get content knowledge
across. The problem is to change the classroom task into one of sense-making
so that the educational outcome goes beyond inert knowledge of rules. The
new approach has been described as a "cognitive apprenticeship"
(Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989; Collins, Brown & Newman, 1989) recognizing
the authenticity of the classroom discussions and the importance of the
Teaching of science in schools presents
issues entirely parallel to these issues in mathematics teaching. Students
and teachers, supported by science textbooks, often approach the subject
as a set of facts and terminology. There has been, however, a long tradition
in science education that is critical of the usual approach and focuses
instead on the inquiry process (Hurd, 1969; Rowe, 1978; Lansdown et al,
1971). These approaches emphasize the importance of both direct hands-on
experience and classroom discussions as ways to engage students in the process
of science and scientific thinking. These approaches have proved difficult
in practice. Hands-on activities are difficult to manage and require reorganizing
the classroom for small group or individual work. Perhaps more substantial
problems are found in conducting discussions concerning the classroom investigations.
Teachers are not accustomed to asking for and listening to complex conjectures
or theorizing by the students. They often lack the mastery of the subject
matter and understanding of the learning process for the particular topic
that would let them interpret or make use of the students' contributions
to the discussion. These limitations make the kind of enculturation into
sense-making that is now being described in math classrooms difficult to
achieve in either math or science.
The study reported here contributes
to a growing paradigm of research on the social constitution of cognition
and cognitive change (Bruner, 1966; Vygotsky, 1978, 1986; LCHC, 1983; Rogoff
& Lave, 1984; Lave, 1988). Building on analyses of the development of
scientific expertise, this research paradigm has begun to address the ways
in which knowledge is constructed in interaction with others (Newman, Griffin
& Cole, 1989; Newman, in press a), how teachers appropriate student
contributions into classroom conversations (Lampert, 1990; Newman, 1990a),
and how classroom activities can attain the authenticity of apprenticeship
learning (Collins, Brown & Newman, 1989; Lave & Wenger, 1989; Resnick;
1987, Rogoff, in press). We describe a formative experiment conducted in
four Boston-area classrooms, in which we were able to refine our analysis
of sense-making and from that vantage point, see a number of the difficulties
teachers have in conducting discussions in which a theoretical model is
brought into coordination with data. We note that in many cases, data are
discussed without engaging in questions about why the data have a
particular pattern. And often the model is taught directly with no explicit
discussion of how the model explains specific data. We find that the typical
organization of the curriculum unit around a sequence of topics can militate
against a focus on understanding the phenomenon. While there were many successes
during the year, there was also a systematic dissociation of data and theory
which we find applies also to the use of simulation, database and telecommunication
technologies. We conclude with comments on the development, through talk
and technology, of sense-making communities in the classroom.
A FORMATIVE EXPERIMENT ON TECHNOLOGY
USE AND CURRICULUM DESIGN
We worked with four Boston-area teachers
who volunteered to join the project understood as an effort to develop and
implement a fifth or sixth grade curriculum unit on seasonal change. With
assistance from the researchers, the teachers' task was to design a unit
that included modelling and data collection components and to integrate
the use of technology into these activities. The goal of the unit was to
engage students actively in science learning activities. The classrooms
were also to be the site for a parallel experiment with the use of drama
that was also integrated into the seasons unit. Two of the participating
schools were K-6 schools located in a homogeneous middle-class suburb of
Boston. In one of these schools, the focal school for the study reported
here, two sixth grade teachers team-taught science and other subjects. The
third school was a K-8 school in an ethnically diverse area of the city
of Cambridge. This alternative public school served, in particular, the
large Haitian population. We worked in a combined 5-6th grade classroom.
Our work initially aimed at documenting
the impact of different designs for the integration of technology into the
curriculum (Collins, in press). The researchers' task was to support the
design, conduct interviews and conduct observations, supported by field
notes and video. In the case of the drama activities and some of the activities
using simulations, researchers conducted the activities in the classrooms.
Teachers and research staff met approximately every three weeks to discuss
progress and compare notes. These meetings were an opportunity for the research
staff to make suggestions concerning the use of technology, classroom discussions
of data, and so on. As our work progressed, it took the form of a formative
experiment in which teachers modified their approaches and researchers modified
their support attempting to achieve a goal of engaging students in active
science learning activities. A formative experiment in this sense, is a
deliberate tinkering working toward a predefined goal (Newman, 1990c). A
characteristic of this approach to classroom research is that the goal itself
can become more clearly defined as we examine our successes and failures
in approaching the initial goal definition. In this case, our observations
have led us to an analysis of sense-making which now serves as a goal for
further experimentation. Thus, the outcome of our formative experiment is
an understanding of the system of science teaching in terms of this goal
and the conditions necessary to achieve it. This system then provides the
interpretive framework for understanding the role of technology.
The initial phase of the project was
the development of a curriculum which instantiated both the content goals
and the instructional approach which included both data collection and modelling
activities. The teachers, including the principal of one of the schools,
assisted by project staff, worked together for a week in the summer to develop
a curriculum that covered topics relevant to understanding seasonal change.
A seven page outline was produced that described or indexed a sequence of
topics and activities. Students were to gather a wide variety of data and
information about seasonal change from direct observations, newspaper weather
data, simulations of earth-sun relations, and historical accounts of scientific
discoveries. The theoretical model to account for the data, in this case,
could be expressed quite concretely--with a model earth and sun.
While the study of seasons is common
in elementary school science, the topic is quite complex. At its heart is
the fact that the earth's axis has a slight inclination from perpendicular
to the plane of the orbit around the sun. As the earth revolves around the
sun, this inclination results in seasonal differences in the amount of solar
radiation on different parts of the earth arising from differences in the
angle of the sun's rays reaching the earth and from differences in the length
of the day. A fundamental problem for understanding this account arises
from the fact that the helio-centric model of the earth-sun relation that
is the central cognitive tool for mastering the explanation is entirely
counter to our geo-centric phenomenal experience. The student must translate
between the sun rising and setting and the rotation of the model earth.
The changing elevation of the midday sun must be envisioned as a changing
orientation of the tilt of the axis in relation to the sun. The chain of
reasoning required to get from observable phenomenon such as the fact it
is warmer in summer than winter to the model that explains it is complex
and provided opportunities for us to study a series of lessons over an extended
period. Existing resources such as "Daytime Astronomy" (ESS, 1971),
SunLab teachers' guide (Smallberg, 1990), and Asimov's delightful
book, How did we find out the earth is round were used.
A COMMON SCIENCE TEACHING SYSTEM
The curriculum involved a variety of
activities from which students might construct for themselves a model of
seasonal change. The teachers were committed to not teaching the model directly
as is typical of textbook presentations or one-shot lessons on seasonal
change. The teachers specifically avoided giving the students the complete
answer because of their commitment to the idea that students would be able
to work it through using a variety of pieces, clues and data.
Among the classroom lessons and activities
that were planned was data collection that included measuring shadows. Meter-long
sticks were mounted to a base so that they could stand straight up on the
ground. Large sheets of paper were used to record the lengths of the shadows.
There are two distinct kinds of shadow data that were collected. The first
kind, which we called "fan" data, involves collecting a series
of shadow readings during a single day to determine the pattern of shadows
and the time, length and direction of the midday shadow, i.e., the shortest
shadow that points directly north. The second kind involves recording the
length of midday shadow, length of day (based on the newspaper), midday
temperature over a period of months. This second kind of data is the critical
data of seasonal change. Students copied their information into a communal
notebook which was the foundation for a computer database with this and
The classes also engaged in a variety
of modelling activities and, on many occasions, lessons were structured
to give small groups of students opportunities to examine sets of data,
to theorize about them, and to present their theories to the rest of the
class. There were many successes during the year from which we can begin
to specify what might be meant by sense-making and some of the conditions
that constitute it. We can also document a consistent pattern in the instructional
approach, resulting from a commitment to the curriculum objective of learning
the model of how the seasons change, that tended to subvert the constructive
sense-making process. In this section, we begin with an example that illustrates
what appear to be some of the critical features of sense-making and then
turn to describing the system of instruction that we believe is common in
science classroom and that worked against a constructive sense-making process.
An Example of Sense-Making
By early March, after several months
of data collection and discussions, one of the classes in the focal school
was engaged with the question of why the days had been getting shorter up
to the winter solstice and now were getting longer. The teacher had developed
an exercise designed around a globe, golf tees and a small "mini"
flashlight. These objects were the components of a model that can account
for changing day lengths. The students, mostly in groups of two, although
there were some students who were alone, took the tee and put it, with the
help of a tiny piece of clay, on the globe. They then shined the light on
the tee at varying angles, and turned the globe in different ways, and put
the tee in different spots. For many of the students, their exploratory
modelling was not constrained by any particular question, nor by the data
on changing day length. These modeling tools were, however, familiar to
the students and they were aware they were modeling the earth/sun relationship.
At one point the teacher volunteered to act as the sun (hold the flashlight)
for Erica who was working alone, sitting on the floor of the darkened classroom.
The one-to-one interaction that followed raised for us a set of issues that
we believe are important for a definition of scientific sense-making.
The following excerpt occurs toward
the end of this 20 minute interaction. Erica has placed golf tees on Boston,
where she lives, and Jamaica, where she spent her winter vacation and, with
her family, had actually collected fan data (shadow lengths throughout a
day) and midday shadow measurements. By holding the sun in specific positions
and having Erica rotate the globe, the teacher modelled the winter solstice
with the midday sun overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn, the equinox, with
the sun overhead at the equator and the summer solstice, with the sun overhead
at the Tropic of Capricorn. Erica moved the golf tees into sunlight, through
midday where they established that the shadow pointed directly north, and
onto sunset for each of the positions. The teacher drew attention to features
of the model as it was run and at one point engaged in a discussion of what
it means for the sun to be overhead (which occurs in Jamaica only near the
Here we are/ morning/ (as Erica turns the globe toward midday on the summer
E: How come it took longer to get to
midday then/ today/ then/ this is directly/ (Erica begins to notice a difference
between the winter and summer positions).
Keep going/ alright/ now/ Erica you said a very interesting thing so we
will try this one more time/ Tropic of Capricorn/ (T moves the sun down
to its winter solstice position and they run the model again with Erica
turning the globe so that the tee moves from morning through midday.)
How come/ it takes longer/ It takes more time to like have to/ point/ have
one of them pointing to the uh north pole/ from the cap/ Tropic of Cap Cancer
and Capricorn/ Cancer and Capricorn?/ || hard to explain/ (Erica is noticing
it takes longer to get from morning to midday--when the shadow points to
the north pole--when the sun is on the Tropic of Cancer.)
T: || Huu/
very very amazing/ now/ || all you need to do/
E: || oooooh/ || I see.
T: || is use your head/ and all that
data that you just said/ all that data you've collected/ and what you just
said and put it together and say it out loud tomorrow/
Oh it's / it/ oh now I/ I know/ what I'm talking about now/
T: I think you do know what you are
the reason why it's um/ the length of/ midday gets/ after on
two days cause the sun/ it takes longer for it/ to get/ I don't
how to say it but I know what I'm talking about/
was not unique but was less than common in the classroom. We can use the
interaction and Erica's insight to illustrate four features of sense-making
that distinguishes this episode from many other less successful attempts
captures an important moment in which Erica for the first time clearly formulates
the question that the teacher has been asking the class for over two weeks:
Why is the day longer on the summer solstice than on the winter solstice?
Erica could see that the tee took longer to get to midday when the sun was
on the Tropic of Cancer and her question emerged from this display. Sense-making
takes effort and we can see Erica's struggle with conceptualizing what was
happening and putting it into words. We suspect that having a question,
not just being given a question by somebody else, is a necessary condition
for putting in the required effort. Erica's discovery of the question was
accompanied virtually immediately with a "realization" that she
struggled to verbalize for the next few minutes and even for the next week
or so. But the origin of such questions is a central issue here. The question
emerged in the interaction between Erica and the teacher as a result of
the framework that the teacher constructed, the question that was the teacher's
motivation for the lesson, and Erica's concrete experience that was being
modelled by the globe, tees and flashlight. The question emerges within
the little community of teacher and student not just spontaneously from
2. Coordination of data and model.
In the example, the teacher
is quite carefully running a model with very specific features geared to
displaying the mechanism that causes the days to be longer in summer than
in winter. But the teacher was not just teaching the model and Erica's insight
was not just about how the model works. At each step, Erica's experience
and the data she collected was brought in. That the sun rose in the east,
the midday shadow pointed north, that days changed their length were coordinated
with the model. The fan data that Erica was very familiar with, was recreated
by moving the golf tee under the flashlight. The model made it possible
to re-present the data. For example, at one point (prior to the transcribed
excerpt) the teacher asked Erica to show her midday in Boston. It soon became
obvious that Erica thought that at midday the sun was directly overhead.
A long side sequence followed in which a common meaning for "directly
overhead" as the case in which there is no shadow was established.
While Erica had been out collecting shadow data for almost six months at
this point, she had never observed the midday sun the way the teachers had.
The model made clear the distinction between high in the sky and directly
When the data
and the model are brought into coordination, it is possible to go beyond
the student's opinion and common-sense beliefs. The data constrains the
model and gives the model its connection to the real phenomena. The model
is a framework for interpreting the data giving the data a more specific
meaning. The coordination requires a struggle which we are calling sense-making.
Mastering this epistemology might be considered the central objective of
Expert provides a structure.
teacher provided an enormous amount of structure for Erica and continually
challenged her with questions and examples using the model and drawing in
her own experience. In contrast, many of the other students working alone
or in pairs, had the flashlight simply follow the tee around with no apparent
plan or no sense that the light needed to be constrained in some way in
order to properly model the sun. The teacher constrained the model for Erica
by concentrating the sun's rays on a specific place on the globe, and in
a specific manner. Within this structure, there was an implicit challenge
to Erica to make sense of the model. The teacher never explained the model
to Erica, she just "ran" it. The questions the teacher asked helped
Erica focus on relevant features of the model.
this structure, the teacher was able to appropriate Erica's remarks and
clarify her conceptions. As soon as Erica began to ask her first question
about how come it took longer to get to midday, the teacher immediately
noted the question and re-ran the model. By appropriating Erica's question,
the teacher gives it significance, reinforcing to Erica that the question
is central to their task together. The teacher was not teaching Erica how
the model worked. She was guiding Erica through the system of relevant observations,
relationships and questions.
4. Grounding in students' experience
is not accidental that the teacher chose Jamaica and Boston as the points
to be modelled. Gathering daily shadow data had become a family activity
over their winter vacation in Jamaica. Grounding science in the child's
experience of the real world is not a new idea. The choice of seasonal change
as our topic was driven in part because students are very familiar with
the phenomena. The phenomena in this sense is the real world experience
available to common-sense observation. It is distinct from the data or the
model which are artifacts useful for understanding the phenomena scientifically.
Disciplined data collection can reveal patterns that are not noticed in
everyday experience. Data, as an artifact, can also be in error. At one
point in their interaction, Erica becomes convinced by examining the model
that the midday shadow will always point north:
Oh so it's gotta be pointing north/ but how come in Jamaica it
east at midday?/
T: Well perhaps/ when you were in Jamaica
you weren't as sure as you might have thought you were about which directions
were which but/ if it's midday/
as opposed to the actual phenomena can be in error. "Hands-on"
data collection should not be confused with experience of the real world
not only because of the possibility of measurement error. The data may take
an abstract form that does not assure a connection to the phenomena. For
example, for many students, including Erica, shadow length was not understood
as an index of sun elevation.
are a critical class of artifacts for scientific work. They are not the
phenomena, they are simplified in specific ways, and they differ in other
ways from the phenomena that are not yet understood. The model the teacher
constructed with Erica was very much a partial model designed to show a
particular relationship. The globe was not tilted and was not revolving
around the sun. In fact, the sun was moving up and down. In science instruction
the artifactual nature of the model is often not communicated. The instructional
objective is to master the model rather than understand the phenomena. The
interaction with Erica may have been successful because it was grounded
in her experience but also because both the data and the model were treated
as artifacts that are useful in coming to an understanding.
More Common Example: Dissociation of Data and Model
Another episode that occurred two weeks
earlier illustrates a more frequently observed pattern in which the features
of sense-making we have outlined are to a large extent absent. For this
lesson, the specific data was the length of day in Boston collected by the
class from the newspaper over a period of several months spanning the winter
solstice. Erica's group, the NKASS (new kids at Stratton School) consisted
of Erica and Leah (the third member was missing). T:
So we need NKASS t'be next then/
E: Uh we think that like from/ September
first to the winter solstice the days keep getting uh/ L:
L: And then from the winter solstice
til/ march /
E: Feb 14 today/ the days are getting
T: Kay/ that's your pattern/ now why
do you think that happens Erica let's do why you think that happens before
you write it//
E: Uhm/ well because for the winter
solstice it's the shortest day of the year/ so from the winter solstice
the days keep getting longer/ and like/ cause like the sun/ well cause like
you go like this/ right/ this is summer/ when like/ cause we're facing the
earth and then it turns and then this is spring/ and when the sun's away
from us/ this is/ (Erica carries the globe walking around Leah who is holding
the sun. She correctly maintains the tilt of the axis as she moves around.)
E: Winter for us but it's summer for
here/ (indicating the southern hemisphere)
T: Uh huh/
E: And then it turns like this and it's/
fall here but its spring here/ then/ it turns around/ this is summer and
this is winter// (continues walking around Leah)
this point, the teacher has them walk through the positions of the earth
for each of the seasons that she calls out.
Alright// now/ are you ready?/ let's start with/ summer/ show us summer/
all right show us winter/ show us summer/ show us winter/ all right/ spring/
all right summer/ fall/ winter/ ok now that's the reason that we are getting
more daylight up until/
that that we have gotten more daylight each day since the winter solstice//
E: || Cause we had more rays/
L: || It's it's the sun's getting
closer/ in summer (?)//
teacher now tries to define more closely the difference between getting
closer and turning towards something and asks the students if they were
giving a theory of the sun moving to which the students answered no.
T: Now I didn't see you move
the sun at all Leah I saw Erica you || move the earth a lot//
|| The earth the earth's getting closer because/
No the earth/
L: || Well
it's turning towards it/
|| (?) different?/ It goes like (Erica models)
The earth's turning towards the sun?//
T: But getting
closer and turning towards it are two different things//
It doesn't get closer//
I'm turning/ towards you now/ but I'm not getting any closer to you/ I'm
turning away from you but I haven't gotten any further away/ I haven't moved/
other than the way that I'm facing// (teacher models)
(?) that's what/
are you giving me a theory that has the sun moving or not?//
L: No the sun/ ||
E: || Stays/ yeah
and then like the earth goes/
Goes like around//
(?) (Erica models)
What are you showing me now Erica?//
This is this is how the sun like the earth would go//
E: All year//
T: All year ok/ all right/ now/
can you write your theories please?//
episode is fundamentally different from the one in which the teacher worked
one-to-one with Erica. First, the question being addressed was unclear.
The teacher overtly asked them to explain the pattern of day length. However,
at this point in the curriculum, the students were well aware that the objective
was to get the theory of seasonal change. While Erica says she is explaining
the data, the demonstration is a rendition of the model of seasonal change.
She marks the transition between discussing the data and displaying the
model with the phrase "well cause like you go like this," suggesting
that she is about to enact a commonly known model. The performance appears
to come more from the students' sense-making about the curriculum than from
questions about the phenomena nominally under discussion.
the model they demonstrate and the data they report are not in contact.
The data was about day length but the model was about the earth facing the
sun or the sun being away from the earth. The model did not include the
earth spinning on its axis which would seem to be necessary for an explanation
of day length. Only in some vague way, can "the sun's away from us"
and "cause we had more rays" be considered a cause of shorter
days. This level of description is not a specific mechanism so much as a
the teacher does not put any constraints on the modelling activity or challenge
the students with alternative models or unaccounted for data. Her questions
at the end are clarifications not challenges. She establishes that the girls
are not asserting that the sun moves. The teacher did not use the NKASS
model as part of a class discussion of the question of why day length changes;
there was no attempt to compare it with other theories or to draw out its
strong points. The episode was structured as a recitation and correction
of the model rather than an opportunity for the class to construct an understanding.
Fourth, both the data and the
model appeared unconnected to any personal experience. The disengagement
of Erica in this episode compared to the episode described earlier is striking.
The objective was a demonstration of the model not an understanding of the
phenomena of changing day length. The model has taken over. It no longer
has a role as a useful artifact in trying to understand the real world.
Without a grounding in a phenomena, the data and the model have drifted
apart in spite of the explicit attempt in this lesson to explain specific
data using a model.
Effect of Our Curriculum Design
can trace the origin of the dissociation of the data and the model to the
curriculum design that was developed in a week-long summer workshop. The
goal of the workshop was to compile a sequence of classroom activities that
had as their goal teaching the seasons while providing the students with
hands-on data collection activities and modelling activities. During the
initial two days, the researchers conducted discussions of our general approach
to inquiry, gave suggestions for the use of database and simulation technology
and, with the help of an astrophysicist, covered background content about
seasonal change. For the next three days, the teachers with assistance from
the researchers compiled a set of activities each tied to a learning objective.
These were recorded on file cards and then ordered on a timeline. Combined
with notes about text and other resources, this sequence of activities became
the curriculum plan that was carried out to a greater or lesser degree in
the participating classrooms.
account for the absence of sense-making in the NKASS example points to this
initial curriculum plan as a important determinant. The curriculum plan
we believe was typical of school curricula which are essentially taxonomic
in their approach (Newman et al, 1989). In this case, the set of categories
were the components of the earth-sun system model including the fact that
the earth is round, latitude and longitude, rotation, revolution, the fact
that the earth is tilted toward the north star and so on. Essentially, this
sequence classroom activities that constituted the curriculum decomposed
the theoretical model into aspects that could be illustrated in modelling
activities. That is, the ultimate curriculum objective, considered as the
earth-sun model, was decomposed into its parts and taught separately. The
modelling activities that were developed were subordinated to these topics.
Data collection activities were also planned but not clearly integrated
with the topic sequence. That is, the data collection activities were not
tied to the specific topics which formed the curriculum sequence. From the
beginning then, the hands-on data collection and the modelling activities
were not integrated. As this plan was implemented in the different schools,
the data collection activities were either not done to any significant degree
or were conducted with tremendous regularity but in such a way that the
discussions of the data were not coordinated with the topics that were being
covered. In this section we document the ways that the model-based curriculum
militated against sense-making in which data and model are coordinated.
Discussion of the model with
teachers began their units with class discussions in which groups of students
were asked to explain why the seasons change. Students were asked to present
their theories using globes and balls as props. Since no actual data had
been collected at this point, the "data" they were explaining
with their theories are the students' everyday knowledge of what the seasons
are, something that Boston area sixth graders are certainly familiar with.
Summers are warmer and winters are colder was the assumed phenomena to be
explained. One common theory to emerge was what we called the "time
zone" theory: the side of the earth that is facing the sun is in summer
while the back side, away from the sun is in winter. Another common theory
was that the earth is closer to the sun in summer. Either of these theories
is consistent with a warm and cold season. More specific data, for example,
that Boston and Japan have winter at the same time or that Boston and Chile
have winter at different times might help in deciding among them. However,
in these initial discussions, the notion that data can be introduced to
constrain the models was not part of the classroom conversation. For example,
in one of these early discussions at the focal school, it happened that
one of the students had lived in Australia. The teacher elicited from Cathy
the report that at Christmas it is their summer season. While some students
were curious or amazed by this, there was no discussion of its implications
for their theories of seasonal change. While Australia's "green Christmas"
appears inconsistent with the distance theory, it was not treated as a specific
challenge to the students' theories. In an important sense, students were
not presenting their theories as ways to account for data so much as expressions
of their everyday beliefs or common-sense opinions about the seasons.
another classroom, a similar initial discussion was conducted about what
causes the seasons. In the discussion, a spokesperson for each of the science
groups explained the theory that the group had decided upon in previous
small group discussions. At one point a student refused to model his theory
by walking the globe around the model sun as the teacher had requested.
A subsequent interview of the student revealed that he was going to explain
a distance theory and felt he only needed to move the earth in and out from
the sun. The teacher, however, insisted that the whole model be presented.
(It has become clear subsequently that many students do not understand the
orbit of the earth at all or see it as very irregular.) This teacher's insistence
on modelling the solar system in a specific way was consistent with his
focus on the model itself. In his view, the solution to the student's misconceptions
was to get them to model it correctly. The next topic he felt it necessary
to cover was the north star which would establish the need for a consistent
tilt. This approach to the curriculum as covering the components of the
model in seen in many instances.
of data with no model.
In the focal classroom, students began collecting data on shadow length
and day length early in the unit. The classes came together regularly to
report their findings, to chart the data, and to examine the patterns. These
discussions went on in parallel to the classroom activities in which the
earth-sun system was being modelled. While a considerable amount of class
time was spent on reporting the data, for the first four months of the unit,
the data were not used as the basis for a discussion of why the days
were getting shorter or the midday shadows were getting consistently longer.
Getting first-hand experience
in the school yard with the changing position of the sun may be expected
to provide a grounding in the phenomena that would prove useful in theoretical
discussions later on. But their experience in the school yard was not as
rich an experience as we might assume. The teachers discovered in the course
of discussion that many students had not been clear on the relation of the
sun's elevation to the shadow length, having thought that a longer shadow
was a result of the sun's being further away. This confusion was a surprise
to us since we had assumed that in collecting the hourly shadows it would
be intuitively obvious that the sun is moving through an arc in the sky
and the higher the sun, the shorter the shadow. The data on shadow length
for these students was not an index of sun elevation but a number dissociated
from the real world phenomena that was supposed to be the object of study.
Their hands-on experience with the world did not lead spontaneously to relevant
evidence that students can make use of the hands-on experience if it is
coordinated with modelling. To deal with students' beliefs about why the
shadow gets longer or shorter, the teachers devised a set of activities
with flashlights and golf tees and other objects that could stand up on
the floor. The teacher did not say in introducing the lesson that the goal
was to model the change of the sun's shadow during the day. The activity
led some students to confirm their distance misconception because, it turns
out by moving the tee away from the stationary light source they were simultaneously
reducing the angle and thereby lengthening the shadow. Each group presented
their findings in turn. Several groups in moving the light up and down referred
to the meter stick and the daily movement of the sun. The students recognized
this model as an explanation for their shadow data. One student also showed
that by moving the tee under the light, representing the moving earth, similar
shadow patterns are produced. Other students suggested an experiment in
which meter sticks are placed at different places on the school yard to
determine if there are differences in the sun shadows that they predicted
on the basis of the model. It is likely that without first hand experience,
the students would not have made the connection between the model and the
way shadows change in their school yard. The personal experience of being
on the school yard allowed the students to move between the model and the
in bringing the data and model together.
the unit progressed in these classrooms, a pattern emerged in which lessons
either focussed on the model without considering data or focussed on the
data without an attempt to use a model to account for them. The researchers
suggested a different approach to one of the teachers who had not involved
his students in data collection. Instead of focusing on constraining the
model through asserting features of it, could he attempt to focus the students'
model construction by introducing data that might constrain it? This teacher,
who had previously worked as an astrophysicist, understood the point very
well from a scientists perspective: the data is what is given, the model
has to account for it. By this point, the researchers had obtained several
data points on midday shadows and day length from schools in New York City
and Toyama, Japan. We graphed the data and provided it to the teacher to
try out with his class. In the next lesson, the teacher distributed the
graph to each of the science groups and asked them to come up with a collective
theory. The subsequent class discussion differed remarkably from previous
discussions that addressed only why the seasons changed. For example, the
first spokesperson to get up began to explain something about why shadows
should be longer in Toyama but then looked at the data and the globe and
mumbled that he had to look at it again because he made a mistake clearly
indicating that he was attempting to coordinate his presentation with the
data. The second spokesperson to get up asked the teacher if he wanted to
hear their shadow theory or the seasons theory. The teacher, quite remarkably
pointed to the graph on the board and said he wanted an account of the data.
With the same level of insistence that he had shown in earlier discussion
about the earth orbit model, he made it very clear that this discussion
was about accounting for the data, not a general discussion of the causes
of the seasons. Subsequent presentations addressed the data quite specifically.
In this lesson in comparison to earlier lessons, students exhibited a struggle
with the data and its explanation. They proposed partial solutions and made
use of points made by students in earlier presentations. One factor in this
change was the teacher's framing of the question which included drawing
the graph on the board to maintain the data as a center of focus. Another
factor may have been the selection of spokespeople which favored the most
articulate member of each group in essentially solo performances but left
most of the students out of the process.
lesson was striking in the engagement of students in a struggle to make
sense of the data the teacher put up on the board. We note, however, that
at the end of the session of presentations, the teachers summarized the
discussion with the following comment:
so we have different theories and they all have interesting aspects to them
and next week I have another proposal taken from some of the information
we had earlier, that we're going to make another model, using these models
we'll see if you can get these diff- you know, see if you can come up with
a little more understanding about it. There's one thing that I noticed and
I think in every one of your explanations that will come out with a little
more clarity next week I think....
the teacher had in mind again was that the models that the students were
presenting did not have the earth's axis oriented in a consistent direction.
Anticipating that material to be covered in the next lesson would correct
their misconception, the teacher did not appropriate the students' partial
understandings or their actual introduction of the concepts into the current
discussion. The sense-making that the students achieved in this lesson was
not taken advantage of as a building block because their models were compared
to the end point objective yet to be covered rather than looked at as the
first step in the students' own construction of an account of the phenomena.
Difficulties in maintaining
the data orientation.
class discussion of the New York and Toyama data was videotaped and excerpts
of the video were shown at a meeting of the teachers and researchers as
part of a discussion of the teachers' progress and plans. Shortly thereafter,
a teacher from the focal school conducted the class discussion described
in the example of the NKASS. This discussion was clearly influenced by the
notion of having students account for a specific set of data that had been
discussed at the teacher-researcher meeting. The difficulty of maintaining
this focus is clearly illustrated. The students drifted from the specific
data to a general theory of the seasons. The teacher was inconsistent in
holding the focus and only at the end of the discussion did she raise the
issue of the earth's rotation which, while not yet covered in their unit,
was essential to accounting for the data.
students and teacher drifted from a consideration of specific observed phenomena
to general characterizations of seasonal change. From the students' point
of view, it is a reasonable piece of sense-making about the lesson that
is part of a unit on seasonal change to consider the real goal of the lesson
to be the seasons. The teacher certainly provided sufficient signals that
theirs was the appropriate interpretation. Students came into the class
with their existing conceptions of seasonal change and found an occasion
to display them. It is difficult to switch gears into a very focussed discussion
of something that was actually observed. The notion that data and a model
can stand in a strictly coordinated relation to each other is fragile if
existing at all for most students. While these students had spent considerable
time collecting and observing the patterns in the data they were now reasoning
about, the sequence of instruction did not provide support for sense-making.
The sense-making task is not familiar to most students and it is easy to
fall into vague generalities.
Sense of Real Phenomena
have identified a major impediment to sense-making discussions that is a
fundamental feature of school curricula that have a theoretical or taxonomic
model as their objective. The curriculum sequence was geared toward reaching
an ultimate goal of being able to reproduce the accepted model for the causes
of seasonal change. With this goal in mind, the curriculum was designed
to cover the components of the model. From the teachers' point of view within
this framework, the student understandings were matched against the template
of the final objective. The missing components were diagnosed and the next
remedial actions were thus specified. The data were not taken seriously
as a means for constraining the model. Most importantly, the partial models
were not used as adequate accounts for parts of the data. Fundamentally,
the data was not used as a basis for constructing the model which ultimately
was to be covered piece by piece.
there an alternative mode of curriculum design that could be more successful?
Accepting the objective of understanding seasonal change, a sequence that
is phenomena-based rather than model-based may help. That is, we could start
by defining the objective as understanding the phenomena rather than
understanding the accepted model. It may be useful to decompose the topic
into phenomena such as the cycle of day and night, the climate zones and
then seasonal change. Each phenomena has it's own data and model but each
is a coherent problem about which the students can ask specific questions.
There may be many models at any point and even several ultimately--the model
would be understood as a useful artifact to help in understanding the phenomena
but not an end in itself. The data would be collected about more specific
phenomena for which models could be constructed using the information and
modelling tools the students had mastered. A chunk such as day and night
is very different from rotation since day and night is a phenomena for which
the students have everyday experience. Rotation is part of a model that
can account for day and night.
dissociation of data and model and reification of both of these at the expense
of common-sense experience of real phenomena takes sense-making away from
a central position in the science classroom. In the next section, we describe
how technology can participate in the same dissociation.
TECHNOLOGY PARTICIPATES IN THE SCIENCE TEACHING SYSTEM
have described a typical science teaching system in which there is a dissociation
of the data and the model. We find that technology also participates in
this system. But we note that technologies provide some unique capabilities
that can perhaps subvert a rigid sequence and open the way to sense-making.
For the most part, however, in the classrooms we studied, the technology
was used in ways that can be predicted by our model of the teaching system.
We note that the curriculum
sequence was based on the model of the sun and tilted earth that was seen
as the ultimate objective. While the curriculum is covered in some sequence,
the actual phenomena of the seasonal change that the class is studying is
unfolding in real time. We can use this distinction between a real time
phenomena and an abstract model in looking at the impact of the technologies
such as simulations, databases and telecommunications. We can see immediately
that a simulation of the solar system breaks out of the real time constraints
of the real yearly cycle. Telecommunications, on the other hand, is a link
into the real time phenomena itself. While a simulation can be accommodated
to a model-based curriculum sequence, telecommunications may tend to cause
problems for the sequence. We might expect also that different technologies
will gravitate to either the model or the data. In this section, we make
some conjectures about the conditions under which these technologies might
help or hinder the coordination of models and data.
Simulation as Surrogate Phenomena
teachers in our focal school used a simulation called SunLab beginning in
the spring. Two members of the research team also used it in several lessons
taught at the other schools as a way to examine the utility of the technology
in contrasting approaches. SunLab simulates the earth-sun system and offers
several views including a view of the solar system, a view of the sun's
path through the dome of the sky and several combination views. A view is
also available that shows a person standing on the ground creating a shadow
with a meter stick. With a click of the mouse the elevation of the midday
sun in degrees was displayed. Any location on earth can be examined. For
any location, the student can view a day, hour by hour, in any month or
move through the months holding the hour constant.
simulation such as SunLab is both a model of the phenomenon and, when the
simulation runs, a generator of data. In the classroom, however, SunLab
serves as a surrogate for the phenomena rather than the kind of theoretical
model used in science. That is, in contrast to simulation models used in
scientific research, SunLab cannot be modified to model empirical data.
SunLab is not treated as hypothetical.
the context of this project SunLab was, for the most part, integrated into
the sequence of instruction. In other words it participated in the dissociation
of data and model. Mainly it was used as a data collection device, but at
times it was used as a "model" albeit with the understanding of
the term "model" as noted above.
initial introduction of SunLab into the classrooms was very different, depending
upon the teacher. In one case Sun Lab was put in the back of the room so
that students who were finished with their projects could experiment with
it. In another case the teacher afforded only a few privileged students
the opportunity to work with the simulation. In that school, the program
was introduced to the class by a researcher who provided a worksheet with
questions that could be answered by inspecting the helio-centric views of
the earth and sun. Questions such as "Is Australia in the hemisphere
that is tilted toward the sun in August?" were intended to draw students
into the earth-sun model as it was run through a yearly cycle. This focus
on the model contrasted with a purely data orientation in the focal school.
In the case of our focal
school, the two teachers used SunLab in whole class sessions in a computer
lab, controlling the introduction of SunLab to the class, and allowing the
students little freedom for the first month or so. These teachers, in keeping
with their commitment not to teach the whole model directly, only allowed
the students to use the "dome of the sky" view, that is the geocentric
view from which data could be collected. The teachers had the students use
SunLab as a data collection device--students filled out sheets of paper
on day length, angle of sun, etc. for a variety of different places. Most
of the data they collected was used to help create posters for a "Sun
Festival," the final presentation at the end of the school year for
the parents and friends of the school. As a data-generation device, the
SunLab simulation had advantages over hands-on data collection since the
data can be collected at any time during the year and data for sites that
would be difficult or impossible to get data from, such as the Tropic of
Capricorn or the north pole can be obtained easily.
of the researchers working in another school also experimented with collection
of data from SunLab as a preliminary to a class discussion within the same
period. In a sequence of two lessons, pairs of students were assigned to
each of the ten computers in the computer lab. Each computer had been loaded
with a different city or other location, e.g., the north pole. Students
were given a blank graph with months of the year on the x-axis and elevation
in degrees on the y-axis and asked to use SunLab to collect the data for
their location. In about 10 minutes, students had filled in their graphs.
A discussion began with a comparison between Boston and Istanbul and the
question, why are the graphs the same? Students specifically addressed the
data which was copied from their separate graphs to a larger graph on the
blackboard as required by the ongoing discussion. The researcher/teacher
got students to model their conjectures using a globe and overhead projector
as a light source. As in the focal school, the class's use of SunLab did
not go beyond the dome of the sky view. The models provided by SunLab were
not brought into the discussion.
the teachers in the focal school avoided the views that displayed the heliocentric
model, it began to come into play when inadvertently two students, Billy
and John, found themselves in one of the three part views that had an earth
moving around a sun, a large earth which rotated on it's axis, and a smaller
dome of the sky view. They were ecstatic exclaiming that this view has it
all, it's all right here, etc. They immediately tried to show some of their
friends and to keep it hidden from the teacher who asked them to go back
to the dome of the sky when she found out. During the course of the next
few weeks the researcher found them occasionally surreptitiously sneaking
peeks at other views.
the students continued to work with the dome of the sky view over the next
few weeks until a lesson in which the teacher asked the students whether
or not a certain place in the USSR with the same latitude and longitude
as Boston had the same seasons as Boston. The task was not specifically
to collect data in the sense that the students did not bother getting out
their notebooks to record anything. Nevertheless, the teacher gave no indication
that the students were to use anything other than the dome of the sky view
which was the only view most of the students were familiar with. While most
of the students did use this view in order to answer the question, Billy
and John went directly to another view, telling the researcher it was easier
to answer the question in this view, and answered the question to their
own satisfaction within a few minutes. By spinning the SunLab globe, they
could see quite directly that the two locations passed through the same
location in relation to the sun during a day. They proceeded to show their
friends how to use the view, and went on to belittle the question saying
how easy it was. On this occasion, the teacher called the other students
around the boys' machine and conducted a lesson about the different views
available in SunLab. Later, in a classroom discussion, the "model"
students had a difficult time explaining to the rest of the class how they
solved the problem since their reference to the two locations being at "the
same location" can only be interpreted in terms of the rotating globe
bringing the two locations to the same point relative to the sun. This was
distinctly different from the observations of other students who noted that
the sun was in the same position for the two locations from the "data"
point of view. That discussion actually brought the two points of view together
in a way that had not occurred previously in any of our teaching.
The commitment to withhold the
"answer" from the students and to avoid simply giving them a fully
formed model to inspect (the strategy tried out by one of the researchers
at one of the other schools) lead to a use of SunLab restricted to data
collection. As illustrated by John and Billy, the SunLab model views are
well suited to a style in which the model is taught directly. SunLab is
not a model in the sense used in scientific theory building and testing
where models represent hypotheses to be tested. It is an inspectable surrogate
for the real phenomena. It is not treated as hypothetical: it represents
the way things are and generates correct data. A different kind of modelling
tool may better serve a sense-making process. If students were able to build
their own models from components such as light sources, orbits, planets
of differing shapes and sizes etc. then the resulting models could be viewed
as artifacts of the classroom scientific community. With this tool, the
model would not stand in the place of the phenomena but would be used to
predict events that could be measured in the school yard or perhaps elsewhere
in the world. SunLab in its current form can play into the dissociation
of data and model through its use exclusively as a display of the accepted
model or as a source of data. The integration of the two components is built
into the parallel views (e.g., the window showing both the dome of the sky
and the solar system view) but the use of those views for sense-making was
not a planned part of any of the lessons we observed.
and Telecommunications: Real Data
the data of real seasonal change is problematic because the phenomenon is
global and takes considerable time to unfold. Simulated data may be more
conveniently integrated into a neat curriculum package, but tracking the
actual seasons may have some advantages in providing personal experience
with the phenomenon. Database and telecommunications technologies can play
a role in gathering and reviewing real data. Our interest in this section
is to trace the role of these technologies in relation to the coordination
or dissociation of data and model that we observed.
students in the focal school used as a database system the Bank Street Filer
as a data recording device for their data relating to length of shadow,
temperature, length of day, and time of midday. The students updated the
files as they continued to collect data. After a significant amount of data
was printed out, the students examined it to find the patterns of day length
or midday time, etc. The discussions which resulted from examining the patterns
in the data did not differ significantly from the discussion pattern that
was typical of the classroom. Much like the example of Erica and Leah described
in the first part of this paper, the patterns were noted and then the talk
shifted to a discussion of the seasons or a presentation of seasons theories.
We should note, however, that when the teachers were only using the blackboard
and charts to display the data, the students struggled with trying to notice
the patterns. The database insured that all the data was collected in one
place making it easier to examine. The database technology serves the data
side of the data-model coordination and, through graphing programs, can
go as far as displaying patterns but it does not support in any specific
way, the development of explanatory models.
collection of real seasonal data has its own pace determined by the slow
real time process. As we saw in the discussion of the curriculum sequence,
the data collection for the most part followed a separate strand from the
modelling activities. This was probably exacerbated by the fact that the
data available at any particular time did not map onto the planned sequence
of modelling activities. One might suggest giving up hands on data in this
domain since data obtained from prepared databases and simulations like
SunLab can be more easily integrated into the curriculum sequence. For example,
a database available for the Bank Street Filer contains data on climate
for over a hundred cities around the world. Graphing the records by latitude
and examining fields such as average July temperature or lowest temperature
recorded illustrates some basic principles of climate zones and seasonal
variation. Having such a database or a simulation like SunLab available
might allow the teachers and students more spontaneously to answer questions
that were not covered in the original hands-on data set. While these approaches
may appear more efficient than gathering data on the real phenomenon, given
a curriculum sequence built around the theoretical model as the objective,
the more flexible access to data may actually give greater support for the
model-based sequence. The hands-on experience, inefficient and disruptive
as it may be, will help to support a focus on the phenomena itself. We might
expect that a combination of hands-on data and data from other sources,
including data obtained via telecommunications would be optimal.
Telecommunications is even more
"inefficient" than local hands-on data collection since it involves
coordinating the timing of instruction across different sites not just within
a single classroom. But this difficulty may not only be outweighed by potential
advantages; the disruption of a tidy sequence of instruction may actually
have positive aspects. The technology can put students in touch with other
students and teachers in touch with other teachers in ways that break out
of the usual sequence of instruction. The Boston area schools we were studying
were not directly involved in telecommunications although they received
messages via paper copy . Two schools that were directly involved in exchanging
shadow data (in New York City and Toyama, Japan) also exchanged a variety
of other kinds of information. For example, the New York class began looking
at the ratio of shadow length to the stick size and the Toyama school devised
a Logo program that simulated the fan data for a day. These exchanges open
up creative possibilities that go beyond the unit as initially planned.
Early in the planning for a telecommunications link in which data on day
length would be exchanged, the teachers in our focal school illustrated
the tension between the curriculum sequence and the imperatives that might
require the modification of the sequence. The data format required a single
quantity to represent length of day rather than hours and minutes. The school
in New York was converting minutes to a decimal fraction of the hour. The
teachers doubted that would work because the students would not have covered
the necessary computation until much later in the year. Participation in
the exchange may have afforded an opportunity to introduce the computation
in a functional context rather than subordinating the data collection to
the established sequence.
addition to forcing a breakdown of a strict curriculum sequence, the telecommunications
link may result in greater cross cultural understanding and may be very
motivating. Obtaining interesting data from around the world as well as
these other beneficial results of telecommunications do not, however, assure
that the scientific process of sense-making within the classroom will be
enhanced. The telecommunication link itself is well suited for exchanging
data but not particularly well suited for exchanging, debating and appropriating
conjectures. The coordination of model and data remains a difficult problem.
THE SENSE-MAKING COMMUNITY
We have argued that the common
approach to curriculum design in which a topic or a theory is decomposed
into categories of information that can be taught in sequence inhibits sense-making
because it moves the classroom discussion away from the objective of understanding
the phenomena. Mastery of the model itself becomes the objective. In that
system, the struggle to bring model and data into coordination becomes irrelevant.
While technologies may provide support for alternative systems, they can
also be easily appropriated to that system. In conclusion, we will review
the features of sense-making that are suggested by our analysis of classroom
events and outline the major problems facing us and some of the solutions
we are considering.
the basis of our observations of Erica working closely with her teacher,
we suggested four features of sense-making. There is a question that the
student is able to ask; data and a model, considered as artifacts, are coordinated
in the context of understanding some real phenomena; an expert provides
a challenge by setting up a framework; and the whole process is grounded
in, but goes beyond, the student's common-sense experience of the phenomena.
Sense-making in this view is very much a socially interactive process. Lampert
(1990) discusses the difference between the usual classroom process and
one that does sense-making as a cultural difference. The process of preparing
a group of students for sense-making is considered enculturation. In most
classrooms, students do not expect instruction to make sense. Michaels &
Bruce (1989) describe the approach of students in a fourth grade class:
...we found that classroom reading,
writing, and problem-solving were constrained by several key assumptions
students held. Among these were the following:
It doesn't have to make sense.
"It doesn't have to be perfect--we're only in fourth grade";
(2a) A finished product is finished,
even if it's not perfect;
Getting it done is more important than getting it done right;
The teacher (or, by extension, the textbook) is always right.
describes the process of changing this ingrained assumption as requiring
several months. Like an apprenticeship, learning science in school requires
more than mastering a set of facts, it is an enculturation into a practice.
in science concern natural phenomena. But engaging students in hands-on
data collection or experimentation with natural phenomena, will not, by
itself, serve the function of enculturation into scientific thinking and
scientific discourse. Students will not spontaneously invent scientific
thinking given a set of data. As Lansdown et al argued, the integrative
discussion or "colloquium" is a critical component of the classroom
science investigation. Students must learn to move between the data and
the model or theory that explains it. The conversation can move in either
direction. Students might collect data first, examine it for patterns and
then develop a model to account for it. Or the class might consider a situation
in which several outcomes are possible, reason from their current models
to a hypothetical outcome, and finally test their models empirically. In
either case the purpose of obtaining data is to test or develop a model
or theory. The process of developing the relation between the data and theory
can be considered the fundamental object of science instruction. That is,
the central lesson is an epistemology. As with the recent work on sense-making
conversations in mathematics, we can see this classroom discourse as the
central method of science teaching. Without at all reducing the importance
of working with data about the real world, we can place hands-on experience
and other data gathering activities in the context of a classroom conversation
that brings it into coordination with a model.
community is the central component of this view of sense-making. The questions
that the class comes to struggle with are not necessarily the spontaneous
questions that children ask about their common-sense experience. Likewise,
the data and the model can be the products of collaborative work. A coordinated
effort may result in a richer set of data. The classroom or group discussion
may prove more fruitful than individual exploration with the confrontation
of differing conjectures. But the teachers' role is crucial and the framework
they create largely determines how the conversation will proceed. While
each individual student will have to have ownership of the question and
will bring their own experience of the phenomena to the discussion, the
community is the forum for the creation of the data and model artifacts
that are the basis for the individual understanding of the phenomena. The
community is also the forum for the coordination of data and model that
gives students the essential epistemology of scientific work.
creation of a working community in the classroom is no small accomplishment.
The function of what appeared to an outsider as a somewhat obsessive concentration
on collecting data in our focal classrooms was to get all the students intensely
involved in the project. The classrooms were enormously successful in this
community building although they were less successful in consistently appropriating
that spirit for sense-making discussions. In the classroom serving the much
more heterogeneous population a community sense was much more difficult
to achieve. The science discussions were seen as the domain of the middle
class students. The minority students seldom spoke up in class or participated
actively in the small group discussions. In one context, however, the researchers
contrived to create a classroom drama scenario that engaged a group of minority
girls intensely in explaining to a drama teacher/researcher why spring happened.
This one event has provided at least an initial insight that the problem
for their earlier lack of participation was not an issue of the subject
matter. Creating a community that will sustain sense-making for all the
students is the central problem facing us.
may provide some useful tools for creating this community. Telecommunications
links to other cultures may help in providing contexts in which the minority
cultures in the classroom have specific values for the local community.
We can also consider the function of local communication systems via local
area networks in the school. Projects such as CSILE (Scardamalia, Bereiter,
McLean, Swallow & Woodruff, 1989) and Earth Lab (Newman, Goldman, Brienne,
Jackson and Magzamen, 1989) are showing how the communication and data sharing
functions of local networks can help to create the local scientific community
in the school. As we consider the design of database systems and simulation
modelling systems, the ways that data and models will be shared and collaborated
on can be built in from the start. Likewise the communication links to classrooms
and other resources outside the school can be integrated with the local
system for sharing, giving the local community additional resources for
Brown, J.S., Collins, A. & Duguid,
P. (1989) Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational
Researcher, 18 (1) 32-42.
J. S. (1966). On cognitive growth. In J. S. Bruner, R. R. Olver, & P.
M. Greenfield (Eds.), Studies in cognitive growth. New York: Wiley.
Collins, A. (in press). Toward
a Design Science of Education. In E. Scanlon and T. O'Shea (Eds.), New
Directions in Educational Technology. New York: Springer Verlag.
Collins, A., Brown, J. S., &
Newman, S. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: teaching the craft of reading,
writing, and mathematics. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Cognition and instruction:
Issues and agendas. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Hurd, P.D. (1969). New directions
in teaching secondary school science. Chicago: Rand McNally and Co.
Julyan, C. (personal communication).
Technical Education Research Centers, Jan. 16, 1990.
of Comparative Human Cognition (1983). Culture and cognitive development.
In W. Kessen (Ed.), Mussen's handbook of child psychology: Vol. I. History,
theory, and method (4th ed., pp. 295-356). New York: John Wiley &
Lampert, M. (1986).
Knowing, doing and teaching multiplication. Cognition and Instruction,
M. (1990). When the problem is not the question and the solution is not
the answer: Mathematical knowing and teaching. American Educational Research
Journal, 27(1), 29-63.
B., Blackwood, P. E., & Brandwein, P. F. (1971). Teaching elementary
science through investigation and colloquium. New York: Harcourt, Brace
J. (1988). Cognition in practice: Mind, mathematics and culture in everyday
life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
J. & Wenger, E. (1989). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral
participation. Palo Alto: Institute for Research on Learning.
Lenk, C. (1990). Presentation
at Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc., Oct. 16, 1990.
A. & Sadler, P. (1988, Feb.) The earth is round? Who are you kidding?
Science and Children, 24-26.
H. (1979). Learning Lessons. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Mokros, J. & Russell, S.
(1988). Discussing discoveries: The teacher's role. Hands On!, pp.
Newman, D. (1990a).
Cognitive change by appropriation. In S. Robertson & W. Zachary (Eds.),
Cognition, computation, and cooperation. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.
Newman, D. (1990b). Using social
context for science teaching. In M. Gardner, J. Greeno, F. Reif, & A.
Schoenfeld (Eds.), Toward a Scientific Practice of Science Education.
Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
D. (1990c). Opportunities for research on the organizational impact of school
computers. Educational Researcher, 19(3), 8-13.
D., Griffin, P., & Cole, M. (1989). The construction zone: Working
for cognitive change in school.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Newman, D., Goldman, S.V., Brienne,
D., Jackson, I., & Magzamen, S. (1989). Computer mediation of collaborative
science investigations. Journal of Educational Computing Research,
STAR (1988a) The private universe (video). Santa Monica, CA: Pyramid
Resnick, L. B.
(1987). Learning in school and out. Educational Researcher, 16 (9),
Rogoff, B. &
Lave, J. (19 ). Everyday cognition: Its development in social context.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
M.B. (1978). Teaching science as continuous inquiry. New York: McGraw
Bereiter, C., McLean, R.S., Swallow, J. & Woodruff, E. (1989). Computer
supported intentional learning environments, Journal of Educational Computing
Research, 15(1), 51-68.
A. (in press). On mathematics as sensemaking: An informal attack on the
unfortunate divorce of formal and informal mathematics. In. D.N. Perkins,
J.Segal, & J.Voss (Eds.) Informal reasoning and education. Hillsdale,
J. W. & Perry, M. (1988) Mathematics learning in Japanese, Chinese and
American classrooms. In G.B Saxe & M. Gearhart (Eds.) Children's
Mathematics. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological
processes (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman,
Eds.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
L. S. (1986). Thought and language. (A. Kozulin, Ed.) Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press.
[ Home | About CCT | Projects | Newsletters | Reports | Staff | Links | EDC Home ]
Last Update: 11/18/96
Comments on the CCT Web site: Webspinner.
©1996 Education Development Center, Inc. All Rights Reserved.