Syllabus Ideas for a Teacher Education Course

Part 1: For Teacher Educators Who Have Only One or Two Lessons to Devote

A. Idea-Eliciting Discussions using Participation Strategies

Before students can be expected to generate explanatory models for a particular phenomenon, they must first feel that their ideas and scientific thinking are valued and respected. Strategies to encourage and support students' contributions of ideas during discussion can be found in Participation Strategies in the Strategies Catalog. These are general strategies for leading discussions, not just modeling discussions.

You can also download a Matching Exercise for Participation Strategies that can be used to familiarize and provide teachers and teacher candidates opportunities to practice the identification of the strategies. A Key for Participation Strategies contains the full list of strategies. Additionally, teachers can read A Discourse Primer for Science Teachers from the Ambitious Science Teaching website at the U. of Washington.

Examples of Participation Strategies

The Gravity video (11m 41s) of a science teacher using participation strategies will show examples of how he establishes a classroom culture that supports and encourages student engagement in the contribution of ideas and explanations. (You will need to verify that you are an educator the first time you view this.) Viewers should try to recognize some of the strategies being used from the Key for Participation Strategies.

You can download the transcript of the Gravity video episode and use it along with the clip if you wish, to guide identification of the strategies.

In this clip of an 11th grade physics class, the teacher draws out the students' ideas on a question about gravity. Physicists consider gravity to be an inherent force that exists between any two particles of mass, including the force between the earth and all everyday objects. One of the most common misconceptions about gravity is that it is caused at least in part by air pressure (perhaps from pictures of astronauts floating during space walks). The teacher here asks students to vote on what the reading on a scale will be if an object weighing 10 units is placed on the scale inside an evacuated chamber. The physicist believes that the reading will be very close to the same, whereas some students believe it will read significantly less than 10. Here the teacher simply wants to get these ideas out into the discussion so that the students "own the question." He will make his position clear only later after he actually performs the experiment in a demonstration.

In addition, the teacher is clear about topics he does and does not want to discuss today.  Even though he is encouraging the students to generate all of the ideas here, the teacher is controlling the agenda--he is limiting the discussion to a certain area of focus. In some other approaches to inquiry, at certain times teachers will legitimately emphasize student selection of their own topics for investigation. But the focus here is on discussions where teachers have a definite agenda for the direction of the class, in which case they need strategies for defining borders for the topic of conversation. So although the ideas here are mostly student generated, the agenda is mostly teacher generated. These are choices about two separate dimensions of initiative in a discussion, and it is useful to be aware of the difference.

Although this older classic clip was made before texting became a main source of peer-to-peer communication, these students did not naturally engage in this kind of animated and free-flowing classroom discussion. Then, as now, such discussion requires enculturating the students into the norms of a different kind of classroom participation. The participation strategies used by this teacher are both relevant and underutilized.

You can download the "Makes Sense" Voting Sheet (PDF or docx) the teacher refers to.

In addition to our own videos and resource documents, we will link to some from the Ambitious Science Teaching (here abbreviated AST) website at the University of Washington. Their site provides an important collection of ideas and video examples for model-based science teaching. You can view other examples of participation strategies in their video of a discussion at the middle school level. Especially relevant are time segments 0 - 2:03 and 14:30 - 18:03. This clip shows the beginning of a unit on fungi whre the teacher is eliciting observational ideas from students on where they have seen fungi before. Many other resources are available on this site, including many extended video examples. These resources are especially valuable for teachers who wish to give even greater responsibility to students for evaluating and revising models over extended time periods in order to further develop their thinking skills.

Possible Questions to Consider and Discuss After Viewing the Videos

  1. Which of the Participation Strategies used by the teachers in the videos were familiar to you or similar to something you already use in your practice? Which ones were different or new?
  2. What do you think are some of the benefits of teaching with a focus on increased student participation and contribution of ideas? What are some of the challenges of this type of teaching?
  3. Pick a teacher statement in the transcript that you find interesting. What else could a teacher say here that might work?
  4. Which of the Participation Strategies from the list would you consider adding to your practice and why?

To learn more about engaging learners in sharing their ideas and their scientific thinking, you can read pages 1-5 of the Eliciting Students Ideas Primer, also from the AST website. These pages cover how to elicit ideas about observations. (They assume the teacher has displayed and asked about a Puzzling Event, also called an Anchoring Event. Later pages of this primer can be assigned in Part 2 below.) Their Eliciting Students Ideas Tool, at the same link, is also a helpful accompanying resource for use in preparing for and teaching a lesson.

The Participation Strategies are useful for leading any discussion, but they are not sufficient to promote student modeling in science instruction. However, they are important prerequisites. For scientific modeling practices, a course should also make time to deal with model generation, evaluation, and modification strategies, dealt with in Part 2. 



NEXT ->   Part 2: Guided Model-Construction Discussions


Files available for download:
Gravity Tape Transcript Vote 2.docx
Key - Participation Strategies.pdf or .docx
Makes Sense Voting Sheet.pdf or .docx
Match Exercise - Participation Strategies.pdf or .docx