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RESET Panels: June 21 and 24, 2011

I always learn new things and get more inspiration from ReSET Panels of Volunteers and Educators, and the thought-provoking follow-up discussions.

 
Before the new school year starts, it is well worth your time check out the video of the June 21 panel (with volunteers Peter Mehrevari, Juan Valentin, Ed Rock and ReSET Board member John Newby) at www.youtube.com/user/resetonlinevideo
ReSET also 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 requisite
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.” Not only does this emphasize collaborative learning, I think it’s
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 hesitant
about having a STEM “expert” in the classroom.   
ReSET
has been expanding to reach younger students – early grades in elementary
schools and pre-Kindergarten.
There was discussion of how to present science to younger students; for
example, in observing the distance rolling objects travel from ramps of
differing slopes, students don’t measure the distance from the toe of the
slope, but instead mark the spots the objects stop with masking tape to compare
results.     
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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