One Sample Solution

Alan dances for science


When students are given the opportunity to embrace subjects that they have genuine and authentic interest in, engagement becomes automatic.

Allowing students to participate in the development of the educational process to suit their own unfolding understanding results in learning that is more durable. It is only within the context of a semiotic domain in which we are affiliated that we can really process meaning and make connections. Facts and information, disembodied from the meaning or the matrix of a student’s personal reality, will evaporate as soon as the test is graded.

Knowledge, incorporated actively into a student’s preexisting interests, becomes part of their expanding individuation and process of making meaning of the world and their lives. This of course is the ultimate goal of all education.


The work of Windschitl, Thompson, and Braaten (2008) on model-based inquiry, which describes a learning process that is much more diverse and open ended than traditional scientific method. I found that the tension, as described by Coffey, Elby, Elby, and Daniel (2010), between this more authentic and realistic practice of scientific inquiry and traditional instructivist educational models  was indeed difficult to navigate. As science instruction moves away from the description of an existing model, expecting the students to only generate confirmation of that model, toward allowing them to discover the model on their own, this decreased control that instructor has of the process can lead the students to fallacious, if intermediate, ideas.

Of course this process of guessing, right or wrong, and then testing, is the essence of the process of scientific inquiry. It can be very challenging to allow students to follow their own curiosity and epistemic process of building models to make meaning of their world. The instructor is required to follow rather than lead this process, they are forced to try themselves to more deeply understand the meaning being generated by the students, which requires an attentiveness on the part of the instructor that can be challenging and time consuming, especially when it comes to trying to assess the quality of the student’s work. We found it much harder to see if they were actually developing understanding of the process when they were not completing it in a constrained, step-by-step lesson, and delivering it in a rigid, preconceived format where they just followed the steps we proscribed. Once we opened the process to their curiosity, it went in all sorts of unexpected and challenging directions.

The work done by many non-scientists such as Antonelli (2011) on the role of art and the aesthetic in the process of scientific inquiry was also enlightening and caused a change in the expectations we had about the outcome of the project. The use of music and dance especially, something we had not initially envisioned, but were asked to include, turned out to create connections within our students that enhanced their engagement greatly.


The primary objective of of this pilot process was to better understand the process of scientific inquiry as the kids understood it. We saw the initial concept, that was, at least among those who were willing or able to express it, shared by the whole population that science was a “subject they learned in school” change considerably during the course of the project. Their expectation that only questions such as those about quantum mechanics or string theory would constitute valid scientific inquiry has been completely revised. Helping them find a mundane question and then seeing that we could answer that question, or not, by using a rigorous process of analysis, model-building and then testing was a revelation to them, that they seem to have completely integrated. This objective was divided into the following parts:

  • Ask a question capable of being answered in a classroom environment.
  • Hypothesize about the possible answers.
  • Devise an experiment that could test these hypotheses.
  • Use rigor to record data during the testing.
  • Reflect and evaluate the data.
  • Draw conclusions from the data.
  • Reiterate the process to extend the depth of the question.

We did discover that this population was extremely engaged and excited by the process, and suspect we can extrapolate this in some ways ot a more general audience. Much more work needs to be done surveying the interests of more typical students to better devise the program components.


3 thoughts on “One Sample Solution

  1. Nesdon,
    As always, a top-notch entry. I am fascinated by progress that your students are making and, almost more importantly, the realizations that you have regarding the professor’s role in teaching. I love what you said about how the instructor is “required to follow rather than lead this process” because for so long, I have seen instructors attempt to ‘guide’ or ‘create’ learning, and that notion seems counterintuitive.

    I have spoken on social constructions of power and privilege before through service learning experiences, and find that more often than not, a great deal of “unlearning” needs to happen in order for people to make real progress in acquiring new knowledge or perceptions. And when we offer students ‘absolutes’ through these rigid rote memorization tactics that more traditional teaching seems married to, I think we just set the stage for stubborn, unimaginative learning.

    In the sciences, there are surely more laws and definite answers, but I think the current level of gravity exists as I type is a great example of why we must let students acquire knowledge in a much more self-driven manner. When cosmic storms and planetary alignment and alter gravity – one of the essential ‘laws’ of science – I think it is time that we reassess these long-held teaching practices as you have so wonderfully done here.


  2. Nesdon,

    As always very insightful comments, I can always count on you to broaden my perspectives.
    Your comment about attentiveness on the part of the instructor really hit home for me. It is an incredible challenge and requires a broad set of skills. In my mind this is why teaching is no longer an occupation but a true profession. It is also because of this issue that talk of increased class sizes, or teaching more periods in a day bothers me. The argument that teachers need to do more just shows ignorance of the teaching process. Instead of more they just need to operate on deeper and ever increasingly variable levels.

    I was interested to hear of your use of dance and music and how your students were able to see the scientific process as an everyday thinking tool by the end of their learning. I had the opportunity to observe a colleague begin teaching her students about facts, hypotheses, and theories yesterday in the traditional instructivist manner. I watched kids write down what she told them to write, and answer of few questions. But, responses indicated very little true understanding. Just telling students to “listen” and continue talking is not very effective. I would love to share what you did with some of the science teachers I work with.

    I also found your comments about the misuse of LMS’s of interest as well. I agree, as with any course, it is only as good as it’s instructor. I have seen and used some terrible online training programs. It is sad when this powerful tool is just seen and used as a profit maker. My one question to you is how you define the “unqualified” that are earning degrees? I feel like in many ways this EMDT online program has weeded out the “unqualified” through its rigor. Do you have a different impression, or have you experienced other programs that are more like “diploma mills?”

  3. At my own school, I have met a few instructors and administrators with advanced degrees from places like Walden, Kaplan and alas, Fullsail, who seemed to actually know very little about their fields. My experience has also been that the admission reps (read salespersons) and other admin who are evaluated based on retention rates, are loath for any student to actually drop out, and put lots of pressure on the faculty to raise grades and allow students who are not up to the work to retake courses. I suspect a number of the ones who have been “weeded out” of our cohort are actually still attending and may complete the program behind us.

    I have been struggling with the paint by numbers approach that is being used here, as I am just an out-of-the-box type in general. I see that the “don’t worry we’ll tell you what you need” technique, one could take almost anyone and, with sufficient prompts, allow them to generate the content that would make it appear as if they had achieved the learning objectives.

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