NARST and AERA: Reflections on 2010 Conferences

Melissa Braaten, University of Washington

NARST 2010 Philadelphia

For this year’s NARST conference in Philadelphia I had the opportunity to bring a high school teacher, Bethany Sjoberg, who has been a participant and collaborator on our research projects for the past four years. Having her attend sessions with me allowed me to see research in science education through new eyes as Bethany reflected about connections between conference presentations and her classroom practices. The highlight of NARST for us was a poster symposium: Developing the Skills and Practices of Modeling featuring work from researchers at Vanderbilt, Michigan State, and Northwestern examining how students reason with models and learn about models and modeling both within a specific science content domain and across various science domains. Additionally, these projects raise important questions about supporting teachers who are working to take a model-based approach to science teaching despite their own unfamiliarity with models and modeling.

In his discussion of the projects, Bill Sandoval pointed to two questions that resonated with the work that I am currently doing with my research team. First, how can we shed light on the day-to-day decisions and practices made by researchers when working to support teachers learning to engage in ambitious pedagogical practices like model-based inquiry? Second, how can we expand our design research to build stronger theory about teacher learning and the development of instructional practices? Our team has learned so much over the past four years by working closely with teachers, listening to how they wrestle with students’ science ideas, and listening to how they talk to one another about their practice. As we listen to our teacher participants, we hear themes that were also raised within the poster symposium:

  • How can we navigate the tensions felt between the norms of taking a model-based approach to science teaching & learning and the norms typical of schooling?
  • How can we help teachers embark on the risky practice of allowing students to theorize and think abstractly for themselves?
  • How can we navigate the tension between working with students to generate consensus models while also supporting the development of students' individual models to explain phenomena?
  • How do we envision teachers working with students to explore competing models and explanations, and what are the roles of multiple, alternative models and explanations in lieu of priviledging normative, consensus models?

AERA 2010 Denver

Two sessions stood out for me from my 2010 AERA experience. Each of these sessions raised questions – and potential lines of research – that are on the horizon for scholars in science and math education working closely with teachers.

Question #1: How can science and technology studies inform science education – and how might science education inform science and technology studies?

A panel of John Rudolph, Phil Bell, and Jonathan Osbourne chaired by Noah Feinstein with Dick Grandy as the discussant raised this question as they explored connections between literature in science studies and projects in science education. The panelists suggest that some major themes within STS may be of use for science education such as helping science educators engage in “boundary work” to re-define for themselves the kinds of ideas and practices that “count” in science and, particularly, in school science. As Phil Bell points out, science educators do not have to start from scratch – frameworks for thinking about scientific ideas and practices already exist in the STS literature and these can be helpful guides for practices such as argumentation, explanation, and modeling. Grandy raised a critical point that STS literature can help inform science education in two seemingly paradoxical ways: 1) it highlights the disunity of practices within the sciences affording broader horizons for science education, and 2) it points to a collection of common practices that unify the sciences informing some potential core practices for science education.

Question #2: How do science and math teacher leaders – people who work to support practicing science and math teachers – learn to become facilitators of teacher collaborative inquiry groups focused on improving reform-oriented practice?

This panel of scholars working with science and math teacher inquiry groups is examining an important question facing any of us who currently serve as the primary facilitator of teacher groups – how do we eventually turn these groups over to teacher leaders in order to scale up and promote self-sustaining teacher networks? The panelists’ projects converged on similar themes about specialized math/science content knowledge, discourse facilitation skills, and the development of an inquiry stance necessary for teacher leaders. Scholars on this panel are just beginning to understand how these teacher leaders learn – it will be fascinating to watch the emerging findings from Kazemi, et al.; Little, et al.; Borko, et al.; and Nelson, et al. As teacher collaborative inquiry groups continue to form, this line of research will become increasingly important. 

Melissa Braaten is one of 8 fellows selected by CADRE to represent the next generation of STEM researchers and developers. She is a doctoral student and research assistant at the University of Washington and associated with Tool Systems to Support Progress toward Expert-like Teaching by Early Career Science Educators.