Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fall 2010 UTeach PBI Class 8- Sept 21: Rockets, Planning Nets, Hands-on Activities...

Dr. Petrosino began class by passing back the planning maps for the circumference of the Earth problem. He commented that many students may want to revise their maps to make them more problem-specifc and spend time with the content in order to better understand the nature of the problem and how content would flow when doing it in class. He encouraged students to look at others' work in order to get ideas of how others approached the assignment.

Pam Powell, a UTeach master teacher, came to class to introduce herself to students who do not know here and give some of her thoughts on the field experience and scheduling. Students who have not emailed Pam regarding their schedule should do so as soon as possible.

The “Big Picture” for the day was to look at the Barron et al article through the lens of the rocket activity and attempt to develop arguments for hands on activities with reflection and revision.

Before beginning discussion about the rocket activity, Dr. Petrosino showed two youtube videos: Phineas and Farb- “Got these Chains” and Pink Floyd- “Another Brick in the Wall.” In each of these videos, education is portrayed as lacking in creativity and imagination and robbing students of the ability to think freely. He urged students to think about the things we (as educators) are in tension with, e.g. high stakes testing, numbers, thinking of students as homogenous, and efficiency. Imagination and play are thought to be unnecessary in education, even though we know from Developmental Psychology that play is necessary for children. Dr. Petrosino reminded the students that creativity huge part of the advancement of knowledge in any subject area, and asked students think about this as they become teachers. He suggested they look for opportunities for innovation and creativity in their field as this has always been the hallmark of an American education.

Dr. Petrosino began the discussion of the rocket activity by showing a Far Side cartoon that depicted scientists standing around a poorly built rocket saying, “Let’s face it, we’re not exactly Rocket Scientists.” He pointed out to students that two professions have the status of being the archetype of intelligence: brain surgeons and rocket scientists. The way these professions are used in conversation to indicate intelligence give insight to what we value formally and informally in terms of expertise. Developing projects that put students in the role of a practitioner they generally consider to be brilliant has implications for how students view themselves as learners and their own estimation of their intelligence.

The class then looked at an ad for Lockheed Martin that depicted students looking up at a rocket launching and contained text about students “forgetting that they were learning.” Dr. Petrosino then showed some of the videos of the rocket activity launches and the press coverage of the project.

He then posed the question to the class: Are these kids learning? He showed two videos of students at the rocket launch estimating how high they thought their rockets went. One student said, “Close to the clouds” and estimated 9000 ft. Another guessed 1000ft and stated that he guessed this answer. Dr. Petrosino asked the PBI students to offer their critiques of the project, and one student wondered if this was a “little p” project in the sense that students are engaged and having fun, but not connecting with the content to the degree they should. Another student wondered about the internal structure project- how was classwork structured?

Dr. Petrosino went into some detail about the scaffolding of this project in order to give the students an idea of how the class proceeded prior to the rocket launches. The anchor of the project was a letter from NASA that gave the students details about the research they needed to conduct, specifically three questions: Which goes higher: round vs. pointed nose cone, 3 fins vs. 4 fins, and painted vs. unpainted. The students also had data, tools, data sheets, diagrams and discussions as part of this project.

He explained that having three research questions was critical to the success of the project, since the opportunity to reflect and revise is key to success in PBI and ultimately builds self-regulation and metacognition. If there is only one trial, students are concerned primarily with procedures and do not think about that larger questions. By the third trial, the procedures are old hat and students are free to reflect about their results. This is not to say that procedures are not important- the number one concern of most new teachers is classroom management- but rather that procedures should ultimately not overshadow thinking.

The class was shown a video of a student hypothesizing (incorrectly) that a pointed nose cone would help a rocket go higher. [The PBI class shared this misconception.] When data began coming in that the round nose cone went higher, the students had cognitive problems and searched for procedural errors to explain this. However, they were able to resolves this issue by hearing a guest lecture on laminar flow. It is important to realize that direct instruction like this can occur in a PBI classroom- there just needs to be need for the instruction and it must come at the right time.

The class viewed another video of a student being asked about nose cones. Her first response is, “that’s a tough question.” This indicates that, though the student might not fully grasp the principles at hand yet, she knows enough to realize that the question is not as simple as it seems. Perhaps this is a result of PBI for some students: they don’t ask more questions, they just ask better questions- what they don’t know is as important as what they do know. The project then is not about launching rockets, but about the structure and discourse.

More videos of students were shown. One was about students not measuring the proper distance from the launch site, and another was about painted vs. unpainted rockets. Dr. Petrosino pointed out that the content taught through this project was experimentation, and these students were thinking about the aspects of an experiment. This same project could be used to teach math concepts, such as statistics. It is important to realize that the activity is not important itself, but becomes important because of what you can draw from it. It is part of the design process that the teacher/designer is creating.

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