Over the course of the past two weeks and through the readings we’ve been able to explore I’ve had a chance to think a lot more about what science is, what makes it equitable, how it is made, and what to do about it. Unfortunately, as with much of science, I’m now left with more questions and more ambiguity than I have answers. So when looking at the question, “How do communities of scientific practice, make, and change knowledge in a field?” my first answer is, “I’m not sure yet, but here’s what I’ve discovered…” So far it feels like the combination of the three principles of science we’ve discussed: a) science as a model-based or modeling enterprise, b) science as a concept-formation enterprise, and c) science as a social and cultural enterprise, hold varied footing in how scientific knowledge is made and changes fields. My perception is that the social and cultural aspects are what really drive change in scientific knowledge and perception, whereas concept formation tends to inform social dynamics, and modeling is the driver of practical innovation, revised conceptualizations, and deepened understanding. I’ll discuss these ideas further throughout the analysis, relate how this might apply to students in a science classroom, and discuss how I intend to make these concepts work in my classrooms.
Collins & Pinch (1998) describe the setting of an epic series of showdowns between Pasteur and Pouchet in their determination to prove that life must come from other life or that life spontaneously generates given proper conditions respectively. Within the context of the time period, and the understanding of microbes, spores, and sterilization each scientist was able to demonstrate different results supporting their hypothesis in similar ways. Often there were assertions that the other’s methods were invalid or sloppy when results didn’t match up with the theory of the critic. As time went on and the two camps battled it out, more and more within the scientific community chose to back Pasteur, and as a result, this made Pouchet unwilling to reproduce his experiments for fear of being misrepresented or ridiculed. This led to the belief that Pouchet’s theories were invalid because he wasn’t willing to support himself. The interesting retrospective is that there should have been spores growing in hay juice after it had been boiled at 100°C and prior to the discovery of such spores, the “correct” scientific conclusion should have been that spontaneous generation was likely in certain environments. Because of Pasteur’s clout however, he was declared correct and Pouchet was determined to be wrong. Though the sparring between the two factions and the outcome ended up being somewhat biased, the result was nonetheless pushing of the understanding of where micro-organisms came from and what might make them grow in a sterile, nutrient rich solution.
Interesting parallels to the historical battle over spontaneous generation can be seen in a carefully constructed classroom as demonstrated by the Cornelius & Herrenkohl (2004). Their study describing 6th grade students’ experience with determining why certain objects float and certain objects sink has an aspect of knowledge creation through social engagement as demonstrated through the Pasteur article. Each of the students had strong opinions about their theories and worked through a variety of experiments and explanations to bring supporters to their side. Like Pasteur and Pouchet Alicia and Alex remained steadfast in their theories as they went on explaining them to their classmates gaining support. When ideas or evidence were brought in to counter their arguments, their revised their procedure to maintain their frame of reference. The biggest difference, however, is that when inconsistencies were shown over and over in the student’s analysis, they tended to revisit their theories. Cornelius & Herrenkohl (2004) demonstrated that students, though often split among partisan lines, did much of their inquiry and debate such that “arguments are less about winning and more about trying to discover their own thinking and deepen their own understanding”. This practice of science led to much stronger and lasting mastery of ideas presented. The social nature of the debate and the need to clearly express ideas to peers in order to win them over was a powerful tool in giving students ownership over the concepts. Cornelius & Herrenkohl (2004) demonstrate that excellent pedagogical practice was key “ Mrs. Garrett presented this to the class as "Alicia's idea" and then turned the floor over to Alicia to explain it. By identifying ideas in this way, students were positioned as stakeholders in their own understandings of the content. In my classroom I hope to elicit similar reactions and conversations to topic we analyze.
As Latour & Woolgar (1979) pointed out in his anthropological analysis of a science lab, it appears that the lab’s job is as a practice of “literary inscription”. The purpose of this is to gain social standing and appreciation of one’s new knowledge from the wider scientific community. As Latour & Woolgar (1979) frames it, scientists are using language in a way as to position their concepts either as fact (type 1 statements) or as conjecture (type 2&3 statements). Scientists constantly do this to their own work and the work of their peers to try to discern what is most likely truth. And as more and more of the community begins to back one idea over another, it tends to be codified as type 1 taken for granted truths. This interaction among scientist, and their use of language and analysis form the dynamics needed for social consensus or rebuff, and is the foundation of the models which are used in practical applications.
The way this style of science knowledge creation might work in the classroom still eludes me somewhat, though I think that from a discussion and argumentation lense many students might be able to form and discern concepts, just as the Ballenger article described. When students were able to imagine being plants, imagine themselves growing and recall themselves growing, it opened up new possibilities and ideas for the students to latch onto. The most important part of allowing different perspectives to emerge during discussion allows the following “the children are excited to discover the importance of their own experience,and their questions arise from this.”
Coming from a background in engineering, I believe that models are the most useful tool for the understanding of science’s potential, and one of the most important ideas for students to grasp. Furthermore, Passmore (2009) suggests that models are key to the generation of new scientific knowledge in of themselves. Through their power in simplifying natural phenomena, allowing our minds to grasp concepts that would otherwise include too many variables, and combining disparate and justifying ideas, models are a remarkable tool. From our discussion with Martin Perales in the Limnology lab, the wonderful thing about models is that they can be tailored and recalibrated to meet certain situations and often predict them within an acceptable degree of certainty. As Martin then elaborated on this idea by describing the scientific knowledge generation process as researchers questioning each others’ models and rebutting those questions in the form of academic research papers. This lined up nicely with Latour’s anthropological observations and conclusions. Each of these items goes to point out that models are inextricably linked to concept generation and the social and cultural enterprise of the generation of knowledge.
For students, my hope is to demonstrate that almost all applied scientific knowledge relies on models, and that their limitations and assumptions MUST be evaluated constantly, especially when their results appear questionable. The power of science is that it informs the creation and design decisions that are made in the world. The cutting edge research performed by upper echelon scientist is what generates the knowledge and know how for new technologies and processes. Models are how these ideas are represented in order to be practical in day to day operations. The more simple a model can be, the more likely it is to be used in day to day operations. That said, more simplistic models have their limitations, and as such their assumptions often need to be questioned. Training students to recognize models as a set of assumptions that need to be internally congruent ought to be the goal of science classrooms. One of the most effective ways of getting students to see that will be having them develop and test their own models. As was seen in Rosebery et al. (2010) and Cornelius & Herrenkohl (2004) when students can formulate their own understandings, the knowledge sticks with them longer. More importantly, as Passmore describes “If students develop and justify explanations then they have participated in science and then have the opportunity to develop metaknowledge of this practice. It is that metaknowledge of how knowledge is generated and justified in science, coupled with the particulars of the major scientific models, that is the hallmark of science literacy.” This disciplinary literacy is crucial for our students’ success in evaluating scientific propositions and arguments designed to mislead them. This literacy is also crucial if our students want to pursue scientific disciplines in their careers. Of course, some of the greatest challenges we will face as we begin our journey into teaching is the vast inertia of the current education model. Having all been trained to a strong degree in a system that we are trying to disrupt, we will have a hard time not reverting to default practices that “worked for us.” Likewise, our “most successful students”, those who have gotten good at playing the game of school and who expect science to give right answers and teachers to provide information will struggle with this different model of teaching. Many will likely be resistant to these efforts. As we discussed in class, we know how to reach 50% or even 80% of students using the method of science learning that we were trained in, however if trying to reach that last 20% alienates the majority, will we have the courage and will to do it? Though I don’t have research to back up my claims, anecdotally, from within this cohort, I can assert that “creative” projects are hard to implement and even harder to get great results for. In our course CURRIC 675 Understanding Language in Schools, we were tasked with creating a Multimodal Language & Literacy Identity Text. The initial guideline was that it needed to be anything other than a paper. The intent was for the project to be a creative endeavor of a multi-modal display of our understanding. Because of the anxiety the lack of clarity caused in many students who’ve grown up through a system with guardrails and clearly defined rubrics, a more confining rubric was presented. It had boxes we could check off and examples of what we could do. The result was that maybe 5 of the 70 presentations deviated from the cookie cutter formula, and EVERY OTHER PRESENTATION was effectively a power point video with narration and the presentation of the exact same material in the exact same order. As someone who created something atypical, I was extremely frustrated by the same 10 presentations I had to sit through, and elated when a slight deviation on the pattern was presented. This was a failure in creativity driven probably by fear of failure or non-conformity. This came from a group of students, pre-service teachers, whose indoctrination over the past two months has been to challenge the system, and collectively, we still just regurgitated our own version of the same content. Seeing this makes me realize that students I’ll be working with will exhibit the same tendencies, and unless I’m bold enough to force discomfort and allow failure, I won’t get different results. But for this to work, I’ll also need to engage my colleagues in similar mindsets and post a unified front so that students can have the same deviation from the old model in multiple places. This will be hard as a first year teacher who’s got limited clout and pull with colleagues. Perhaps it will be doable as a second year teacher if I’ve become established and trusted. Maybe by my third year I can start to introduce these changes. Hopefully by my fourth or fifth years I haven’t settled into a pattern that works because it’s easy and I can continue to push back on a system that’s inequitable or inadequate and bring along other change makers in my school, and in my district.
Despite the demonstrated challenge of institutional inertia, the model for socially constructing science knowledge demonstrated in Rosebery et al. (2010) gives me hope. While the researcher’s goal was to demonstrate “heterogeneity as fundamental to learning”, I also believe that repeated exposure to a topic which gets discussed using personal and shared experience, in which generated knowledge becomes owned by participants is a key to profound learning. Given the constraints of curriculum requirements and the need to get through a certain amount of material, I’m not sure if the discussion model of scientific learning can be utilized all the time. However, perhaps once a week or every two weeks we can have this style of facilitated class discussion surrounding an overarching topic. I believe that if properly selected, these topics, just like thermodynamics was for the students, could become a deeper part of my student’s repertoire as they move through and on from my classes. Though it’s daunting to think that 10-20% of my class time might be “wasted” on non-standard instruction or skills and content that aren’t on standardized tests, the proper reframe is that 80-90% of my time will be spent working within the existing framework. This means that students who might otherwise fall through the cracks might be picked up by this model. Likewise, those who’ve been trained to need “standard” instruction will still receive it. As I grow and develop in my craft, perhaps more and more of my instruction can be channeled into an open discovery model, but as they say in mountaineering, you climb mountains one step at a time.
Ballenger, C. (2004). The puzzling child: Challenging assumptions about participation and meaning in talking science. Language Arts, 81 (4), 303-311.
Collins, H. M., & Pinch, T. (1998). The Golem: What You Should Know About Science. Cambridge University Press.
Cornelius, L. L., & Herrenkohl, L. R. (2004). Power in the classroom: How the classroom environment shapes students' relationships with each other and with concepts. Cognition and Instruction, 22 (4), 467-498.
Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (1979). Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton University Press.