Just Tell Me, Am I Right or Wrong?

Report on RESET Volunteer Seminar

ReSET had a very interesting panel on June 24, with Nsombi Brown (K-5 science teacher in MD), Charity Felser (DC Public Schools Central Office) and Terry Dade (Elementary School Principal in VA).   The big take-away for me is the need to provide children with inquiry-based (also called “problem-based”) teaching instead of content-driven teaching.  Rather than have students memorize an answer, this approach would have  students think about how one would get to that answer. And getting it wrong the first time is okay – it’s part of learning.  If students are building a structure with straws and marshmallows to support a weight, the most important thing is not that the first attempt succeed, but the subsequent process of discussing why it failed, what changes to make to the structure, and trying again. The focus is on questions that lead to getting “an answer,” not  always questions that have a single “correct” answer.  The panel discussed that this can be discomforting to students trained to raise their hands when they have THE correct answer, and that younger students seem to be more open to the inquiry-based approach than older students. When students learn this way they are better prepared for today’s workplace, where the “right answer” is accessible to all in a digital flash and analytical thinking is a highly valued attribute.

Students today are also taught how to work collaboratively in finding answers, another asset required in many professions today.  A technique that ReSET Volunteer Ken Brown uses, which the panel endorses, is opening the class with a statement like “I don’t know what we’re going to learn today- we’ll find out together.” This emphasizes learning collaboratively, and I  think it is also spot-on for science experiments with ReSET students, since things can always take an unexpected turn in the classroom. Such an approach can also put teachers at ease, who might not have a science background and feel intimidated about having a STEM “expert” in the classroom.

Another message from the panel is the movement toward “portfolio-based” learning, for example, science is not only addressed in the classroom block of time so designated, but is reinforced in lessons for writing, reading, and math. When I meet my teacher for this fall’s program, I’m going to ask if I can help with connecting my experiments to other disciplines.


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