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

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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