Do teachers understand?
Jan 31st, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I recently had a conversation with my secondary advisors pondering the question, “Can all science teachers do research projects with students?” We came to the conclusion that the answer was no. My theoretical basis based on situated cognition learning theory suggests that a teacher conducting research with students must also have a cognitive apprencticeship in research or they won’t fully understand the community of practice, and thus won’t be able to provide instruction that would reflect real research. We see this CONSTANTLY at science fairs and symposia – students that present research that is no more than consumer product testing, or the same-old replication of a well known question with well known outcomes.

Although I feel (and very jadedly so) these teachers are doing students a disservice, I can’t help but think that they just don’t know any better. How would they if they’ve never received the prerequisite training. In an applied research setting, the project is more than just learning for learning’s sake. There HAS to be an application; there HAS to be an authentic audience. It just can’t be within the scope of the school walls. That is NOT authentic, no matter how it’s sliced and diced.

So I visit with my major a few days later and we have a similar conversation. Only this time it’s about gifted students completing Type III acitivites. There are teachers that do work with students, they think it’s a Type III, and when externally evaluated, they’re just wrong. These teachers are generally never convinced that what they’ve done with students is not what Renzulli has suggested.

Is this perception changable? Perhaps, one at a time, and only if the change occurs within the scope of an authentic, situated learning framework

Jan 22nd, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Here’s the initial version, before edits by the committee. A real signal that I am almost done!

Problem finding is a creative process whereby individuals develop original ideas for study. Secondary science students who successfully participate in authentic, novel, open inquiry studies must engage in problem finding to determine a viable and suitable topic. This study examined problem finding strategies employed by students who successfully completed and presented the results of their open inquiry research at the 2007 Connecticut Science Fair and the 2007 International Science and Engineering Fair. A multicase qualitative study was framed through the lenses of creativity, inquiry strategies, and situated cognition learning theory. Data was triangulated by methods (interviews, document analysis, surveys) and sources (students, teachers, mentors, fair directors, documents). The data demonstrated that the quality of student projects was directly impacted by the quality of their problem finding. The students participating in the study found their problems using resources from previous, specialized experiences. They had a positive self-concept and a temperament towards the both the creative and logical perspectives of science research. Successful problem finding was derived from an idiosyncratic, nonlinear, flexible use and understanding of inquiry. Finally, problem finding was influenced and assisted by the community of practicing scientists, to whom the students have an exceptional ability to communicate with effectively. Therefore, there appears to be a juxtaposition of creative and logical/analytical thought for open inquiry that may not be present in other forms of inquiry. Instructional strategies are suggested for teachers of science research students to improve the quality of problem finding for their students and their subsequent research projects.

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