Saturday, February 27, 2010

Modeling vs. Simulation

For awhile I've been skeptical about simulations. I've seen teachers struggling to implement inquiry reach for simulations when they can't do actual data collection, but I'm skeptical because of the lack of real data. Today, though, I saw how modeling can fit well with inquiry.

The picture shows my son David participating in an activity at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. The students' challenge was to design with Silly Putty a shape that fell very slowly in water. They were simulating zooplankton and how it's adapted to fall slowly through the water. I realized just a change in view could take this non-inquiry activity to an inquiry investigation. If the students are modeling, and the model is a good one, then they can actually collect data from their model's behavior.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Geriatrics Education Conference Follow-Up

If you're looking for the resources that I'll mention in my session at UAB's Geriatrics Education Conference , you can find most of them in my 26 Aug 2009 blog post. Of course, you'll also want to explore Prezi!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Teaching Evolution & Civil Discourse

Teachers always ask me, "What should I do when students say, 'What do you believe?'" I've been thinking about that question ever since The Missing Link came out. I wrote about that issue in the last chapter and outlined an approach, but I've also had a several new thoughts about civil discourse.

One of the big problem with evolution, and with teaching it, is the lack of civil discourse. Emotions begin to simmer, and words get heated. I got called "evolutionist" and "creationist" on the same day soon after The Link came out. Since then, I've also been called "heretic" and "atheist" None of this is civil discourse. Name calling doesn't help either side, and both the creationist side and the evolution side have done their share of name calling.

So, I'm trying to imagine a classroom where children can talk civilly about evolution, especially children in a public school who come from diverse backgrounds. I used to think that teachers should work to minimize personal conversations while students are learning evolution in an effort to minimize controversy, but now I realize that approach probably just doesn't work. Any time students are engaged in inquiry, they're going to have sidebar conversations about personal matters. Adults, as well as children, do that when they work in groups. So, I realize now that teachers can't shut down the personal conversations that are going to happen as students are learning about evolution. I'm not even sure that they should, even if they could.

I've also been thinking about the civil discourse that we hope happens in a democratic society. People are always going to disagree, and the trick is how to handle the tough conversations. I'm starting to realize that evolution is a good opportunity for teachers to help their students learn some of the skills of civil discourse. Rather than shutting down the personal conversations about "Well, I believe..." that will certainly come up when public school students are learning about evolution, I'm beginning to catch a vision of how a skilled teacher could be present in those discussions, guiding students to understand what civil discourse looks like when people disagree on deeply felt issues. Learning about evolution could be an opportunity for student to learn some life lessons about handling a whole range of controversial issues.

It's a tough topic for teachers to tackle, but I have a lot of faith in science teachers. I bet they can figure out what civil discourse looks like with their students.