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WP6a: Supporting student inquiry in science

CYCO will produce three separate small-scale [by small scale we mean 4-6 3-hour meetings] training packages on helping teachers to develop teaching strategies that can support student abilities for scientific inquiry. The training packages will seek in  particular to develop teachers' abilities to identify, interpret, and appropriately respond to their in-class students' scientific thinking. The first training package will focus on kindergarten science education, the second on elementary science education and the third on computer-supported modeling-based learning in science.

Rationale

Assessing student thinking is challenging work, whether during class by "instinct" because there is little time for more, or after class when there is more time for explicit  reflection.  In very few professional development programs is there any specific preparation for this, but the needs are clearly great.  Teachers need to develop their in-class "instincts," what they can see and respond to with little reflection, which can  only happen by practicing and developing perception in deliberate, explicit reflection.  More generally, they need to develop a stance of inquiry toward their students' understanding, both in class and out, developing their perceptions and intentions as  they gain new insights and revise old ones.  To be sure, developing these abilities depends largely on the teachers' preparation  and later professional development in teaching science.  Teachers who are not themselves comfortable reasoning about scientific ideas would not be in a position to reason substantively about their students' scientific ideas.

One obvious difficulty with  this is the risk that such teachers may affirm students' statements that sound correct but do not necessarily reflect good understanding, or that they may contradict students' productive ideas they do not recognize as valid because the students  express them in their own language.    That is to say, the need for teachers to develop diagnostic abilities suggests an  additional pressure on the need for professional development.  In particular, it is not sufficient that teachers acquire an understanding of a particular body of knowledge, because their students will present them with ideas not covered in their  undergraduate courses. They need to be able to reason about their students' ideas, to reflect from the students' perspective on the ideas' merits and liabilities, and to give substantive responses.

Even teachers who are themselves capable and competent as scientists may not be prepared to diagnose their students' reasoning, especially with respect to its merits  as inquiry.  For teachers familiar with established ideas, the errors and vaguenesses of student thinking are most salient, judged against the accepted ideas.   Along with the three small-scale training packages, WP6 will also produce a trainer guide that will discuss issues related on how to use and implement each of the training packages, their rational, purposes and explanation of the range of activities  included in the training packages. (products: 6.1 packages; 6.2 guide)

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