Understanding of Science Education Theory & Literature

Posted on September 30, 2010

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As I look back on my entire time in the MISEP program, there is one thing that I think really defines my experience, and even though it is not part of the course work, or part of any of the projects that we had to do, I feel that my change in School Districts after the first summer really helped me grow along with the program. I left school in June of 2007 with the expectation that I would walk back into the same classroom at the end of the summer, but through some luck, and a bit of circumstance, I ended up teaching at a new school district, but not only that, I was thrown into teaching high school Chemistry.
On one of my first days at this new school, one of my mentors was going over my class schedule and looking at what I would be teaching. When she got to the part that said Conceptual Chemistry and Physics, she said something to the effect of “Don’t worry about teaching these kids with math, or anything complicated, they will just not get it.” I wearingly shook my head in agreement all the while inside I wanted to lash out at someone who called themselves a teacher making judgements like that before even seeing the students. That conversation helped to drive my research through my time in the MISEP program. I wanted to find out if students in low track classes perform poorly because of teacher attitudes and behavior, some neurological disability or in their education.
Through my research with my students, as well as through scientific education literature, I saw that more often than not, students in low tracked classes were often in these types of classes for most of their schooling, and were never really given an opportunity to leave the class. They were also usually of the lower socio-economic class than students in more advanced tracks and they tended to be less academically successful after high school than students in other tracks in the school.
The research that I conducted for the first Education course led to the belief that the place that the students were “stuck” in had more to do with teacher feelings towards the students rather than the students ability level. With the knowledge I gained in my first research paper, I decided to continue my research into motivation of low tracked students.
In the second education course in the MISEP program, I focused my research on motivating low track students with teaching methods that better fit their personality and also using alternative methods of assessment such as audio and video podcasts instead of traditional pencil and paper tests. Two articles that really resonated with my thoughts about these students were Chemistry for All, Instead of Chemistry Just for the Elite: Lessons Learned from Detracted Chemistry Classrooms, and Honors Chemistry: High-Status Knowledge or Knowledge About High Status? These two articles are important to me because I feel that they best describe not only my experience in my middle and high school education, but also the experience of many of our students in our high school’s third track classes.
In the article Honors Chemistry: High-Status Knowledge or Knowledge About High Status? The author brings forth this idea of students who are in honors chemistry classes in high schools are trading with a pedogolical commodity that other students do not get an opportunity to use. The author examines the idea that colleges look at honors chem. as the pinnacle of high school science education, which translates into better placement is better schools, which in turn should lead to more career and financial success in life. This is something that I feel that low tracked students are fighting against. If a college looked at the transcript of a student in a third track class, they would not select them over someone who took honors courses, which leads to a road block that these students will have to get over. It is more difficult to come from behind than the be selected off of the front and the students realize this. This article was important to me because I feel that this tracking racket and the effect it has on students needs to be addressed in a more serious fashion than it is currently. Do to this article, I have actually talked to guidance councilors about this phenomena and they say that it is true, and that is why parents fight for their students to be in these classes, even if they are going to struggle, because they feel that they will get further with a B in honors chem. than with a A in mid track chem.

Slide from research project presentation that shows student perceptions that coincide with the selected articles.

The second article that I really felt made an impact on me is Chemistry for All, Instead of Chemistry Just for the Elite: Lessons Learned from Detracted Chemistry Classrooms. In the article, the students were no longer grouped according to ability level. The material was presented in a manner that was more inquiry based than math based. The results were that the students had similar scores in their classes. This was important to me, because I feel that some chemistry can be presented with out so much of the math. The students do need to know how to do it later on, but to get the basics of chemistry, I did not see a need to separate them based upon that standard.
I honestly feel that students who understand chemistry are not always going to be the best math students, but they are the types of students who think through consequences, and find patterns. Because of my observations and the articles discussed here, I can safely say that I would continue my research into the motivation of third track students.

Excerpt from Engleman Motivating Low Tracked Students Through the Creation, Production, and Performance of Webcasts Ed 587 Research Project.

The intent of this rubric area is that the participant has studied and been significantly affected by some aspect of science education literature or theory as a result of some program course.
Passing:
1) The quality of the impact will be judged as more important that the number of references.
2) Evidence: To be provided for where the literature was encountered, in what context, including specific citations and/or specific pieces of annotated bibliography e.g., course assignments that included the citations, discussion boards on the particular literature/theory.
NOTE: evidence is not required of implementation of teacher practice change, e.g. no lesson plans, assessments are required
3) The specifics of the literature or theory selected by the participant should be cited and accurately summarized in the reflection, including a description of the course(s) and context in which they encountered this literature.
4) The specifics and comparisons of the ‘before’ and ‘later’ (i.e., change) of the participant’s practice/philosophy that are based on this literature/theory should be explained in detail in the reflection.
3) Growth is demonstrated through the discussion in the reflection.

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