What ails the Tanzanian Education System? The GPA vs Division Debate.


Yesterday, I re-read a letter  Mr. Rakesh Rajani  wrote to Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda. The letter was titled “Commission to Investigate Causes of Poor Form IV Results” and dated May 13th, 2013.   The letter sparked my interest on recent development regarding education reporting in Tanzania. A few weeks ago, Professor Ndalichako decided to remove the use of gpa in calculating students’ results when reporting exam scores. In arriving to her decision, Professor Ndalichako (the current Minister of Education) reported to have used sound scientific evidence. I quote “”Yes, we need change, but change should be informed and backed by scientific grounds.” Continue reading “What ails the Tanzanian Education System? The GPA vs Division Debate.”

The VARK Learning Theory


VARK is an acronym that stands for visual, audial/aural, read/write, and kinesthetic (Fleming & Mills, 1992; Fleming & Baume (2007). The VARK Learning Style Inventory categorizes students’ into one of these four categories based on how they prefer to receive and deliver information (Lang, 2004). Students who are capable of using more than one learning style equally well are categorized as multi-modal learners (Fleming & Mills, 1992). The VARK Learning Style Questionnaire consists of 16 questions and the highest score received in each category determines a student’s learning style. Continue reading “The VARK Learning Theory”

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory


Kolb’s Learning Style Theory is based on Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory. Experiential learning theory is influenced by the work of 20th century educational theorists such as John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, Jean Piaget, Wiliam James, Carl Jung, Paulo Freire, Carl Rogers and many others who in one way or the other gave experience a central role in their theories regarding human development (Kolb, 1981, Kolb, 1984, Kolb & Kolb, 2005). Continue reading “Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory”

A Survey of the Literature on Factors affecting learning Style preferences of the Learner


Previous studies have indicated that gender, age, and cultural heritage affects the learners’ learning style (Charlesworth, 2008; De Vita, 2010, Joy & Dunn, 2008; Song & Oh, 2011). Studies have also documented that learning styles are affected by other factors Griggs and Dunn (1998). Thus, factors such as these needs to be considered when identifying learning style preferences of the student as they may influence learning outcomes. Continue reading “A Survey of the Literature on Factors affecting learning Style preferences of the Learner”

A Case Study: A Juvenile offender’s Account of His Experiences at Home, the Streets, and at a Metro Atlanta High School in Georgia.


In 2011, there were 34946 juvenile offenders in the state of Georgia (Department of Juvenile Justice, 2013). Of the 34946 offenders, 24319 were males and 10627 were females. The racial distribution of juvenile offenders in the state of Georgia in 2013 was 13434 whites, 18788 blacks, 1983 Hispanics, and 741 other races (Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, 2013). According to Simones and Stones (2012) the state of Georgia classifies juvenile offenses into two main categories: status offenders and juvenile delinquency (Simones & Stones, 2012). By definition, the term status offender refer Continue reading “A Case Study: A Juvenile offender’s Account of His Experiences at Home, the Streets, and at a Metro Atlanta High School in Georgia.”

Diversity Issues in American Schools: An Overview


America has been a diverse country since its inception (Banks & Banks, 2001). Many groups of people have migrated to the U.S in search of religious freedom, economic opportunity, and a better life for themselves and their children (Millet, 2000). Thus, America is often referred to as a country of immigrants. In the beginning, Continue reading “Diversity Issues in American Schools: An Overview”

Do Leader Keys Address Cultural Competency?


In order to find information to answer the question of whether or not leader keys training address cultural competency, I interviewed an assistant principal at a school. Before the interview, I decided to familiarize myself with the definition of cultural competency. Cultural competency refers to an ability Continue reading “Do Leader Keys Address Cultural Competency?”

Micro Leadership Issues: K-12 Americana


In the past three weeks, we have been discussing six K-12 major educational issues related to instructional leadership at the micro level. The issues we discussed were: Principal and Teacher Opinions of walkthroughs, Teacher Professional Development, Administrators Training for TKES/LKES for walkthroughs, The Process of Recruiting Principals, The Number of Males vs Female Principals, and Teachers Opinions Continue reading “Micro Leadership Issues: K-12 Americana”

American Schools: Resource Allocation Is the Problem.


In the past two weeks, we have been discussing eight K-12 major educational issues related to instructional leadership at the macro level. The issues are: Alternative Assessment, Control of the US Department of Education on the Local Department of Education, What Does It Mean for Schools to be Placed on “Alert” Status?, Georgia and Value Added Measurement, Year Round Schools in Georgia and US in General: What Does the Research Says? Continue reading “American Schools: Resource Allocation Is the Problem.”

My Leadership Philosophy


When I started the journey to become a leader in education. I realized pretty quickly that, leadership was all about ones’ values, assumptions, and beliefs. It is my belief that leadership is a journey that consists of followers and a person or persons that leads them. In this mix, the leader creates a vision of what is to be achieved and the followers work in harmony to make the vision a reality. It is the work of the leader to create a clear vision and also to be able to articulate that vision clearly enough Continue reading “My Leadership Philosophy”

Does Affect Impact Student Achievement?


Background: Educators are experiencing undue pressure to perform in education accountability driven by evidence-based instruction. The pressure to show adequate student performance on standardized tests causes many educators to allocate a larger portion of their classroom instructional time to test preparation instead of teaching higher-order learning and thinking skills (Tapia & Marsh, 2004). The shift in teaching time allocation also causes educators to sacrifice other crucial teaching and learning components believed to Continue reading “Does Affect Impact Student Achievement?”

Chimney Tops, Smoky Mountains National Park


There were many good moments in Gatlingburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. However, this one was among the best. And the best days were many. I do not have a good recollection of the events of each day that we spent at the Great Smoky Mountains. I would say, this was either the third or fourth day there. Each day we took a walk in the wild side to witness the beauty of nature. On this particular day, we went to climb and see the famous Chimney Tops Trail.

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This trail is designated as strenuous. Therefore, we packed our rucksacks lightly with some juice, dry fruits, and a sandwich for the Pili-Pili. The trail is located half-way up the mountain on the singularly road to Cherokee, South Carolina. Once you pack your vehicle, the trail start slowly by descending to the bottom of the river. It was a beautiful sight and hugely deceiving of the long and uphill graded hike to come.

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Once you cross a few bridges, steep and thoughtfully placed steps starts. There are 256 steps. Pili counted them out of boredom. The trail keeps going up, up, and up, and up again. Meandering like a giant river approaching the ocean. It’s not the hike that brings hordes of people here. It’s the amazing views on the way up and at the top of the chimneys. I know the pictures that you see here don’t give justice to the actual views there. The 2.3 miles up and 2.3 miles down was joyous as anything i have never done in a few years. 

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Big Results Now: A Simple Solution to a Complex Problem


The tables have turned. Or am I seeing the work of a magician. Enough with the jokes! Seriously, Tanzania has been the laughing stock in East Africa with regards to its education system for a while. We all know that change do take time. Especially, meaningful and lasting change. Change  in education doesn’t happen overnight (read here, here, and here). And quick fixes have unintended consequences (read here). However, I am happy to say that Tanzania has found a magic formula to raise student achievement in the shortest amount of time through its Big Results Now program.

Two years ago, the failure rates at the primary, secondary and high school levels were up the roofs (read here). The 2012 examination results for secondary schools was the lowest in history. However, in less than a year of BIG RESULTS NOW, we are seeing the highest jump in exam results never seen anywhere in the world of education. Has the system really changed? Or is it a mirage?

What I believe is this, for change to happen, underlying causes needs to be addressed. Has the education system in Tanzania addressed the challenges it faces? Challenges such as lack of teachers, lack of quality instruction in the classrooms, teacher absenteeism, lack of teaching resources, lack of laboratories and lab materials for science related courses. In my sane mind, I can’t believe that all these challenges have been addressed in less than a year. Unless you believe in miracles, of which I don’t, something really shady is in the works here.

As they say in Swahili “kuongeza ukubwa wa magoli” is not a genuine solution to this problem. The problems facing the education system in Tanzania are multi-faceted and needs multi-faceted solutions to address them. Quick fixes, No. They will just create a spillover effect. What I see is a disaster in the making. The consequences of which, will be difficult to remediate with simple and quick fixes.

Smoky Mountains National Park


This year we decided to chart a new course for our family summer vacation. We decided to take a path less traveled. Once you have been to the Sunshine State too many times, it becomes less difficult to choose to go elsewhere. I have no complaints with my vacations in Florida. Florida is always going to be the best destination for a summer vacation. With all the amusement parks, serene beaches, and warm weather. I love the place and I could visit there anytime. However, July’s Florida heat can be a turd too much to bear sometimes.

As we were trying to expose our daughter to other forms of summer travel adventures this year. We decided to climb the mountains. The decision was easy. While there, we saw some of the best kept secret places in the Southeastern Mountains Ranges of the United States. Gatlinburg is at the base of Smoky Mountain National Park. Next to it, is Pigeon Forge, the land of Dolly Patton. While there, you can do just anything touristy like amusement parks, you can scare your pants off by visiting many of the Ripley’s scare places or you can grab a cabin in the mountains and live a completely quiet week all to yourself. We chose the latter.

Here are a few pictures from my nature hikes at the Laurel Falls and Clingmans Dome. Enjoy.

 

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Laurel Falls Nature Trail

Laurel Falls Nature Trail

The Counter-factual Causal Inference in Experimental Design


By: Shaaban Fundi

The article entitled “The Qualitative Method of Impact Analysis” by Mohr (1999) attempts to qualify qualitative study design as rigorous and explicit methods for impact analysis (Impact evaluation purposes). In this article, Mohr discusses the problems facing qualitative methods when it is used to study impact. He asserts, impact is fundamentally a causation type of a problem and causation type of impact analysis are better evaluated using a quantitative methodology. Mohr argues that the main issue here lay squarely on the definition of causality. The most accepted definition of causation is based solely on the counter-factual definition of causality. That is if Y occurs, then, X must have occurred. This align perfectly with the quantitative methodology of impact evaluation. According to Mohr (1999) a more defensible version of the counter factual definition is called factual causation. Factual causation states that “X was caused by Y if and only if X and Y both occurred and, in the circumstances, if X had not occurred, then neither would Y” (Mohr, 1999; p. 71). Because of this, causation is better established when things are compared. Thus, causality is derived from the comparison of results from the experimental group to those in the control group. Without this bases of putting two sets of observations together to determine the variance on the treatment variable statistical analysis would not be possible.
Based on the counter-factual definition of causality it seems impossible to use qualitative methodology to evaluate impact. To determine impact, qualitative methods must rely on something other than evidence of counter-factual to establish causal inferences. Therefore, it renders impossible for a qualitative methodology to show the concurrence of X and Y without the use of a treatment group and a control group that is prevalent in quantitative designs. However, Stricken (1976 as cited in Mohr, 1999) offer us an approach called the “modus operandi’ method that could be used to bypass the counter-factual definition of causality. The modus operandi method can be described as follows: It is an elimination process. For example, to demonstrate that treatment T has caused Y to occur, other possible causes of Y such as U, V, and W must be eliminated as contenders for causing T to occur through elimination. The modus operandi is commonly used in daily works of professionals such as doctors, police, educators, and investigators. Modus operandi does not meet the counter-factual definition of causality used in quantitative study designs. However, because of the modus operandi methods, qualitative study designs can be used to determine impact of programs using the elimination process to determine causal inferences. Thus, no variables are needed to establish causation in qualitative designs because physical causality rather than factual causality does indeed produce compelling evidence for ascertaining the occurrence of T occurring when Y occurred after all the other contenders have been eliminated. Moreover, causal reasoning can be reliably used in qualitative designs to determine causal inferences in program and impact analysis.
I enjoyed reading this article because it offered me very practical and useful insights in conceptualizing causality inferences. I have learned that the debate on causation between researchers in the quantitative design and those in the qualitative design is hugely centered on the definition of causation. For the supporters of the quantitative design, causation is defined majorly based on the counter-factual definition of causality. That, causation is determined through comparing two sets of variables (control and experimental values). On the other hand, the proponents in the qualitative design camp sees that causation can be established through the elimination process. They argue that the process of elimination is commonly used in our daily lives without a comparison and/or variables. I can relate this to my research. There are several similarities between my research design and the process of elimination described in this article. My research follows the quantitative design tradition but does not involve a control group. Thus, the causal inferences I can draw from my research design (single-participant research design) are largely a result of better controls of the internal threats to validity rather than the comparison of results from the control group and that of the experimental group because none exists. Thus, as a researcher I plan to incorporate the useful, practical, beneficial insights, and steps of determining causal inferences discussed in this article in my own research especially during the design phase (to eliminate all other possible causes that may have caused the increase in student scores) of the research and during data interpretations.
Reference
Mohr, B. L. (1999). The qualitative method of impact analysis. American Journal of Evaluation, 20 (1), 69-84.

Learning and Teaching Style Assessment


Multiple Intelligences

                In his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Gardner challenged the traditional definition of intelligence as being too narrow and argued that a broader definition was needed in order to more accurately reflect the different ways that humans think and learn.  Each individual, he argued, possesses a unique blend of multiple intelligences (MI) and he opposed the idea of using the same techniques to teach and assess every child.  He defined eight types of intelligences including: musical–rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical–mathematical, bodily–kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. When I took the MI test, I was not surprised to find out that I have the naturalist intelligence with some musical-rhythmic intelligence. This observation explains perfectly the path I took during the early years of my education. I spent four years of my undergraduate education studying marine science and microbiology, two years in graduate school studying environmental science with a specialty in water resource management, and three years studying a master’s degree in science education. Currently I am pursuing a PhD in curriculum and Instruction.
I have always been fascinated with nature and the natural environment. I have been especially fascinated by the interdependence amongst living things, their interaction with each-other, with other species, and the environment. I now realize how my MI affect the way I teach and learn. Furthermore, I have come to understand that my MI could have a positive or a negative effect on my students’ learning experiences in the course. I plan to diversify my teaching and learning strategies to meet the varied MIs of all students in my courses.

Self Assessment

            As I reflect on the strength and weaknesses of my teaching, three things comes to my mind. First, I believe I have a firm understanding of content knowledge in chemistry, environmental science, and ecology. Second, I believe that I have a firm understanding of teaching methodology in science education. Third and last, my experience teaching and learning in two contrasting schooling environment in the United States (urban resource poor schools and suburban resource rich schools) has added tremendous value to my teaching experience.  I believe a combination of all these factors has made me a better educator not only for content knowledge, but also for emotional knowledge, values, and critical thinking skills. Like everything in life, I realize that I am no near perfect at what I do as an educator. There is always a room for improvement. Thus, I would like to improve on two things. First, communication with stakeholders. I have found myself in troubled situations on many occasions due to lack of communication. This stem from my belief that I and only I should handle course related problems. I realize that opening up to others’ suggestions may be a good thing. Therefore, I plan to open up a little and hear advice from others. It’s not a weakness to incorporate others’ point of views into your own. Second, I tend to offer too many choices to students, choices on what to do, how to it, and on how they should represent their work. It becomes difficult to give students a fair assessment on their products especially when everyone decide to do and represent their work differently. I plan to stream-line my assignments and projects to allow for some level of standardization especially in light of the accountability educational era we working under.

 Peer-Assessment

Self-evaluation can be a good thing, however, because of inborn biases inherent to this process I decided to call my co-teacher and ask him to evaluate my teaching. This process will help me to understanding the areas of strength and weaknesses that my peers see in my teaching. Therefore, I asked Mr. Miller to reflect on my teaching and especially the areas where he sees strength and those areas that he sees I need improvement. Based on our conversation, these are some of the highlights and the lowlights of my teaching.

The highlights: He thought I was very good at managing instructional time and students. He thought I handled classroom related issues appropriately, and I do a good job at making sure each student has a say in the course. He also pointed to the fact that I seem to be fair in my treatment of all students and also in grading students’ work. He added that I do a good job in connecting what is learned in the course to students’ prior, present, and future interests. He though I do a good job at making content relevant to students’ lives. He also noted my pleasant and jovial mood. This makes my class a place where every student want to be and feels appreciated.

The lowlights: He mentioned my low-level of communication with parents and other stakeholders regarding students’ progress or lack thereof in class. He also noted that I tend to repeat concepts a lot which can be a good thing and sometimes a bad thing depending on the group of student in the class.

Student Assessment of my Teaching

            It is my custom to ask my students’ opinion about the courses I teach. I always try to give them an opportunity to reflect on my teaching. I find this type of evaluation refreshing and an important part in improving my craft as an educator. This year it was no different. At the end of the semester I created a course evaluation post in my blog where my student could go and evaluate the course. On the blog post I asked my students to rate my teaching on three aspects: 1) what did I do well in my teaching? 2) what I did not do very well, 3) if you were to take this course next year, how would you like me to teach the course? The reflections from my students were as varies as they were interesting. In general, most students enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere in the class. They reported enjoying the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities, creating videos for some of the projects, and presenting their ideas to the class in a form they felt comfortable with. Some the things they did not like were: 1) lack of immediate feedback, 2) I spent more time on easy topics (such as the periodic table and physical and chemical changes) and less time on harder concepts (such as nomenclature, stoichiometry, and gas laws). Thus, next school year I plan use some of the suggested ideas to make the course and the environment under which the course is taught better. I know that as educators we tend to maximize the content and cognitive aspects of teaching and learning while forgetting the student affect side of learning. I plan to pay more attention to the student affect side of learning especially in areas such as self-confidence, how they value the course, and course enjoyment. In my 11 years as an educator, I have come to the realization that when the course is not enjoyable,has little or no value to the students; students tend not to care much about the course. I am constantly working to change that.

Course Evaluation


Hello everyone. It was great to have you in my course this semester. I hope you enjoyed the experience. In my quest to make the course more enjoyable to you, I would like your input. Additionally, I hope you will find a way to use the information you learned in this course in the near future to make your lives better. As we are approaching the end of the semester, I would like for you to share your opinion about the course by clicking this link. It is my hope that you will take this opportunity seriously and that you will offer genuine suggestions to improve the course.

Here are three things I would like you to respond to:

1) what did you like about the course (think about pacing (too slow, too fast, just about right), information, field trips, out of class activities, in class activities and so forth)?

2) what did you not like?

3) what could I have done differently?

This is completely anonymous. Feel free to express your opinion to help me improve students’ experiences in the course.

Good-luck and Happy Summer Y’all!!

 

 

Examining Teachers’ Practical Experiences with Virtual Labs in High School Science: A Narrative Study


CHAPTER ONE

STUDY RATIONALE AND PURPOSE

Problem Statement

Virtual Laboratories are quickly replacing hands-on laboratory activities as the norm for teaching and learning science in the high school setting (Van Lejeune, 2002). Van Lejeune (2002) and Mint (1993) describe three main reasons for this shift.  First, materials for hands-on laboratory activities are very expensive. Second, the use of chemicals in the classroom could potentially lead to lawsuits if chemicals are not properly handled by either the teacher or student. Third, virtual labs can provide a quality experience for students, especially if the teacher lacks in-depth knowledge of the subject being taught. Research findings by Redish and Steinberg (1999) suggest that students learn most effectively in an active engagement learning environment.  Virtual labs, if used properly, can create and foster this kind of active learning environment. Virtual labs also provide a cheaper alternative to school systems struggling with tight budgets (Van Lejeune, 2002) and eliminates the potential for lawsuits associated with the use of strong or potentially poisonous chemicals (Mint, 1993).

Despite the numerous potential benefits associated with using virtual laboratories to teach science in the high school setting, few studies have been conducted to assess teachers’ practical experience with using virtual laboratories and how these experiences can be used to identify best practices for improving praxis among teachers, especially for new science teachers. Results from several studies suggest that online labs and videos can be as effective as physical or hands-on lab activities (Leonard, et al., 1992; Malderelli, 2009; Cengiz, 2010; Gobert, et al., 2011; Tatli, Z. & Ayas, A, 2013; Kun-Yuan, Y. & Jian-Sheng, H. 2007).  In addition, a study among high school students identified a number of positive effects associated with using technology in the classroom (Reid-Griffin & Carter, 2004). These positive effects include improved student achievement and better student engagement.  Furthermore, the individualized nature of technology empowers students to take more risks in their learning and to be more willing to make mistakes. Controversy around virtual labs remains, however, as some researchers (Kennepohl, D. 2001; Nedic, Z., Matchoska, J., & Nafalski, J. 2003; Finkelstein, et al., 2005) have found online labs to be less effective than hands-on labs.  These researchers also found that students preferred face-to-face labs over virtual labs.

Despite the mixed evidence around the effectiveness of virtual laboratories, the use of these labs in high school science classrooms continues to rise.  The purpose of this research study is to elucidate teachers’ practical experiences with using virtual laboratory activities in their science classroom.  Understanding how teachers experience and use virtual labs in their classroom may provide some context for explaining the discrepancy observed in the literature on the effectiveness of virtual labs at improving student outcomes.  

Why Is Organizational Learning Important?

Learning is an everyday occurrence for most humans (Dewey, 1938). The success of the human race, can in large part, be attributed to the ability of humans to learn and to use that new knowledge to adapt to changes in their environment.  Humans, unique among animals, are able to create and share knowledge.  This shared knowledge allows them to make improvements in their environment or organization. This type of learning is called organizational learning (Argyris & Schon, 1978).  To improve practice in organizations, including schools, it is crucial to understand shared practical experience.

Moreover, there are three types of informational knowledge.  These include: (1) the hard and formal character of knowledge (Childreth & Kimble, 2002); (2) the paradigm mode of knowing (Bruner, 1986); and (3) the soft, tacit, and practical knowledge (Takeuchi, 1995). Current research indicates that soft, tacit, and practical knowledge can be meaningfully captured using a narrative inquiry approach (Boje, 2007; Czarniawski, 2007; & Gabriel, 2000). This study, therefore, will use a narrative approach to investigate teachers’ shared practical experiences with using virtual laboratories to teach science in their high school classrooms. It is my assumption that teachers hold valuable personal and practical knowledge. This study will gather that personal and practical knowledge in order to facilitate the sharing of best practices with teachers unfamiliar with the use virtual laboratories as a teaching tool. This information will be especially useful for new science teachers who most often find themselves using virtual labs in their classrooms with little or no training.

What Led Me to This Topic?

I was born and raised in Tanzania. I attended school in Tanzania for primary school, secondary school, high school, and University. I came to the United States in 2001. I attended a graduate program in environmental science at Towson University from 2002 to 2004. While attending graduate school I worked as an Assistant Laboratory and Field Technician for the Center for Urban Research and Environmental Education at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In my capacity as an environmental lab and field assistant, I investigated water, air, and soil pollution in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. After I graduated with a Master degree in Environmental Science, I decided to teach for the Baltimore City Public School. I applied to the Baltimore City Teaching Residency (BCTR) in May, 2004, a program designed to attract experienced science and mathematics professionals to teach in the Baltimore City School System. I was accepted into the program and was formerly hired as a teacher in July, 2004. Through the BCTR program, I attended the Johns Hopkins University for a Master’s Degree in Education from July 2004 to May 2007.

Throughout my teaching career, I have witnesses many changes in the technology used in schools. When I was first hired as a science teacher, I had little exposure to classroom technology and its uses. I found it very hard to implement a new technology in the classroom especially when little or no training was offered to accompany that training. For the past five years, I have been using virtual laboratories to teach high school chemistry.  These labs teach a variety of concepts including the difference between chemical and physical changes, the periodic table, naming compounds, and the concept of “moles”.  I have found virtual laboratories to be an effective tool for teaching concepts where a hands-on lab either does not exist or is too expensive or dangerous to conduct.  Since many schools are shifting their investments from hands-on labs to virtual labs, I thought, it would be important to gather teachers’ personal and practical experiences with virtual labs to inform this shift and to identify best practices that could be shared with other teachers.  I plan to capture the experiences that teachers have when using virtual labs with their students through their narratives.

Conceptual Framework

            Learning from experience is central to the creation of practical knowledge in an organization (Cole & Wertsch, 2004). Dewey (1916) suggests that learning from experience is crucial in connecting the past, the present, and the future (as cited in Liu & Mathews, 2005). This study will examine learning from experience through the Vygotskyan social constructivist lens and also through personal reflections. According to Wolcott (1990a), personal experiences can be used to examine a phenomena such as teachers’ personal and practical experiences with virtual labs.

           Social constructivist theory originated from Vygotsky’s work. Social constructivist theory emphasizes collaboration and views learning or meaning as being socially constructed (Resnick, 1991). A central concept of Vygotsky’s work is the role that social collectivity plays in learning and development (Liu & Mathews, 2005). Individuals learn from each other and form their understanding of the world from their interactions with each other.  Social constructivist theory, however, is not without criticism. The major criticism of this theory is that it places too much emphasis on the role of social and collective, but, ignores the role of the individual in meaning construction.  While I acknowledge this criticism, I plan to use social constructivist theory as the basis for my study because I believe that teachers share their experiences with teaching tools, like virtual laboratories, with each other and it is through this communication that they decide whether or not to use these tools in their own classroom.  Thus, I feel that this theory is most aligned with the purpose of my study.  Figure 1 below illustrates the conceptual framework for my study.

 

Informed Future

Practical Experience

Teachers’ Past Experiences

Teachers’ Present Experiences

 

 

 

 

 

Socially Constructed Meaning through Stories

                                                

 

 

Figure 1: Socially Constructed Practical and Personal Experiences of Teachers When Using Virtual Labs.

 

Study Rationale

As mentioned earlier, the use of virtual labs and online learning continues to rise in in high school science courses. This rise in virtual lab usage has implications on how successfully the learning experiences are going to be for teachers and students. This research will identify teachers’ practical and personal experiences with virtual laboratory activities to help create a body of best practices for other teachers. As noted in my personal and professional narrative, most teachers do not actually receive formal training on how to effectively use virtual labs with their students. Therefore, teachers learn through trial and error how best to implement virtual labs in their classrooms.  The risk, however, is that they will not utilize virtual labs correctly, leading to poor student outcomes. This study will gather teachers’ experiences with virtual labs, including the knowledge they have acquired through the use of virtual labs in their own classrooms.  Best practices will be identified and shared with other teachers who are considering implementing virtual labs in their own classrooms.

Research Questions

As in any qualitative study, choosing the type of qualitative inquiry and the questions to fit the approach is the first challenge. In the beginning, I explored various approaches to qualitative inquiry to see which approach was most appropriate to answer my research questions.  After, much deliberation, I chose narrative inquiry to investigate teachers’ practical experience using virtual labs in their classrooms. In my interview, I asked eight main questions to elucidate teachers’ experiences with virtual labs.  These questions are listed below:

  1. Tell me about your educational and professional background.
    1. Probe: How did you become an educator?
  2. What is your teaching philosophy?
  3. How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?
  4. How did you learn about virtual labs?
  5. When did you start using them?
  6. Why did you decide to use virtual labs in your classroom?
  7. What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?
  8. What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?

Summary

In Chapter One, I provided a rationale for my research study and presented the theoretical framework that will form the basis of my study.  In addition, I reviewed the questions that I asked the teachers participating in my study in order to elucidate their experiences using virtual laboratories.  In Chapter Two I will review the origin and definition of several key terms related to my study including: Social Constructionist Theory, Deweyan Experience, Schon’s Reflective Practitioner, and Narrative Inquiry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

Chapter One provided an overview of the purpose of this research study and described the theoretical framework that will be used as the basis of this study. Chapter Two will continue this discussion by reviewing some key terms related to the study. The terms described herein are “Social Constructivist Theory”, “Reflective Practitioner”, and “Experience”. This chapter will also describe Narrative Inquiry which forms the basis of this research study. At the surface level, these terms appear very different, but, at a deeper level they have inter-related meanings.

Social Constructivist Theory: A Vygotskyan Idea

            As described in Chapter One, social construction theory emphasizes the importance of collaboration and views learning or meaning making as socially constructed (Resnick 1991; as cited in Liu & Mathews 2005).  A central concept in Vygotsky’s work is the role that social collectivity plays in learning and development (Liu & Mathews, 2005).  Vygotsky’s social constructivist theory argues that “knowing is relative to the situations in which the knowers find themselves” (Liu & Mathews; 2005; p.392).  The concept of social and the individual being interconnected is the cornerstone of the social constructivist theory and it provides a valid explanation for social and individual change.

Reflective Practitioner: Schon’s Idea

Schon (1986) describes reflection as what practitioners do to examine their increased understanding of a phenomenon that arises from practicing. Reflectivity combines reflections from both past and present actions in order to improve future actions. Schon emphasizes that knowing with doing and thinking with action must go together because they work hand-in-hand.  We cannot “know” and “think” without “doing” and “acting” (Schon, 1986).  Thus, thinking with action is crucial to improving practice. In my experience, teachers and school administrators rarely use reflective action to enhance their praxis. Part of this research study will be encouraging teachers to use narratives or storytelling as form of reflection in action in order to improve and transform their teaching practice.

Experience: A Deweyan Idea

Dewey (1916) views experience as a continuum of reason. Dewey’s work shows his attempt to resolve the dichotomy between experience and reason.  According to Dewey (1916) experience and reason are a continuous mesh of consciousness most meaningful when connected to everyday life. There are two natures of experiences described by Dewey. The first is “trying” which is related to active experience. The second is “undergoing” which is related to passive experience. Dewey was more concerned with active experience because it involves changes of actions through reflection. In order to better understand the nature of active experience, I identified two qualitative studies that described the experiences of teachers who became students.  Their experiences as students helped them identify strategies to improve their teaching.  Mann (2003), a college professor, described her own experience as a student attending an online course.  From her experience, she identified several strategies that teachers can use to foster student learning in a virtual environment.  Similarly, Sinclair (2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder,2010) spent two years as a student in a mechanical engineering program.  During her time as a student, she identified several challenges that students encounter when entering a new discourse or discipline. She also identified strategies that educators can use to help their students be successful in a new discourse.

 

The two studies illustrate the need to understand teachers’ experiences with virtual labs as it may be one strategy to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Currently, little research has been done in this area, especially among high school science students. My study will address this existing gap in the literature by exploring teachers’ experience with virtual labs using a narrative inquiry approach. In addition, the teachers’ experiences and stories from my exploratory study will help other educators understand the challenges and opportunities associated with using virtual labs in their classrooms, including identifying best practices for integrating virtual labs into the science classroom.

Narrative Inquiry: Stories as a Reflective in Action Tool

Creswell (2013) identifies several approaches to conducting a narrative inquiry. These approaches include: biographical studies, auto-ethnographies, life histories, and oral histories. In my exploratory study, I used a life story narrative approach.  I am not, however, trying to portray the person’s entire life history.  Instead, my questions will focus on capturing a defined time period in the lives of two teachers, namely their experiences using virtual labs as a teaching tool in their high school chemistry course.   This life story narrative approach will take the form of a personal experience story. Denzin (1989a; as cited in Creswell, 2013) states that a personal experience story may be used to study an individual’s personal experience in a single episode and/or in multiple episodes. In this pilot study, I asked the teachers to recall the episodes where they used virtual labs in their classrooms and to relay to me their personal experiences using these labs in their classrooms.  In addition, I collected information about the teachers’ background.  The information helped me to contextualize how their experiences using virtual labs were influenced by their educational background and their teaching philosophy and how the information can be used as best practices for other teachers with little to no experience with virtual lab usage.

Summary

In Chapter Two I explained the key terms: Social Constructionist Theory, Deweyan Experience, Schon’s Reflective Practitioner, and Narrative Inquiry. In the narrative inquiry tradition, stories are used as a tool for capturing practical experiences through reflection. These stories can then be passed on from person to person in an organization as best practices. Brown, Denning, Groh & Prusack (2005) posits that stories are a powerful tool for sharing practical experiences and knowledge in an organization such as a school or school system.

Chapter 3 explains the research approach I have chosen for this study. I have chosen a narrative approach to conduct my study. In addition, I offer justification to why I chose a narrative approach for this study. Finally, I explain how the data was collected and analyzed using the narrative inquiry approach.

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

METHODOLOGY

In Chapter Three, I will explore the reasons behind why I chose narrative inquiry methodology for my research study. I will also explain how I conducted this study from data collection to data analysis, including how I selected my research site and participants.

What Led Me to Choose Narrative Approach

Clandinin & Connelly (2000) argue that practical knowledge gathered from people’s experiences is sharable in the story format.  Narrative inquiry is arguably the best method for capturing those stories and the inherent knowledge to be gained from these stories. In addition, narrative inquiry is a useful methodology for describing an insiders’ experiential knowledge in the form of story-telling (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000).  My intention for this study was to identify practical experiences of teachers (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). In addition, I wanted to recognize my self –reflective knowledge and how to capture the experience of teachers who use virtual labs with their students.

To put my experience with technology in context, I will provide my life and professional history.  I was born and raised in Tanzania. I went to school in Tanzania from primary school, secondary school, high school, and University. I came to the United States in 2001. After I graduated with a Master degree in Environmental Science from Towson University, I decided to teach for the Baltimore City Public School. I began my career as a teacher in July 2004 at an inner-city middle school. Most of my students were African-American and from low income households. 

When I was first hired as a science teacher, I had little exposure to classroom technology and its uses. I found it very hard to implement a new technology in the classroom since I rarely received any training to accompany the new technology.  In 2009, I began teaching at a suburban high school in Atlanta.  It was at this high school that I learned about virtual laboratories.  I began using these laboratories in my chemistry classroom.  Again, I did not receive formal training on how to use these labs. Instead, I learned by doing.  I believe this is an experience that many new teachers face. Since many schools are shifting their investment from hands-on labs to virtual labs, I thought it would be useful to gather teacher’s personal and practical experiences with virtual labs. The challenge was that personal and practical knowledge is often hard to capture systematically.

In the process of finding which method was most appropriate to answer my questions, I started by trying the phenomenological approach. According to Creswell (2013), a phenomenological study, “describes the common meaning of several individuals of their lived experience of a concept or a phenomenon.” There are two types of phenomenological studies.  The first type is a heuristic phenomenological approach which brings to the fore the personal experience of the researcher (Moustakas, 1990b:9, as cited in Patton; 2002b).  The second type is a transcendental phenomenological approach that involves the researcher bracketing themselves through acknowledging their experiences with the phenomenon under investigation (Creswell, 2013). However, after a careful analysis of the method, I came to the conclusion that a phenomenological study was not the best for my research question because my sample size was too low and also I was relying on a single method for data collection which is not advisable for a phenomenological study. To conduct a well-rounded phenomenological study, a number of data collection methods such as surveys, observations, journaling, and photographs need to be used.

I then turned to a mixed method approach. A mixed method study uses both qualitative and quantitative research designs. In the 1990’s, mixed method study design gained popularity (Creswell, 2011). Green, Caracelli & Graham (1989) define a mixed method study as “research in which an investigator collects and analyzes data, integrates findings, and draws inferences using both qualitative and quantitative  approaches  or methods in a single study or program of inquiry” (p.20). According to Creswell (2011) mixed method study increases the breadth and depth of the research findings. Using more than one research method can also help corroborate the study findings, ensuring the findings have a stronger validity. To use a mixed method design, Creswell (2011) suggests that the research questions must include both quantitative and qualitative elements. It is important that the formulated questions address both the needs for a quantitative and a qualitative study design. Again, after a careful examination of the method and the question, I realize that my questions did not match well with the mixed method design.

While examining a possible method to capture teachers’ experience with virtual labs, narrative inquiry emerged slowly but surely as the best method for capturing teachers’ experience with virtual labs and identifying the practical knowledge inherent in these experiences. Narrative inquiry emerged as a new research method in social research in the 1980s (Clandinin & Connely, 1990). In 1986, Clandinin and Connelly experimented with narratives as an alternative way of representing experience in graduate courses at Ontario Institute of Studies (OISE). According to Clandinin & Connelly (2000), an individual’s story should be considered as a source of phenomenon and method. Atkins (1995) pointed to two advantages of using narrative inquiry. First, the story creating process is similar to the self-reflection process, thus, helps to expand experiences. Second, developing stories helps to connect a person to the human experience through narratives. Therefore, narrative inquiry can be used to gather personal and practical experiences and knowledge and to share them with the community.

Data Collection

This study takes place in a high school environment in an upper income suburban neighborhood in the Southeastern United States. I purposely chose my two participants for the following reasons. First, I wanted them to have different levels of teaching experience.  My first participant was a new teacher (two years teaching experience) who had limited experience with virtual labs. Thus, I chose her because I wanted to understand and chronicle new teachers’ experiences with virtual lab usage in the science classroom. The other participant was a veteran teacher with more than 15 years of teaching experience. I wanted to interview him because I wanted to gain deeper insights into the use of virtual labs by an experienced teacher.  The second reason for choosing these two teachers was a matter of personal convenience.  The participants and I work in the same hallway and have the same planning period; therefore, I have easy access to them.

I used the life story narrative to elucidate the personal practical experiences of my teacher participants. I took the life story approach because I believe each and every one of us has his or her story to tell.  I interviewed each participant for approximately 15 minutes in their classroom using a semi-structured interview guide.  I began with an open-ended question followed by a probing question whenever necessary to gain a deeper conversation of the participant’s experiences.  Even-though I had developed structured and open-ended questions for the interviews, I conducted the interviews mainly as conversations. The reason for choosing a conversational approach rather than a direct interview approach is that probing is most effective when it takes place in the form of a conversation (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000).  Since I was using only a single method of data collection and a small sample of interviewees, I decided to record the interviews so I did not miss any relevant information and so I could produce a verbatim transcript for analysis. I used my IPad to record the interviews with the permission of each participant.  I received human subject approval in September of 2013 and conducted both interviews in October 2013. The open-ended questions used for this study are presented below:

  1. Tell me about your educational and professional background.
    • Probe: How did you become an educator?
  2. What is your teaching philosophy?
  3. How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?
  4. How did you learn about virtual labs?
  5. When did you start using them?
  6. Why did you decide to use virtual labs in your classroom?
  7. What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?
  8. What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?

Data Analysis

            After I conducted and recorded the interviews, I attempted to analyze the data through first listening and transcribing the interviews. To better understand the stories, I used the restoring or retelling method to reconstruct the participants’ stories as they were told to me during the interview. I identified and interpreted the major themes such as technology-related problems, when to use virtual labs, when not to use them, and in what instances they most benefit students’ understanding.  I then wrote summary statements for each of the identified themes using the information from the participants’ interviews.  Participants’ narratives are presented in Chapter Four and the conclusions and recommendations resulting from the research findings are presented in Chapter Five.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

TEACHER STORIES

In this chapter, I examine each participant’s experience with virtual labs using a story-telling or retelling approach of the narrative inquiry methodology. I begin with a description of the classroom environment followed by narratives from each participant’s interview. In Chapter Five, I examine the data and offer analysis and interpretation. I then, conclude the chapter with conclusions and recommendations for future studies. What is presented here is a verbatim transcript of the participants’ own words. To the best of my ability, I refrained from adding any of my comments or additions to this transcript. However, I sometimes use my own words to help create smooth transitions, where necessary. Note that the names used below are pseudonyms to protect the confidentiality of the participants.

Mr. Physics Jones’s Class

            Mr. Physics Jones is 37-year old, white male who teaches physics and chemistry at the suburban high school. He has 13 years of teaching experience and has been with the science department for 10 years. Prior to working with this department, Mr. Jones worked for a private Christian high school for three years. Mr. Jones is a highly qualified teacher in the broad science category, but specializes in teaching Advanced Placement Physics and general chemistry.

            My classroom is located next to Mr. Jones’ classroom. We normally have lengthy conversations about teaching physics and chemistry. We also share a stock room for chemicals and laboratory equipment that we use to teach chemistry and physics. In his spare time, Mr. Jones likes to run. He is the head coach for the school’s running team. His team has won numerous awards including State championships and zonal championships.

            Mr. Jones’ classroom is very orderly. The classroom is arranged into eight two rows with eight lab desks. He has a promethean board, LCD projector, laptops, and a student response system that he uses on a daily basis. Mr. Jones also has five computers in the back of his classroom that are connected to the internet. Mr. Jones’ students are very diverse with a variety of racial and ethnic groups represented. His students also come from a range of socio-economic backgrounds. His classes contain a fairly even gender distribution.

Mr. Jones’s Experience with Virtual Labs

Mr. Jones has aBachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and chemistry. He also has a Master’s of Arts degree in teaching with a specialty in chemistry education. Mr. Jones worked as a research technician for the state of North Carolina and he is now teaching. He decided to become a teacher because he thought his skills would be better utilized in educating the kids (children) of America. Mr. Jones teaching philosophy is a triangle between the teachers, parents, and the students.

Mr. Jones feels that virtual labs give the kids a tool to explore the topic more on their own. He also feels that virtual labs form a good substitute when the student is absent. If a kid is absent, virtual labs serves as the lab.  Virtual labs also serve as the alternative when we don’t have the funds for the lab equipment or chemicals. Mr. Jones mentioned that he did not receive any professional development regarding the effective use of virtual labs. He learned how to use virtual labs through trial and error. Mr. Jones sees the barriers of virtual labs as that students don’t see the true results of what’s happening. They are pre-programmed and therefore devoid of real life experiences. Another barrier to virtual labs is that students tend to copy from each other without engaging themselves in the actual learning activity. In addition, virtual labs offer the same results, so it’s hard to talk about real life errors (e.g. experimental errors) that often occur during real life experiments.

Mr. Jones sees the benefits of virtual labs as that they can be accessed anywhere at any time. Another benefit of virtual labs is that there is no preparation time for the teacher. In addition, virtual labs are useful at substituting instruction especially when the equipment is too expensive. Mr. Jones uses several adaptations to make sure that all students in his class benefit from virtual labs. First, he discuss the lab with students ahead of time. Second, he does a demo for the class before-hand. Third, Mr. Jones does group discussions to enhance student understanding of concepts covered in the virtual labs session.

Ms. Biology Tanisha

            Ms. Biology Tanisha is a 34-year old black female who teaches general biology in the science department. She has two years of teaching experience and has been with the science department for one year. Ms. Tanisha is a highly qualified teacher in the broad science category, but, specializes to teach general biology. She explained her experience with virtual labs in her classroom during the interview.

            Ms. Tanisha’s classroom is very orderly. The classroom is arranged into two rows with eight lab desks. She has a promethean board, LCD projector, a laptop cart, and student response systems that she uses often. Ms. Tanisha also has five computers in the back of her classroom that are connected to the internet. The students in Ms. Tanisha’s classroom, like those in Mr. Jones’ class, are very diverse in terms of race and socio-economic status.  Her class also has an even distribution of boys and girls. 

 

 

Ms. Tanisha’s Experiences with Virtual Labs

Ms. Tanisha has a bachelor degree in education. She became a certified teacher two years ago. She decided to become a teacher for four reasons.  She is a people person.  She likes showing children the different ways to learn. She likes to give back to the community and she thinks that there are not enough people in the world who want to teach but just want to be a part of something so that they can get vacation time. She wants to give back and show why having a good education is important. She says that growing up, even though her mom and her relatives were educators, she never saw the importance of going home and studying or doing what she was supposed to do. As such her GPA after she graduated high school was below a 2.0 and she actually flunked out of college twice. The third time she went back, including grad school, her GPA was well above a 3.0. She learned the importance of an education but it took her awhile and now she’s at a point in her life that she wants to give back and to show why it’s important to be educated.

Ms. Tanisha’s teaching philosophy is every child can learn, however, not every child can learn the same way. She believes that teachers need to engage all students individually if possible throughout the week. To continually communicate with your students so you know where they are. She also believes that it is up to the teacher to actually engage each one of their students so that they can learn. In addition, Ms. Tanisha feels that virtual labs are good because the teacher has the ability to rewind as opposed to doing a lab in class step one, step two and typically you don’t even have the resources to go back and see where did I get this from? Virtual labs are good for proofing one’s work because of the ability to go back and check where the information came from.

Ms. Tanisha went to the Explore Learning workshop last year where she learned that a teacher had the ability to add to the labs everything he/she needs to engage students in their learning. She feels that the workshop she attended last year was beneficial in making the labs better. It helped her in different ways as far as getting the concepts across to her students. Ms. Tanisha sees the only barrier to virtual labs is that some students are not as engaged as others.  She feels as though these students would prefer hands on labs rather than virtual ones. In addition, some students just don’t want to do the lab because it does not fit their learning style. Ms. Tanisha recognizes several benefits for using virtual labs in the science classroom. First, virtual labs offer the ability to go back and redo the labs up to a certain degree. Second, students have to follow directions and engage themselves in the lab and learn at their own pace. Third, she thinks students learn more because virtual labs follow the learner centered approach.

Ms. Tanisha uses various adaptations to make sure that all students in her class benefit from virtual labs. She walks around and talks to students often to make sure they understand the lab. She checks for understanding and engagement by communicating with each student on a regular basis.

Summary

In this chapter, I presented participants’ narratives. In Chapter Five, complete data analysis, discussions, conclusions, and recommendations for future research will be presented.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 5

DATA ANALYSIS, CONCLUSION, AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH

In this chapter, I first analyze the data, then, I present the conclusions of the study, and finally, I present my recommendations for future research. 

Data Analysis and Conclusion

Narrative inquiry was used in this study to shed light on the practical experiences that teachers have when using virtual labs with their students. The purpose of the study was to identify personal and practical experiences that teachers have when using virtual labs in their science classrooms. After reading and re-reading the transcripts from the interviews, I identified two characteristics that were shared by both teachers – a love of teaching and a belief that all children can learn.  In addition, I identified several best practices that these participants had used to maximize the success of virtual labs in their classrooms: (1) pre-lab discussions, often with a demonstration, (2) post-lab discussions where students’ questions were answered, (3) regular monitoring during lab sessions to check student understanding and engagement, and (4) receiving proper training on how to effectively use virtual labs as a teaching tool.

Love of Teaching

            Both participants expressed their love for teaching during the interview. I realize that teaching is not a get rich and/or money making profession. Mr. Jones is an environmental engineer. He has many job options, but, he choose to share his knowledge and engineering skills with the children of America. In addition, Ms. Tanisha spoke of her love of teaching very explicitly during the interview. She shared with me that she was a “people person” and loved to show students different ways to learn.

The Belief That All Children Can Learn

            The saying that all children can learn has been used in many educational articles and books. In many settings, this saying has become a cliché.  During my interview with both participants, I genuinely felt that these teachers believed what they were saying. Ms. Tanisha said “all children can learn, but, differently.” It is true that all children can learn. This is especially true when the needs of each of the student are met. For example, each child comes to class with his or her own capability, learning preferences, and world view. If these needs are not met by the teacher, some children will be left behind and deemed to be incapable of learning. Therefore, according to the participants, it is crucial to meet each individual child wherever they are and to help them to achieve success in learning. This will boost their confidence to learn.

Pre-Lab Discussions

            Since virtual labs are somewhat different than hands-on and real life experiments, it is paramount that teachers discuss the lab before students actually do the lab. This will improve student understanding by activating their prior knowledge and by making them ready to learn. Mr. Jones normally discusses the lab before students begin doing the lab. It is a good practice as it helps iron-out student misunderstandings and reduces the amount of questions that students may have during the lab session. Once students know what to do and how to do it, completing the lab becomes easier for them and they are more likely to learn from it. Therefore, Mr. Jones and Ms. Tanisha employ the pre-lab discussion to help their students understand what the lab is all about and how to complete it.

Post-Lab Discussions and Regular Monitoring during Lab Sessions

Mr. Jones discussed the use of post-lab discussions as an important tool for effective use of virtual labs with students in science. Once students have completed their virtual lab sessions, it is important to have a discussion regarding the concept or concepts covered. This is important because it helps students to consolidate what they have learned. It also helps the teacher to assess what students have learned and what topics may need further discussion. I concur with Mr. Jones’s views on this, I believe that post-lab discussions are crucial for helping student re-evaluate their understanding of the lab and also to receive confirmation regarding their understanding. Post-lab discussions also offer students the opportunity to explain and reflect on their understanding of the concept covered by the lab and to ask any clarifying questions.  In addition, both participants mentioned the importance of circulating throughout the classroom while students are completing the lab to monitor their understanding and to make sure they remain engaged in the task. This also allows students the opportunity to ask questions as they are completing the lab so that they are able to successfully complete all their assigned tasks.  Teachers can also monitor their progress and provide one-on-one guidance as needed.

The Importance of Proper Training

            Lack of proper training was one issue raised by the participants during the interviews. It is quite obvious that in the absence of training, things tend not to work as effectively as they should. This applies to virtual labs as well. Ms. Tanisha discussed a two day training she received on how to effectively use virtual labs. In my view, in-service training is needed for teachers to help them understand how to best use virtual labs in their classrooms. School districts’ tend to buy these programs with little or no emphasis placed on training teachers how to use the programs. Mr. Jones reports that he never received any formal training on how to use virtual labs. He trained himself through trial and error. Allowing teachers to train themselves on the effective use of virtual labs with their students is not a good practice. Teachers should be trained to use technology properly in order to increase student engagement and academic achievement.

Recommendations for Future Research

            This study was centered on two research participants’ practical and personal experiences with virtual labs. Six themes emerged from the interviews with research participants. The emerged themes include: (1) love of teaching, (2) the belief that all children can learn, (3) pre-lab discussions, (4) post-lab discussions, (5) regular monitoring during lab sessions, and (6) the importance of proper training. As discussed in the study results and discussion, these themes have direct implications for the effective use of virtual labs in science classrooms. In order to validate the results from this study, additional research with more teachers from different settings is needed.  For example, studies with teachers from middle school science or other high school science setting would be desirable. In addition, the questions used to capture teachers’ practical experiences with virtual labs in this study were not very focused. Therefore, studies with more focused questions on this matter are needed to capture the essence of these practical experiences. Finally, I realize that one’s cultural background influences one’s experiences.  My background, cultural experiences, and world view may have affected the way I analyzed the data. Therefore, research done by people with different cultural and background experiences are warranted.

           

           

 

 

 

 

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Curriculum Evaluation Using Tyler’s Goal Attainment Model or Objectives-Centered Model


In this article  I will describe the Tyler model while emphasizing its evaluative component. I will use the DeKalb County Science Curriculum in my analysis. Specifically, I will use Dunwoody High School students’ outcomes data (end of course test-EOCT) for physical science and biology to evaluate the curriculum. However, before I start the evaluation, I will provide a brief overview of the Tyler model (what is it? what are its parts? and what are the criticisms of the model?) and finally I will conclude Continue reading “Curriculum Evaluation Using Tyler’s Goal Attainment Model or Objectives-Centered Model”

Education Ideologies: A comparative Study


By: Shaaban Fundi

In this essay, I will start with a brief history of the Social Efficiency and Learner Centered ideologies of education. I will then compare and contrast the two educational ideologies.  For each ideology, I will describe how the ideology treats the nature of the learner, the subject content of the ideology, how the ideology views the needs of society, and which type of knowledge the ideology deems most important.   Finally, I will discuss the supporting arguments and criticisms of the two ideologies of education.

 

Historical Backgrounds of the Learner Centered and Social Efficiency Ideologies of Education

Ideal schools or what we now call, Learner Centered schools, have existed in the past and continue to exist today at all levels of education. The ideal school originated in Europe and were promoted by four early educationists.   First, John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) emphasized that learning was developmental.  He argued that learning progressed from concrete to abstract thought (Schiro, 2013).  Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), however, is the person most credited with introducing the Learner Centered ideology. He believed that children were not miniature adults.  Instead, he insisted that children’s natural growth should be the focus of children’s education which he called “child-centered” education. Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) put Rousseau’s theory into practice by emphasizing that children should be free to explore their own interests and draw their own conclusion from their experience.  Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) invented kindergarten as we know it today. He emphasized the use of games, songs, stories, crafts, and manipulation as tools for early education.  

In the United States, the Learner Centered ideology was first promoted by Francis Parker in the 1890s in the Quincy, Massachusetts public schools. The ideal school then became known as organic schools at the turn of the 19th century. Marietta Johnson promoted her organic schools with students from elementary school to secondary school in the first few decades of the 20th century.  Her school is still in operation today. The organic schools became the progressive schools in the 1920s. Progressive schools became popularized in the 1920s through the 1940s and reached their peak during the Depression Era. Notable educationists who supported the Learner Centered ideology in the United States include John Dewey, H. O. Rugg, and A. Shumaker. The open education movement promoted Learner Centered education in the 1960s and 1970s in K-12 education. The Sudbury Valley School still practices Learner Centered education from elementary through secondary school. At the higher educational level, Learner Centered education took the form of the free university in the 1970s through the 1980s. Most adult education centers in the United States align themselves with the Learner Centered approach.

In contrast, the Social Efficient ideology is truly an American invention. It gained influence in American educational spheres at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. It was popularized in reaction to the rising concern regarding utilitarian forms of education such as agriculture education, manual training, industrial education, and vocational training. The central focus of Social Efficiency education was to equip students with the ability to perform useful skills rather than filling their minds with useful information. This ideology is credited with making the American educational system more practical over the last century. Notable educationists who strongly supported the Social Efficiency ideology in the United States include Franklin Bobbitt, Ralph Taylor, and Thorndike. Currently, the Social Efficiency ideology is the most influential educational ideology in the United States with its focus on improving efficiency and accountability.  This ideology forms the basis of the federal Race to the Top funding and the No Child Left Behind mandates (Schiro, 2013).

Comparing and Contrasting the Learner Centered and the Social Efficiency Ideologies of Education

The main focus of the Leaner Centered ideology is on the learner.  The child’s needs and interests are central to his/her learning and must be incorporated in the learning experience.  I agree wholeheartedly with this view. As a teacher, I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the semester to learn my students’ names, interests, prior knowledge, learning styles, and abilities.  I believe that in order to teach students effectively, I need to know who they are and what they like. Being aware of my students’ interests and abilities is useful in the process of creating the experiences from which students will create their own meaning of the curriculum content.

The “child” or leaner is not the main focus of the Social Efficiency ideology.  Instead, the focus is on helping students develop the necessary skills to allow them to fulfill society’s needs. In this ideology, each child is viewed as potential adult member of society. As a result, the Social Efficiency ideology places less emphasis on the individual needs of the child and more emphasis on the capability of each child to become a productive member of society.  I take issue with this approach of educating children. I believe in educating the whole child and that other aspects of the individual child are equally as important as teaching them the skills needed to fulfill the social needs of society.  In my opinion, the individual needs of the child must be taken into account in the process of teaching and learning

The Social Efficiency ideology views a teacher as a “manager of the conditions of learning (Gagne, 1970, p. 324; as cited in Schiro, 2011). In essence the teacher’s role is to implement curriculum developed by developers with little or no input of their own. As a teacher I feel that this role is misguided.  Teachers should be able to adapt the curriculum as necessary to meet the needs and interests of their students. This will help students remain engaged, learn, create meaning, AND develop the necessary skills to be fully functioning members of a democratic society.

In contrast, the role of the teacher in the Learner Centered ideology is to provide consultations with the child. This consultation will help the child to reach whatever destination s/he needs to go. I am in favor of this teaching and learning approach. I see myself in this role while teaching my courses. I create experiences and put myself in the background to watch and admire as my students create their own meaning from their experience.  In conclusion, while I see the value of both ideologies and borrow from each in my praxis, I tend to more closely align myself with the Learner Centered ideology in my teaching philosophy.

In terms of instructional content, the Social Efficiency ideology views education and schools as a shaping process through which an educated person is produced in much the same way as the railway industry manufactures steel rails in a factory. Social Efficient ideologists obtain the purpose of education from their client such as the parents, businesses, teachers, scholarly organizations, and publishers.  Educational purposes are mostly behaviorally stated and they specify what the learners should acquire throughout the learning process. Bobbit (2004a) believes that education is a social process that perpetuates the existing social functions. Social ideologists view themselves as behavioral engineers who shape the behaviors of the learner to satisfy the needs of society and not that of the child. I take offence to this view I feel as though education is more than a cookie cutting business where everything must match the client’s needs and specifications without regard to the learner’s needs. I value the contributions, experiences, and curiosity each individual student brings to the learning process. Students should have a say in what they learn and how they learn the content. The skills based education is misguided because it misses the central objective to learning, which is the experience of the student. Therefore, learning content should be geared to students’ needs, interests, and capabilities and students should be free to learn at their own rate.

The Learner Centered ideology views subject content in a different way. This ideology emphasize that the role of schools is to meet the needs, interests, and desires of the child. Their belief is that if the present needs of the child are fully met, the future of the child is assured. The Learner Centered ideology does not view the child as lacking social, intellectual, artistic, and physical interests but rather as individuals full of self-expression, curiosity in their own world, and an active maker of meaning resulting from their interaction and interests with their world. According to Learner Centered ideologists, experience is the mother of all learning and children must discover facts for themselves through their experiences. I subscribe to this view of learning. I believe that learners must personally experience reality in order to grow, learn, and construct meaning. Therefore, I reject the belief that students need to develop skills by learning mere facts from books that others have written. I believe in the idea that learning comes through the interaction of an individual with their surrounding world. Creating meaning (knowledge) through experiencing reality by physical and social encounters is the best way to learn.

Under the Social Efficiency ideology, society’s expectation and needs drive the learning outcomes. In this ideology the client, which is society, has specific demands that must be met. Society’s needs for certain skills drive the entire learning process. The child is seen as a miniature adult that needs to acquire certain skills in order to fulfill society’s need to build a stronger economy and advance the existing society.  Society’s needs are not the main focus of the Learner Centered ideology.  The main focus is on the child and the child’s needs, desires, and abilities are central to the learning process. The learning process under the Learner Centered ideology is activity based. Students engage in stimulating activities through the manipulation of objects such as making models, airplanes, radios, videos, and websites rather than watching a video about them or listening to didactic lectures from their teachers. Thus, to construct meaning, students are provided with the reality they need to experience in order to create meaning for themselves.

Current Literature Supporting and Refuting the Learner Centered and the Social Efficiency Ideologies of Education

As with any educational philosophy, there are many arguments for and against each of the two learning and teaching ideologies. Lea and colleagues (2003) reviewed several studies of the Learner Centered ideology and found that it was indeed an effective method of instruction. In the review, Lea (2003) reported that students felt more respected in the Learner Centered approach and found the approach to be exciting, interesting, and a boost to their confidence in their ability to learn.  In addition, a six year study in Helsinki, Finland found that when compared to a traditional didactic learning approach, the Learner Centered approach was associated with the development of better study skills and with a deeper understanding of the concept (Lonka and Ahola, 1995). Also, Hall and Saunders (1997) found that students who received an active learning type of instruction in a first year information technology course had increased motivation, participation, and grades. Furthermore, 94% of the students in the study would recommend a student-centered approach over the conventional approach.

There are three main criticisms of the Learner Centered approach. These are: the focus on the individual learner, the amount of resources needed to successfully implement the approach, and the belief that students hold about their learning.  Edwards (2001) warns that the student centered approach may lead some students to feel isolated. He argues that if the focus of instruction and learning is mainly geared to each student’s need, then the needs of social interaction with peers will be ignored. Another criticism of the Learner Centered approach is that it requires a lot of resources to be implemented successfully. This may make it difficult to implement in resource poor schools and countries. O’Sullivan (2003) argues that the Learner Centered approach may not be transferable to developing country settings where the resources are scarce and there is a different learning culture. Students belief system is another criticism levelled at the Learner Centered ideology. Students conditioned to the teacher-centered learning approach may not be receptive to the student centered approach.

On the other hand, the Social Efficiency ideology is credited with making education relevant and practical in the United States. It has transformed education from being informational or knowledge based to being focused on helping students acquire useful skills that are transferable to their careers and societal needs. There are several criticisms to the Social Efficiency ideology. First, critics believe that the Social Efficiency ideology perpetuates the existence of the current exploitive and capitalist society. Students are not taught to question the ills of society nor taught how to change the existing exploitive mode of society. Rather, they are taught to unquestionably fit in the existing society. Second, critics believe this model places too much emphasis on testing and separating students based on the results of that testing. Third, critics believe that this ideology focuses almost exclusively on developing students’ skills with little or no regard to educating the whole child.

In conclusion, I have learned that both educational ideologies have their pluses and minuses. In my career as a curriculum manager, I plan to use not just the two educational ideologies discussed in this paper. I also plan to use other educational ideologies when developing curriculum for school districts and nations in order to develop a balanced curriculum. I believe that there is a place for both ideologies in education. I will try to keep balancing between these two competing ideologies so that the pendulum does not end up swinging too much towards either of the two ideologies. I strongly believe that balance is needed when preparing a good and effective curriculum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reference

Edwards, R. (2001). Meeting individual learner needs: power, subject, subjection. In C. Paechter, M. Preedy, D. Scott, and J. Soler (Eds.), Knowledge, Power and Learning. London: SAGE.

Hall, J. and P. Saunders (1997). Adopting a student-centred approach to management of learning. In C. Bell, M. Bowden, and A. Trott (Eds.), Implementing Flexible Learning. London: Kogan Page

Lea, S. J., D. Stephenson, and J. Troy (2003). Higher Education Students’ Attitudes to Student Centred Learning: Beyond ‘educational bulimia’. Studies in Higher Education 28(3), 321-334.

Lonka, K. and K. Ahola (1995). Activating instruction: How to foster study and thinking skills in Higher Education. European Journal of Psychology of Education 10, 351-368.

O’Sullivan, M. (2003). The reconceptualisation of learner-centred approaches: A Nambian case study. International Journal of Educational Development 24(6), 585-602

Schiro, S. M. (2013). Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc

Curriculum Mapping: The Essentials


By Shaaban Fundi

Curriculum Mapping and Explanations

As I was planning to design my curriculum model, several ideas came to mind. In the beginning, I thought maybe I should make my model fit models such as the Taba Model, the Tyler Model, or the Oliver Model. However, I realized through this process that, I really did not need to come up with a completely new curriculum model. Rather, what I should spend more time on is how to enhance the existing curriculum model in my school district. The current curriculum model in my district works perfectly well in some parts, but in other parts it does not work at all. Therefore, I thought it would be unwise to use the meagre district resources to create or buy an entirely new curriculum, but rather, to enhance the parts that are currently working successfully and to focus on revising the parts that are not working well. The best way to achieve this is through the curriculum mapping process. Therefore for this assignment, I deviated from the norm and decided to create a curriculum map that is relevant to my district’s current needs.

Since teachers are the most important professionals when it comes to educating and implementing any curriculum, I plan to engage all the teachers in the district throughout the process so that they can be informed of the curriculum changes and be able to implement those changes successfully. Currently, my district has two curricula in place. The written curriculum and the taught curriculum. Through the curriculum mapping process, I hope to harmonize the two curricula such that the elements that are actually taught are highlighted and the elements that are only in the written curriculum but are not actually taught are either dropped or incorporated into the taught curriculum. This process will be a collaborative bottom up approach. Below is my curriculum model and explanation for how to address the challenge. Figure 1. The Phases of the Curriculum Mapping Process

Phase 1 – the “finding what is actually taught phase”

This will be an individual level process. In this phase, I will ask each educator in each school to list the topics they really teach during each month from August to May. Each teacher will be given a two column sheet with months on one column and what topic is taught in the other column. In this process, I will ask teachers to refrain from looking at the district standards and benchmarks. They should only use their lesson plans to fill in the month and the topics they teach on those months. The purpose for this phase is to identify which topics are actually covered in each month to be able to understand what is really taught. Therefore, it is extremely important for educators to only list the topics that they actually teach each month and not what is on the district’s written curriculum.

 

Phase 2. The “collaboration phase”

This will be a department level phase. In this phase each department will work together to look at the maps produced in the individual educator phase. This phase will be led by a trained department head or a teacher leader. In this process each teacher will work collaboratively with others in the department to iron out the difference in the taught curriculum and the written curriculum. It should be done at the subject level. The topics that are taught by some teachers but are not part of the curriculum will be dropped and those that are not taught but happen to be in the curriculum will be added to the maps. This process will allow teachers to develop the monthly topic maps for each subject in each school in the district.

 

Phase 3. The district-wide map review phase

This is a district-wide professional development phase. In this phase, educators will be grouped based on the subjects they teach. I realize that some educators teach more than one course and therefore the district-wide process may take longer to accommodate the teachers’ needs. In this phase, educators will compare the subject maps developed at the department level for each school. The purpose of this phase is to have the same subject maps in the entire district. Therefore, teachers will add or remove topics to make sure that all teachers have the same maps for each subject in the entire district. This phase can also be used to share strategies and approaches that are effective to teach the topics. In addition, teachers can use this phase to develop activities that will be used to teach each topic. Caution: This phase may take longer for elementary school teachers since they normally teach more than one course.

 

Phase 4. The educator self-reflection phase

In this phase, educators can reflect on the process and how they will use the new maps they have developed to align instruction to benchmarks and standards. This phase can also be used to share strategies and approaches that are effective to teach the topics. In addition, teachers can use this phase to develop activities that will be used to teach each topic.

 

In conclusion, instead of creating an entirely new curriculum every other year, this process may help improve learning across the district. In addition, this process can improve student outcomes through the harmonization of the district’s standards and benchmarks to instruction in the classrooms across the county. Furthermore, since the process involves teachers from start to finish, it will have a higher buy-in during the implementation phase.

 

Reference

Den Keyer, K (2013). The challenges of curriculum change, ATA Magazine, 93(4): 16-19

Blanchard, L.J. (1978). Creating a climate of rapid response to needs for change. Journal of Educational Leadership, 37-40.

The Qualitative Method of Impact Analysis


The article entitled “The Qualitative Method of Impact Analysis” by Mohr (1999) attempts to qualify qualitative study design as a rigorous and explicit method for impact analysis (impact evaluation purposes). In this article, Mohr discusses the problems facing qualitative methods when it is used to study impact. He asserts, impact it fundamentally is a causation type of a problem. Causation impact analysis is better evaluated if one uses a quantitative methodology. Mohr argues that the main issue here is based upon the definition of causality. The most accepted definition of causation is based solely on the counterfactual definition of causality. Therefore, if Y occurs, then, X must have occurred. This aligns perfectly with the quantitative methodology of impact evaluation. According to Mohr (1999), a more defensible version of the counter factual definition is called factual causation. Factual causation states that “X was caused by Y if and only if X and Y both occurred and, in the circumstances, if X had not occurred, then neither would Y” (Mohr, 1999; p. 71). As a result, causation is better established when variables are compared. Thus, causality is derived from the comparison of results from the experimental group to those in the control group. Without this base of combination of observations it would be impossible to determine the variance on the treatment variables. Hence, statistical analysis would not be possible.

Based on the counterfactual definition of causality it is impossible to use qualitative methodology to evaluate impact. To better determine impact, qualitative methods must rely on something other than evidence of counterfactual to establish causal inferences. Therefore it renders impossible for a qualitative methodology to show the concurrence of X and Y without the use of a treatment group and a control group that is prevalent in quantitative designs. However, Stricken (1976 as cited in Mohr, 1999) offer us an approach called the “modus operandi’ method which can be used to bypass the counterfactual definition of causality. The modus operandi method can be described as follows: it is an elimination process. For example, to demonstrate that treatment T has caused Y to occur, other possible causes of Y such as U, V, and W must be eliminated as contenders for causing T to occur through elimination. The modus operandi is commonly used in the daily works of professionals such as doctors, police, and investigators. Modus operandi does not meet the counterfactual definition of causality used in quantitative study designs. However, because of the modus operandi methods, qualitative study designs can be used to determine the programs impact using the elimination process to determine causal inferences. Therefore, no variables are needed to establish causation in qualitative designs because physical causality rather than factual causality does indeed produce compelling evidence for ascertaining the occurrence of T when Y occurred after all the other contenders have been eliminated. Thus, causal reasoning can be reliably used in qualitative designs to determine causal inferences in program and impact analysis.

I enjoyed reading this article because it offered me practical and useful insights in conceptualizing causality inferences. I have learned that the causation debate between researchers in quantitative design and those in qualitative design is based on the definition of causation. For the supporters of quantitative design, causation is defined by the counterfactual definition of causality. Thus, causation is determined by comparing two sets of variables (control and experimental values). On the other hand, the proponent in the qualitative design camp proves that causation can be established through the elimination process. The process of elimination is commonly used in our daily lives without comparisons and/or variables. I can relate this to my research. There are several similarities between my research design and the process of elimination described in this article. My research follows the quantitative design tradition, but it does not involve a control group. The causal inferences I can draw from my research design (single participant research design) are largely a result of better controls of the internal threats to validity rather than the comparison of results from the control group to that of the experimental group. There are no control groups in my proposed experimental design. Thus, as a researcher I plan to incorporate the useful, practical, beneficial insight, and steps of determining causal inferences discussed in this article.
Reference
Mohr, B. L. (1999). The qualitative method of impact analysis. American Journal of Evaluation, 20 (1), 69-84.

Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center Funding Proposal


Turiani is a small town located in Mvomero district of Morogoro. Turiani is comprised of six villages including: Kichangani, Mhonda, Kilimanjaro, Lusanga, Manyinga, and Komtonga. It is a diverse area with many tribes and composed primarily of low income residents. The majority are subsistent farmers and a few are cattle herders. There are seven primary schools and two secondary schools with approximately 5,000 students. Like many other rural areas in Tanzania, access to technology and quality education is a huge problem in Turiani. Out of 1200 students who complete primary school each year, approximately 150 students continue with secondary education (Tanzania National Examination Data, 2012).  At the secondary school level students’ achievement gains are atrocious. For example, in 2012, Lusanga Secondary School (the better of the two secondary schools in the area) had 109 students who sat for the Ordinary Level National Examination, however, only 5  students out of the 109 received enough credits to continue with high school (shule.info, 2013).

Because of these disappointing results, Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc developed a survey to identify educational needs in the community. We learned from our household survey that students and the community at large are facing a number of challenges. First, the majority of our students come from poor families who cannot afford electricity in their homes. Out of the 200 students we surveyed, only 67 students had access to electricity supplied by TANESCO.  This access was often unreliable with frequent black-outs. Second, our survey found that only six out of the 200 students surveyed had a computer in their homes. However, none of the six computers was reliably connected to the Internet. Third, our survey found that only 17 out of 200 students had at least one book to read in their household. Fourth, our survey found that there was a shortage of qualified teachers and resources at all the schools.

Explain your Innovative Solution to the Problems

Kibogoji is an innovative organization that believes in equal access to technology and quality education for all children. To improve the quality of education and access to technology in Turiani, Kibogoji plans to use a two prong solution. First, Kibogoji plans to open an after school program called VIJANA POA to serve children ages 5 to 19 year olds in our community. This after school program will provide students access to computers connected to the Internet. The program will also offer qualified tutors to help students with homework. In addition, Kibogoji will offer books to improve students’ reading and comprehension in both English and Kiswahili. Second, we plan to use school visits to our center as an opportunity for teaching and learning using our innovative experiential learning approach. Our expert tutors will also visit the schools to train teachers on how to use the experiential learning approach in their classrooms to improve student learning, engagement, and achievement.

 

How will your idea improve the life of children, now and in the long-term?

Kibogoji Experiential Learning, Inc believes that the number of students who get selected to continue with secondary and high school level education in our community is unacceptably low.  Kibogoji Experiential Learning, Inc plans to increase the number of students who have the opportunity to pursue higher education by providing our young people with access to technology driven, brain based, developmentally appropriate learning through after school programs, school visits to our center programs, and teacher trainings. To meet the educational needs of our children and the challenges stipulated above, Kibogoji Experiential Learning, Inc has come up with the following solutions. First, Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc plans to use solar power at our center to offer a conducive environment for learning with a reliable power supply. This will increase study time for students who are otherwise dependent on natural sunlight for most of their study time. In addition, the center will have tutors who are qualified teachers to help them with their homework in math, science, reading, and writing.

Second, in the 21st century computer technology is a very important tool for student learning and for developing work related skills. In realizing the importance of computer technology for our students and the community at large, Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc. has 10 computers obtained through individual donations that will be connected to the Internet for students and community members to access information and to also receive basic computer operating skills. In addition, Kibogoji plans to implement the flipped classroom model in order to help students master what they normally learn in class.  In the flipped classroom model, students study what they will be taught in class the following day so that they come prepared to learn the new material.  Furthermore, computers will be used as a tool for supplementing and complementing classroom instruction.

Third, the number of students that do not have access to books in their homes is troubling. Kibogoji recognize the importance of early exposure to reading and learning through books. Kibogoji plans to open a community lending program for books, games, and videos for students and the community to have access to quality books, games, and educational videos. So far, Kibogoji has received over 3000 books, 30 educational videos, and 15 different game boards from individual donations that we plan to use at our Reading and Lending Center. Students and community members can stop by Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc to read books, daily newspapers, play games, and watch educational videos. In addition, students and the community at large will be able to obtain books, videos, and games after paying a small membership fee. Kibogoji believes that this multi-prong approach will help our students improve their achievement at the primary and secondary levels now and in the long-term.

 

How will you develop, scale or replicate your idea so you are able to improve the lives of as many children as possible in the future?

 

Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc believes that its idea has the potential to meet the educational needs of students in rural areas across Tanzania. The educational challenges identified in Turiani are not unique to Turiani alone. These challenges are universal to most rural areas in the country. We believe that since it is hugely expensive to supply solar panels to every household, the idea of having a center where students can come to learn with a constant solar power supply, access computers connected to the Internet, and learn in the presence of qualified tutors is extremely important for improving students’ achievement. This idea can be replicated elsewhere in the country because Kibogoji believes that the same needs exist in rural areas across the country. To implement this plan, Kibogoji plans to start small with one center first.  This will give us the opportunity to learn from our challenges and mistakes. Then, we will use the lessons learned in the first year to scale-up our operation to the entire district of Mvomero. Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc sees itself in the next 3-5 years as having the potential to impact children in rural areas across the Morogoro Region.

 

How do you plan to finance the solutions?

Currently Kibogoji is exploring a four prong funding model.  First, we plan to submit funding proposals to several local and international organizations that support children’s equal access to education.  Second, Kibogoji plans to use volunteer retired teachers from the United States and other countries to lower the running cost of the center.  Third, Kibogoji plans to open an educational supply store and a chicken farm along with the center to generate income and profit.  Fourth, Kibogoji plans to run an educational consultancy business by developing educational assessment and management courses, creating education materials at the secondary and primary school levels, and writing children’s books to obtain additional funding. It is our belief that these four funding models will generate enough income to help the center be self-sustaining and allow expansion to additional centers throughout the District and Region. 

 

Describe your experience and personal skills that show that you can build and lead an organization that will make a difference in the world.

 

I have over 13 years of experience in education. For the first two years of my career, I worked with Frontier Tanzania to implement an environmental education program in the coastal areas of Mtwara and Lindi regions of Southern Tanzania. I organized and facilitated a marine environmental education program for 12 primary schools and one secondary school on marine resources and conservation methods that included 186 students and 36 teachers. In addition, I organized and facilitated a marine environmental education program for 19 local fishermen and 2 fisheries officers on marine resources and conservation, coastal zone management, power boat handling, and the collection and handling of fisheries data. Together with other Frontier Tanzania staff members, I wrote and developed a bilingual (Swahili and English) teaching manual for secondary schools on coral reefs, mangroves and sea grasses. This book was the first of its kind in Tanzania.

For the past 11 years, I have worked as an educator and educational consultant in the United States. I am a certified science educator in both Maryland and Georgia and have over 11 years’ experience teaching high school chemistry and physics.  In addition, I have an extensive background in the areas of planning, developing, monitoring, and managing educational programs for schools and for private organization. I have also worked as a consultant for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in the Accomplished Science Instruction (ASI) project.  As part of this project, I helped develop, pilot, and evaluate an online science course for new science educators in the United States. I also work as a part time Trainer and Score Director for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. As a Scoring Director, I train educators on holistic methods for evaluating a variety of teacher certification examinations. My other duties are to prepare materials that exemplify state-specific standards, to orient educators on established calibration processes, to manage educators’ scoring sessions, and to serve as a content expert in the science teaching area.

I believe my past experience and education background has provided me with unique skills and leadership that will help me to develop and run a successful educational organization that will benefit many children in rural areas across Tanzania. The seed money from Reach for Change will give me the resources I need to empower rural Tanzanian children with the knowledge, exposure, and experiences that will help them realize the dreams they have for themselves.

The One Size Fits All Assessment Model: A disastrous approach.


In this analysis, I will discuss the book review entitled “Computers, Curriculum, and Cultural Change (2rd ed.)” by Bonita Wilcox (2005). I will review the four types of literacy discussed in the book review and how to incorporate these literacies in instruction. Finally, I will conclude by discussing the lessons I learned from reading this article and how I will use some of the information in my praxis.

In her article, Wilcox reviews the book entitled “Differentiated Literacy Strategies for Student Growth and Achievement in Grades 7-12” by Gayle H. Gregory and Lin Kuzmich (2005). Ms. Wilcox begins here review with two fundamental questions: “Overwhelmed by student diversity? Too much content and too little time? I am sure that many educators can relate to that. We all are struggling to meet the needs of each and every student in our classrooms. Some of the needs we must meet to remain effective educators are student development, learning styles, learning preferences, and multiple intelligences”.  Ms. Wilcox goes on to state that student diversity is one of the biggest challenges for American educators in the 21st century classroom.  In their book, Gregory and Kuzmich (2005) suggest looking at these challenges through the lens of the four domains of literacy: functional, content, technological, and innovation/creative. Gregory and Kuzmich further suggest educators consider numerous differentiated learning methods while acknowledging that these methods have to be balanced against the time and resource constraints many educators face. To address these challenges, Gregory and Kuzmich offer several instructional strategies, assessment strategies, planning models, checklists, rubrics, and lesson plans based on current brain research and recommendations from prominent educators.

Gregory and Kuzmich believe, like most educators, that gathering and evaluating data is crucial in making well-informed decisions to improve learning. They also believe that diagnostic thinking must be done by teachers themselves since they work with and know all the students in their classroom. External testing and evaluation is not tailored to individual students and therefore does not offer the best diagnostic prescription for student development at the individual level. The use of differentiated instructional practices for specific learning styles, preferences, and multiple intelligences are discussed to address the functional and content area competence. These include flexible grouping, anticipation guides, SQ3R, graphic organizers (four corner, compare/contrast, and cross classification), choice boards, KWL charts, reciprocal teaching, and writing prompts. To meet the technological and innovative literacy challenges, Gregory and Kuzmich suggest best practices for promoting multidimensional thinking and multimedia production. These include useful websites for various content specific areas, search engines, search guides, website credibility measures, and some innovative methods including switch between work groups, kinds of text, and types of writing skills and media use.

In conclusion, this book review was very informative. I have learned many useful teaching and learning strategies that I will be utilizing in my daily praxis. Furthermore, it was very interesting to learn that most educators over-value the importance of external student testing and evaluation. In my view, this practice is not formative and does not help educators improve their teaching. The best diagnostic thinking is the one envisioned and implemented by the teachers themselves. This kind of test takes into consideration student diversity and can address challenges at the individual student level. The one size fits all assessment that we are currently using assumes that all students are the same.  In my opinion, this is an incorrect assumption.

 

 

 

 

Reference

Wilcox, B (2005). Computers, curriculum, and cultural change (2rd ed.), English Leadership Quarterly, 28(2): 12.

The Challenges of Curriculum Change: Lessons from Alberta, Canada


The article entitled “The Challenges of Curriculum Change” by Kent den Heyer (2013) discusses an educational initiative in Canada’s Alberta Province.  The purpose of the Initiative was to move from a knowledge-based curriculum to a skills- or competence-based curriculum. In this analysis, I will first discuss the author’s argument regarding curriculum change. In addition, I will discuss what is already known about change and how that can be used to facilitate the kind of change that officials in the Alberta Province sought to achieve. Finally, I will discuss the lessons I learned from reading this article.

Den Heyer starts the discussion by quoting a statement made by a 3rd year education student in his undergraduate course. He quotes, “I just want to know what I need to know; I didn’t want to have to think about it” (den Heyer, 2013).  This comment, den Heyer argues, suggests that the student did not necessarily value “thinking” as an end point in her education.  Instead, what she valued the most was the ability to complete tasks or skills.  Den Heyer goes on to discuss how this quote relates to the ability to affect change.  In order for change to occur, den Heyer suggests that we must first change the minds of the people responsible for implementing programs. In the example from Alberta, officials realized that there was a gap between the current curricula used in schools and the mission statement of the school system that promoted engagement, ethical citizenship, and entrepreneurship.  An educational initiative was put forth to change the curricula to match this mission statement.  However, changing how students were instructed would require more than just changing the curricula. It would also require convincing the program implementers (e.g. school administrators, teachers, etc.) on why the curriculum changes were needed.

            In the article, den Heyer reviews what is already known about initiatives for programmatic school change. Research findings consistently indicate that formal curricula changes have little discernible effect on changing classroom practices. We all know that classrooms are where the rubber meets the road. If little changes happens there, the curricula change we are envisioning will have very little impact on what students learn in the classroom. Den Heyer reminds us that curriculum theory is an important aspect of curriculum change when Unfortunately, however, most curriculum changes are politically based and have little to no educational theory behind them. These symbolic curriculum changes are used to signal that something is being done but in reality these moves have little transformative potential in improving student outcomes.

According to den Heyer (2013) official curriculum change and redesigning suffers from many issues.  Lack of open discussion with all stakeholders can lead to changes that are impossible to implement and/or which lack buy-in from key stakeholders needed to implement the curriculum changes (e.g. teachers, school administrators, etc.).  For example, fundamental questions to curriculum changes such as classroom sizes, teaching loads, content, skills, and assessment tools may not be thoroughly discussed as part of the curriculum change process. In addition, strong curricula are based on theories of knowledge and an understanding of the relationship between knowledge and meaning construction. If curricula are not based on theory, teachers will present information and competencies as if they are inter-changeable. The danger to this will be an inability to assess students’ developed competencies.

In conclusion, most often there is a mismatch between the mission statement of school agencies and the type of knowledge they purport to advance. Therefore, a careful look is needed to make sure that the curriculum employed by an educational agency aligns with the agency’s mission statement. In addition, to advance real curriculum change, key stakeholders need to be involved in the process. Successful curriculum change happens when it is initiated from the down-up rather than from the top-down. Needs for improvement must clearly be identified and incorporated into the new curriculum and the curriculum must be based on clear theory.  From this article, I gained insight into the factors required to successfully change curriculum.  These insights will help me as I pursue a career in curriculum development.

 

Reference

Den Keyer, K (2013). The challenges of curriculum change, ATA Magazine, 93(4): 16-19

Evidence-Based Management of Education in Tanzania: A Cautionary Tale.


Education management and assessment is a challenging process. Most often, educational evaluators fail to evaluate education systems because of not having a complete understanding of the curriculum driving the education process. The not so sophisticated educational assessors view educational assessment as simple as a pass or fail exercise.  The assessment is often based on simplistic tests that only assess the recall of facts and memorized information from the taught curriculum. Usually, the tests used are unable to measure in-depth understanding of concepts as well as critical thinking abilities gained by the student because it is hard to measure these sophisticated elements of learning. The most common tests are standardized which are classified as norm referenced tests and criterion referenced tests.  The evaluation of an education system’s worth is more complex than merely looking for deficiencies in the system. It requires sophisticated assessments that highlight the entire range of issues associate with the education system from the curriculum design itself, its implementation, and evaluation. This process needs to be informative rather than punitive so that educators can learn from empirical evidence in order to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
 Joel Spring (2011) posits that education has many objectives including “nationalism and patriotism; active democratic citizenship; progressive education; social justice; environmental education; human rights; arts education; cultural studies; consumer and critical media studies; and the social reconstruction of society. Regardless of the many objectives of education, the central focus of education accountability is derived from the summative assessment part. There is little effort to inform the teaching and learning process which is central to improving the quality of education. The data driven accountability in education like in many other social services in Tanzania is based on summative assessment alone and is also driven by the industrial model of management. Summative assessments are purely statistical (quantitative) and therefore add little to no value in education improvement. They are used mainly for placing blame on schools by creating systematic ranking. For example, I have seen a new website called shule.info that ranks schools from best to worst performers. The ranking of school based upon top performers to the lowest performers has no place in education. Education is not a competitive process; it is a collaborative process. And this is so true especially when quality improvement is the main goal. I think it is high time we stop and ask ourselves “What is the purpose of these rankings? Does the ranking offer any meaningful insights on how to improve the schools? If the purpose of the ranking is to shame those schools, then we do not need them. Is there an ulterior motive in all this?
Evaluation in education comes in either formative or summative. Formative evaluation is on-going and provides the educator with information necessary to improve teaching and learning. This is the kind of assessment that is the most preferred in education because it provides evidence needed to improve the system. Summative assessment, on the other hand, happens at the end of the process. Its purpose is mainly to measure if the objectives of the curriculum have been successfully met.  It mainly is used to measure the curriculum objectives like the students’ scores on a standardized test. This type of assessment does not offer solutions that would improve the quality of education. Therefore, these assessments should not be the sole systems of evaluation in an education system. The students’ score alone does not paint the whole picture of a faulty education system.
It is my belief that some people are pushing this narrowed view of education assessment for alternative goals besides the improvement of quality in education. In this vein, I see the beginnings of a business model of educational management in Tanzania. Mind you, business has only one objective, to make a profit for its shareholders. Public education is much more than making a profit. It is the right of every Tanzanian girl and boy to receive an equal opportunity to be educated.
While it is important to assess students, the assessment should meet the objective set forth of the goal that needs to be accomplished. When the assessment is based on a single objective of an education system, it renders a flawed assessment. There is a need to broaden the assessment system so that it can encompass all of the objectives set forth in the curriculum of an education system. I wonder why some respected individuals in the civil society field see this model of assessment as the best for our education system? This type of assessment is meaningless because it does not tell us anything more than the simple acquisition of subject based facts and knowledge. Paulo Freire advocated for a teaching and learning model that “empowers students to be good citizens, patriots, understanding of the democratic fabrics of the country, critical thinkers, and analyzers of the situations around them” and not students who will do as they are told.  
I feel that the vocal individuals (from some asasi za kijamii) have little understanding of education, its purposes, and its assessment systems. Due to a lack of sophisticated understanding of education, they are pushing for an educational assessment system that has no value to education whatsoever. Like A. V. Kelly (2013)said, “when the toothpaste gets out of the tube, it is impossible to put it back”. I think it is high time for people with solid educational backgrounds (not politics or asasi za kijamii kind) to take a lead in devising and directing assessment and measurement in the Tanzanian education system.
In conclusion, I do not deny that there is a place for summative assessment in education. However, when it becomes the end all, and be all, then something is wrong. I hope people will see to it that there is more to education than test scores and start to strengthen the educational quality delivery in Tanzania sooner rather than later. Otherwise, the uninformed will end up leading the informed in this field. The consequences of that will be many children left behind.

A Mixed Method Study Design


By: Shaaban Fundi

In this synthesis I will discuss my understanding of mixed method research design. I will also discuss which methods (qualitative or quantitative) that I will use to drive my research inquiry. In addition, I will discuss in detail the case study approach that I will use in my pilot study.  Finally, I will discuss the lessons I learned throughout the process and discuss why a case study approach and a mixed method design are appropriate for answering my research questions.

 

A mixed method study uses both qualitative and quantitative research designs. In the 1990’s mixed method study design gained popularity (Creswell, 2011). Green (2007) define a mixed method study as “research in which an investigator collects and analyzes data, integrates findings, and draws inferences using both qualitative and quantitative  approaches  or methods in a single study or program of inquiry” (p.20). According to Creswell (2011) mixed method study increases the breadth and depth of our understanding of the research data, findings, and also corroborates the study findings. By corroborating the findings of the study, it ensures stronger validity of the study findings.

 

To use mixed method design, Creswell (2011) suggests that the research question must match the study design. It is important for the questions formulated to address both the needs for a quantitative and a qualitative study design. One mixed method study entitled “Merging Qualitative and Quantitative Data in a Mixed Method Research: How to and Why not” by Driscoll et al (2007) discusses both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. In addition, Driscoll et al study discusses data interpretation methods used to assess the utility of mixed methods designs that uses both qualitative and quantitative transformative research design. In this study, the author describes two mixed method data collection procedures and two qualitative data analysis procedures.  The procedures of data collection discussed in the article are concurrent and sequential data collection methods. Concurrent data collection design is used to validate one form of data collection with another. For example, qualitative data collection methods can be used concurrently with quantitative data collection methods to validate collected data and findings.  On the other hand, a sequential data collection method employ either a qualitative data collection method first followed by a quantitative data collection or a quantitative data collection method first followed by a qualitative data collection method. For example, surveys could be used first to collect data. Then, the collected data could be analyzed to generate findings. However, if the findings do not tell the whole story, then, in depth interviews could be used with a segment of the study population to validate and/or augment the findings from both data collection methods.

 

In my study I plan to use the sequential data collection method. First, I plan to utilize in depth survey with educators to solicit their experiences using virtual labs in science education. Then, I will analyze the data from the in-depth survey to information gaps that will help me to develop a survey to help validate and corroborate the in-depth interview data and findings. Therefore, the qualitative component of the study will drive the quantitative part of the study. In other words, the qualitative research findings will help me devise a survey instrument to be used in the quantitative study.

 

Now I will turn my discussion on the case study qualitative approach that I plan to use in my mixed research study. According to Creswell (2013) “identifying the problem to be studied, identifying the context, using multiple sources of data collection, data analysis, and representation” are the essential components of a case study. Creswell also identifies five components that should be included as part of the introduction to a well-conducted qualitative research study.  These components include: 1) a clearly defined topic, 2) a well-stated research problem, 3) a literature review justifying the problem, 4) identification of gaps and deficiencies in the existing literature, and 5) a justification and rationale for why the problem is an important area of research (Creswell, 2013; p. 132). I have developed my rationale and research questions for my exploratory qualitative study following Creswell’s five prong process. I am interested in exploring the experiences of high school science teachers when using virtual labs with their students. I am exploring this topic by using the case study approach.

 

Case studies are differentiated into various types based on the purpose and the size that bound the case. For example, a case study can involve (be bounded by) one individual, a few individuals, a group, and an entire program (Creswell, 2013). Based on intent Creswell (2013) identifies three approaches to conducting a case study inquiry. These approaches include: intrinsic case study, the single instrumental case study, and the collective or multiple case study. According to Stake (1995) a single instrumental case study focuses on a single issue bounded in one case. In a collective case study the researcher select one issue or concern and then select multiple case studies to illustrate the concern. A collective case study can be achieved by to study either multiple perspectives of a case within a single site or by selecting several cases from multiple sites. Finally, intrinsic case study focuses on the case itself. Some cases present unique or unusual situation. For example, evaluating an educational program that is not working as intended and then creating detailed descriptions of the unique case to illustrate the problems and how to solve those problems. In this pilot case study, I asked teachers to recall the episodes where they used virtual labs in their classrooms and to relay to me their personal experiences using these labs in their classrooms.  In addition, I collected information about the teachers’ background.  This information will help me to contextualize how their experiences using virtual labs were influenced by their educational background and their teaching philosophy.

 

During my review of the literature, I identified two qualitative studies that described the experiences of teachers who became students.  Their experiences as students helped them identify strategies to improve their teaching.  Mann (2003), a college professor, described her own experience as a student attending an online course.  From her experience, she identified several strategies that teachers can use to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Similarly, Sinclair (2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010) spent two years as a student in a mechanical engineering program.  During her time as a student, she identified several challenges that students encounter when entering a new discourse or discipline. She also identified strategies that educators can use to help their students be successful in a new discourse.

 

The two studies illustrate the need to understand teachers’ experiences with virtual labs since it may be one strategy to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Currently, little research has been done in this area, especially amongst high school science students. My study will address this existing gap in the literature by exploring teachers’ experience with virtual labs using a case study approach and examining the impact of virtual labs on student learning using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. In addition, the teachers’ experiences and stories from my exploratory study will help other educators understand the challenges and opportunities associated with using virtual labs in their classrooms, including identifying best practices for integrating virtual labs into the science classroom.
Creswell (2013) describes several types of data collection techniques that can be used as part of a case study.  These include in-depth interviews, personal observations, field notes, and attendance at events.  In an interpretive case study entitled “An Investigation of Experienced Secondary Science Teachers’ Beliefs About Inquiry: An Examination of Competing Belief Sets”, Wallace and Kang (2004) used a variety of data collection methods. These methods include: (1) semi-structured formal interviews; (2) informal interviews; (3) field notes from observation and video tapes of classroom teaching; (4) lesson plan and student materials documents; and (5) written reflections of the teachers. For my exploratory study, I used in-depth interviews and observations with three teachers to elicit their experiences with virtual labs and I also observed how they use virtual labs in their classrooms.  In my initial interview, I asked six key questions to capture the teachers’ experiences with virtual labs. These questions include:

 

1)   Tell me about your educational and professional background;

  1. Probe: How did you become an educator?

2)                  What is your teaching philosophy?

3)                  How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?

4)               Describe the professional development that has helped you to be effective in using virtual labs for teaching?

5)               What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?

6)               What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?

 

To collect data for the pilot case study, I purposely chose my three participants. First, two of the participants are new teachers (less than three years of teaching) in my department and because of that they have limited experience with virtual labs. One of the interviewee was a veteran educator with over 12 years of teaching experience. Thus, I will not interview the same educators during my actual dissertation study. Second, the participants and I work in the same hallway and have the same planning period; therefore, I have easy access to them. According to Creswell (2013) a researcher may select ordinary research participants due to easy access. In addition, a researcher may select participants with different perspectives on the problem to achieve a purposeful maximal sampling. In this case I choose ordinary participants based mainly on accessibility. However, during the actual study I would like to interview one veteran teacher who has extensive experience with virtual labs. This is in accordance with Creswell’s (2013) description of the single issue-single individual case study that I plan to use for my case study. During my interview with this veteran teacher, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of how she uses virtual labs in her classroom in order to provide guidance to other educators on the opportunities and difficulties of using virtual labs as a teaching tool in the science classroom.  .

 

I started to analyze the three in-depth interviews I conducted with the educators. I have identified several major themes that arose from the teachers’ experiences. I will use the developed themes to create a detailed chronological description of each participant’s experiences with virtual labs. I will then, present a thematic analysis of the themes that have developed from the interviews to show similarities and differences between the interviewees. I realize that using just one method of data collection in my exploratory study may result in findings that are devoid of richer and triangulated data (Sinclair, 2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010). However, I hope to use the lessons learned from the interviews conducted as part of my exploratory case study to refine the interview guide and methodology that I will use for my dissertation.

 

The use of various data collection methods in a case study increases the validity of the study findings by offering the means to cross check the developing themes across the data collection methods (Sinclair, 2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010). In my dissertation study, I plan to use in-depth interviews, observations, and surveys as part of my mixed method study.  It is my hope that this exploratory study will offer me insights on which additional methods of data collection and analysis I should use as part of my mixed method dissertation study. In addition, the exploratory study will help me to determine if the initial questions that I have developed are appropriate for collecting teachers’ experience or whether the questions need to be refined. In addition, the findings from this exploratory will help me to determine whether a mixed methods approach is an appropriate study design for my dissertation.

 

In conclusion, this analysis helped me to frame my research study using a case study approach in a mixed method study
design.   As part of this process, I came to realize that case study alone is not sufficient to answer my research question, specifically categorizing the types of experiences that science teachers have when using virtual labs. For example, a mixed method study design could help me understand the essence of the teachers’ shared experiences using virtual labs better by corroborating the findings from in-depth interviews with surveys from a larger population of educators who use virtual labs in science education across the country. Therefore, in my dissertation, I plan to use both qualitative and quantitative study designs to sufficiently answer the questions outlined in my dissertation study.  As a result, the qualitative study will drive the quantitative study.
Reference

Case, J. M., Marshall, D., & Linder, C. (2010). Being a student again: A narrative study of a teachers’ experience. Teaching in Higher Education,15(4): 423-433.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Driscoll, D., Appia-Yeboah, A., Salib, P., & Ruppert, D. (2007). Merging qualitative and quantitative data in a mixed method research: How to and why not. Ecological and Environmental Anthropology, 3(1): 19-28.

Greene, J., Caracelli, V., & Graham, W. (1989). Toward a conceptual framework for Mixed-Methods Evaluation Designs. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 11:255-274.

Kumu-Yeboah, A., & Waynne, J. (2012). Transformation teaching Experiences of a Novice Teacher: A narrative of an award winning teacher. Journal of Adult Learning, 23(4): 170-177.

Mann, S. J. (2003). A personal inquiry into an experience of adult learning on-line.

 Instructional Science, 31, 111-125.

Curriculum Mapping: A Synthesis


The article entitled “Curriculum Mapping: A How-To Guide” by John DeClark (2002) discusses the process through which a curriculum can be mapped to align topics and promote seamless instruction. In the article, DeClark (2002) describes the purpose of curriculum mapping, the step-by-step process used for successful curriculum mapping, and the benefits derived from a good curriculum mapping process. In this reflection, I will review DeClark’s instructions for curriculum mapping and discuss the lessons I learned from this article. 

The article reports on a district-wide curriculum mapping project in the state of Michigan. The purpose of the curriculum mapping project was to create seamless science curriculum maps for the suburban Michigan school district. It was found that the existing curriculum in the district had many unnecessary repetitions. Therefore, the purpose of the curriculum mapping project was to build a curriculum that meshed across grades and eliminated unnecessary repetitions of topics in the curriculum.

According to DeClark (2002) there are four steps for a successful curriculum mapping process. The first step is deciding the content to be taught. In this step, teachers are given a two column chart with one column listing the months of the school year and the other column listing what they need to teach in those months. This is an individual level process. The teachers are asked to be very honest when completing this chart. Teachers fill the chart with the topics they really teach each month of the year without looking to state standards or district benchmarks. The purpose of this step is to find out what is really being taught. The second step involves teachers in the revisions of the maps produced in the first step. This is a department level collaborative process. Any benchmarks that were not included in the taught curriculum will be added. Teachers will also remove topics that are taught in the curriculum but are not in the benchmarks and district standards. At the end of this step, each teacher who teaches the same subject should have the same map. The third step is the getting together stage. This step involves district-wide in-service professional development. In this step, teachers in the same discipline from the entire district are given the opportunity to compare their revised curriculum maps. Teachers from each level in the K-12 will meet to encourage accurate curriculum alignment. In this step teachers will eliminate all needless repetitions in the curriculum map across the grade levels. In the final step, called the analysis stage, teachers will incorporate their individual maps into daily lesson plans. This is an opportunity for teachers to share lesson plans and experiences. This is where teachers share what works and what does not work for each of the topics.

According to DeClark (2002), one of the benefits of using curriculum mapping is that it ensures all benchmarks are taught and the K-12 curriculum is seamless. Students learn best when they see the big picture.  In the old curriculum, however, it was found that the existing curriculum was exposing students to parts of concept at different grades and in different years. Since “the concepts are taught in isolation, students see them as completely different topics” (DeClark, 2002; p.30). Therefore, curriculum mapping was needed to create a curriculum that helped students see the big picture.   Curriculum mapping also helps eliminate unwanted repetition when students move from grade to grade. Most often students encounter the same topic taught the same way year in and year out. This could lead to students tune out the teacher. Repetition is required to learn, however, that repetition needs to be meaningful to the students.  Curriculum mapping also provides an opportunity for cross-curricular integration. Curriculum maps are based on monthly plans and therefore it is easier for teachers to combine lessons and projects that are interdisciplinary.

I enjoyed reading this article because it offered me very practical and useful insights into the curriculum mapping process. I have learned that the process for curriculum mapping needs to involve the professionals (teachers) and not the politicians.  I have also learned that the bottom-up approach seems to be more beneficial than the top down curriculum mapping process that we often see in schools. The success of the bottom-up approach was largely due to giving the teachers an opportunity to come up with curriculum maps that included elements of what was already being taught and shown to have success in schools. The process also helped teachers to eliminate the unhealthy repetitions that we often see in the top down curriculum maps. The other thing that I thought was very useful in the curriculum mapping process was the incorporation of the big picture for each of the concepts. It is important for student to be able see the big picture of what they are learning. Teaching topics in a disjointed fashion leaves students with a shallower understanding of the interconnectedness of topics in different disciplines. Thus, as a curriculum manager I plan to incorporate these useful, practical, beneficial insights, and steps in the curriculum mapping process for my district.

Reference

DeCark, T. (2002). Curriculum mapping: A how-to guide. Science Teacher, 69(4): 29-31.

Educational Ideologies: Schiro’s Book Review


In this book review, I will discuss the four main educational ideologies presented in the book entitled “Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns” by Michael Schiro (2013). The ideologies I will discuss include: (1) the scholar academic ideology, (2) the social efficiency ideology, (3) the learner centered ideology, and (4) the social reconstruction ideology.  I will also review how my educational ideology has changed over the years and discuss how Schiro’s book has influenced my own teaching practice.

Scholar academic ideologists believe that acquiring an understanding of academic knowledge involves learning the content, conceptual framework, and ways of thinking (Schiro, 2013). Educators who subscribe to the scholar academic ideology use three main teaching methods. The three teaching methods include: didactic discourse, supervised practice, and Socratic discussions. I find myself using almost all of these teaching methodologies in my classroom.  As I develop my 5E lesson plans, I normally think of the best teaching method that I can employ efficiently and effectively to convey concepts to students.  For example, I may ask myself “is exploratory learning the best way to present this material to my students?” or “will power point presentation (didactic) or Socratic questioning be more helpful?”.  Teaching is more than knowing the content; it also involves knowing the pedagogical processes of presenting the information to students who naturally have varied interests, abilities, learning styles, and backgrounds. Thus, to effectively teach students new concepts, you have to constantly think about the best way to present the information.

In the Social Efficiency ideology, the child’s learning is not the main focus. Instead, the focus is on helping students develop the skills necessary to become productive members of society.  The Social Efficiency ideology places less emphasis on the individual needs of the child and more emphasis on the capability of the child to fulfill society’s need for skilled workers.  I take issue with this approach of educating children. I believe in educating the whole child and treating children as individuals with unique needs and unique ways of learning.  It is my strong belief, that the individual needs of each and every student must be addressed in the process of teaching and learning.  I simply cannot view my students as a means to society’s end.

The Leaner Centered ideology’s main focus is on the learner.  The child’s needs and interests are central to his/her learning and must be incorporated in the learning experience. I agree wholeheartedly with this view. As an educator, I spend a lot of time in the beginning of the semester learning my students’ interests, prior knowledge, learning styles, and abilities. I believe that in order to teach students effectively, we need to know who they are, what they like and how best they learn. Being aware of my students’ interests and ability is useful in the process of creating the experiences from which students will create their own meaning of the curriculum content and become engaged learners.

Central to the Social Reconstruction ideology is the idea that existing society is imperfect.  In other words, the society in which we reside is broken.  Social reconstructionists believe that education should not be used merely as a vehicle for fixing the flaws within our society, but should instead be used to transform the existing society into a new society that is just, moral, satisfying,  and empowering for everyone. Social reconstructionists argue that the function of schools is not to continue reproducing the existing society. Instead schools should go  beyond reflecting the wishes of the existing society by teaching students to become critical, and analytical thinkers, and to be aware of the injustices existing in our current society.

The four main educational ideologies are fluid in nature and educators may change their ideologies over time.  According to Schiro (2013), educators alter their educational ideologies due to changes in their personal and/or professional lives.  Most educators change their ideologies at least once every four years.  During my own educational career, I have changed my educational philosophy as I have gained more experience.   When I first started teaching, the Scholar Academic ideology dominated my teaching philosophy. At the time, I believed that students had to know and master the content and demonstrate their mastery through a strong performance on a standardized test.  I did not realize that there was more to education and true knowledge than just test scores.

My Scholar Academic views of education were quickly put to test during my first teaching assignment in an urban school in Baltimore. Many of my students came to school hungry and the school environment was the only place where they received two meals a day.  School also allowed them to avoid violent situations that were prevalent in their neighborhoods.  Most of my students did not have a nuclear family living in the home with them. I would say approximately 85% of my students lived with their grandparents because their biological parents were either in jail or had substance abuse issues. As an educator, I was fondly looked at by my students as a role model.  As such, I had to teach my students, through example, that education was a doorway to possibilities and opportunities for a better life.  Therefore, I was not just teaching content to my students.  Instead, I had to assume many roles: I was a father, a counselor, and an advisor.

I soon encountered the Student Centered and Social Reconstruction ideologies of education. The needs of my student necessitated that I adapt my educational philosophy to incorporate these ideologies.  There was need to meet the students where they were and to educate them on how they might be able to reconstruct what they viewed as a broken society. There was a constant friction between my views of education and the views of education held by most educators and administrators at this urban school. I had to learn and adjust my educational philosophy to fit within the context that I was experiencing.  My work as educator was to help students cope with their home situations and also to provide them with the skills necessary to escape poverty and build a better life for themselves. This included teaching them how to work cooperatively with others and how to resolve their differences through communication and not through violence. I was expected to show students that there was a whole world beyond the confines of their current neighborhoods and to empower them to change their circumstances.

When I relocated to a suburban school in Atlanta, the societal expectations changed. My new school was in an upper middle income neighborhood. School was viewed as a place where students learn the skills they need to be productive and successful members of society.  I was expected to help my students earn good grades and prepare them to attend prestigious universities across the country.  This was more in line with the Social Efficiency ideology of education, and I again found myself needing to adjust my educational philosophy. No longer was I trying to change my students’ view of society.  In this context, there was no need to change society for the better. Society was better already.  Instead, I just needed to prepare my students to become productive members of society.

To conclude, as I was reading Schiro’s book, I found myself in agreement with many of the reasons why educational ideologies may change.  Sometimes educators may change their ideologies to fit the trends in society. For example, I had to change my views of education to fit the needs of the student populations with which I was working. It is also true that changes in your own life, such as having children or starting a new degree program, can change your views on the purpose of education.  In my experience, changes in one’s personal and professional life often translate into changes in one’s educational ideology.  Overall, I enjoyed Schiro’s book as much of what he had to say resonated with my own experience as an educator.

 

Reference

Schiro, S. M. (2013). Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc

Part III: Conversations with Educators Regarding Virtual Labs Usage In Science Education


In this video I interviewed a science general biology educator regarding her experiences with virtual labs in science education. I started the interview by asking her to describe her education background and how she became an educator. In addition, I asked her to describe her educational philosophy and how that philosophy fit in with the use of virtual labs. Furthermore, I asked her to describe a professional development she had received to help her use virtual labs effectively with her students. I concluded the interview by asking her to describe what she sees as the benefits and barriers of using virtual labs in science education and what adaptations she is using to ensure all students in her class benefited from virtual labs.

Part II: Conversations with Educators Regarding Virtual Lab Usage in Science Education


In this video I interviewed a science special education educator regarding his experiences with virtual labs in science education. I started the interview by asking him to describe his education background and how he became an educator. In addition, I asked him to describe his educational philosophy and how that philosophy fit in with the use of virtual labs. Furthermore, I asked him to describe a professional development he had received to help him use virtual labs effectively with his students. I concluded the interview by asking him to describe what he sees as the benefits and barriers of using virtual labs in science education and what adaptations he uses to ensure all students in her class benefited from virtual labs.

Part I: Conversations with Educators Regarding Virtual Lab Usage in Science Education


In this video I interviewed a physics educator regarding his experiences with virtual labs in science education. This was my first interview with teachers. I started the interview by asking him to describe his education background and how he became an educator. In addition, I asked him to describe his educational philosophy and how that philosophy fit in with the his use of virtual labs in science. Furthermore, I asked him to describe a professional development he received to help him use virtual labs effectively with his students. I concluded the interview by asking him to describe what he saw as the benefits and the barriers of using virtual labs in science education and what adaptations he employs to ensure all students in his class benefited from virtual labs.

Recomendations for Successful Curriculum Revisions


The article entitled “Principles of Effective Change: Curriculum Revision That Works” by Johnson (2001) describes a study conducted to determine factors for successful curriculum revision for teachers and school administrators in southern Iowa, United States. The purpose of the study was to determine the key elements that will affect the success of curriculum revisions at the school and district levels. In this analysis, I will describe the study design, findings, and recommendations. I will also discuss the lessons I learned from the findings and the approach that I will apply to in my role as a curriculum specialist.

Johnson (2001) used a Likert Scale Response Checklist in a mixed method study designed to solicit educational practitioners’ perspectives on factors they thought contributed to successful curriculum revisions. The Likert Scale Responses Checklist consisted of 28 response questions with six constructed response questions. In addition, four focus group interviews were conducted to substantiate and corroborate the themes and patterns developed from the Likert scale responses. The response rate from the interviews was 77%. 73% were from classroom teachers and 27% were from building level and central office leaders.

Several conclusions were derived from the study. First, participants considered in-service training to be an important component of the overall success of a curriculum revision process. Second, teachers and school administers emphasized that the importance of specific training in the curriculum revision process and a deeper understanding of the process was crucial to the success of the project. Third, consistent review and on-going training was a key component to a successful curriculum revision. The one-shot in-service training program was deemed inadequate by both educators and administrators. Fourth, it was also found that the participants’ ownership of the curriculum revision process was vital to the process.

From the study results, Johnson (2001) came up with six recommendations for successful curriculum revisions for schools and districts:

  • Direct involvement of educators and administrators in the curriculum revision process
  • A long time frame for training and revisions
  • Continuous assistance to participants during the revision process
  • The review process must be consistent throughout the revision process
  • A necessary combination of in-district expertise and out-of-district expertise
  • Better understanding of the curriculum, curriculum review, and curriculum needs by the teachers and administrators.

Lessons Learned

I found the study to be thorough. In addition, I found similar factors for successful curriculum revision in the two previous articles I analyzed. It seems that the most important factor in any curriculum revision and/or change process is the teachers’ participation. According to Blanchard (1978) and Ramparsad (2002) teacher participation in adapting curriculum increases the likelihood of a “buy-in” during the curriculum implementation phase. I wonder why curriculum change in my school district happens without utilizing this previously established empirical fact.  It’s a no brainer that most curriculum changes utilizing the top-down approach fall flat during the implementation phase. In my leadership as a curriculum manager for a school district, I will make sure that empirical evidences for successful curriculum development and implementation are incorporated in the curriculum development process in order to increase the likelihood of success of curriculum adoption at the school and district levels.

 

References

Blanchard, L. J. (1978). Creating a climate of rapid response to needs for change. Journal of Educational leadership, 37-40.

Johnson, A. J. (2001). Principles of effective change: Curriculum revision that works. Journal of Research for Educational Leaders, 4, 5-18.

Ramparsad, R. (2001). A strategy for teacher involvement in curriculum development. South African Journal of Education, 21(4): 287-292.

Change Theory and Curriculum Development


In this reflection I will discuss the article entitled “Creating a Climate of Rapid Response to Needs for Change” by Blanchard (1978). I will present the steps that Blanchard used to develop an alternative curriculum (model) for a high school.  This curriculum addressed the school’s current and future needs that were identified during discussions with the teaching staff.  Finally, I will present the lessons I learned while reading this article.

            Blanchard (1978) describes change as “exciting, refreshing, distressing, frightening, and disorienting at times.”  According to Blanchard (1978), people react differently when encountering the pressure for change.  In particular, curriculum specialists typically have one of three reactions when encountering the pressure to change a curriculum.  First, curriculum specialists may oversimplify the situation. Oversimplifying the situation generally occurs when there is a lack of sufficient information to clearly determine how the curriculum needs to change. This lack of sufficient information may lead to adopting customized solutions (ready-made curricula) or it may lead to adopting simple solutions for complex situations such as additions to curriculum that are not necessarily needed.

The second way curriculum specialists may react is to maintain the status quo. Most times, curriculum specialists may decide to keep the curriculum in place without evaluating the changing needs of society, the teachers, and the students. For example, the demographic profile of the school(s) may change and this can have a major impact on the appropriateness of the curriculum. In this situation, curriculum specialists may decide to keep the status quo because they feel like “if it isn’t broke, why fix it?” However, specialists who adopt this attitude miss the opportunity to ensure the curriculum keeps pace with the changing demographics and meets the needs of the students and teachers in the school system.   

Finally, curriculum specialists may opt for what Blanchard refers to as “bandwagonism”. Under this scenario, curriculum specialists may adopt a curriculum because it has already been adopted by other schools and districts and not because it fit the needs of the school(s) where the specialist works.

To facilitate a climate accommodating to change, Blanchard suggests that curriculum specialists should believe in the worth and contribution of individual teachers as part of the curriculum development process. According to Blanchard, teachers are integral members of the curriculum change process. Curriculum specialists must empower teachers by giving them the opportunity to identify and respond to curriculum needs within their schools and community. Furthermore, Blanchard argues that allowing teacher participation may also reduce suspicions and ensure that the curriculum is widely adopted. It may also help to avoid an atmosphere of resistance that could result from bringing a ready-made curriculum to schools and/or communities without adequate participation of teachers in the process.

In her article, Blanchard presents a case study from her work with teachers at a secondary school to develop an alternative program curriculum that reflected present and future needs of the school. With the teachers, she developed a process model for creating this alternative curriculum. The process model included: the data collection phase, the data analysis phase, the synthesis phase, the commitment phase, and the planning phase.  In the first three phases, teachers identify the current and future needs of the school that are not being addressed with the current curriculum.  In the commitment phase, the teachers select curriculum ideas that match the needs of the school.  Finally, in the planning phase, teachers identify guidelines for measuring the success of the new curriculum. The specialist then takes all of the information from these five phases and develops a curriculum that incorporates input from the teachers.

The lessons I learned from this article are that: 1) it is important for future curriculum specialists/managers such as myself to involve stakeholders in the decision making process while developing a new or an alternative curriculum; 2)  the developed curriculum must be based on present and future needs of the school system; 3) involving stakeholders in decision making improves the likelihood that there will be“ buy in” to the agreed decisions and resulting curriculum; 4) flexibility in time and schedule is paramount to ensure that there is adequate time to solicit teachers’ input; 5) it is important to trust the answers that teachers provide during the process; and 6)  it is important to be there to learn from and not supervise teachers during the process.  This article has given me a good model to follow for developing curriculum in my future work as a curriculum supervisor. 

Reference

Blanchard, L. J. (1978). Creating a climate of rapid response to needs for change. Journal of Educational leadership, 37-40.

Social Reconstruction Ideology of Education


In chapter 5, Schiro (2013) introduces the social reconstruction ideology. Central to the social reconstruction ideology is the idea that the existing society is imperfect.  In other words, the society in which we reside is broken.  Social reconstructionists believe that education should not be used as a vehicle for merely fixing the flaws within our society, but should be used to transform the existing society into a new society that is just, moral, satisfying,  and empowering for everyone. In this context, Social reconstructionists argues that the function of schools is to avoid uncritically serving and reproducing the existing society. It is important to go beyond reflecting the wishes of the existing society by teaching students to become critical, and analytical thinkers, and to also be aware of the injustices existing in our current society.
Furthermore, social reconstructionists believe that educators have the responsibility to empower students to change what they see as a “flawed society.” The argument here is that education should not be neutral to the ills of society. I do agree wholeheartedly with this argument, although, I have doubts on how we as a society are going to agree on the vision of the so called “ideal society.” Americans are already having difficulties agreeing with issues such as planned parenthood, gay marriage, Obama-care and so many other issues. How in the world are we going to agree on issues that will change the existing power structures?  The social reconstructionists idea of changing our society to a desirable society is noble, but impossible to implement under the existing power-coercive society.
Furthermore, in chapter 6, Schiro (2013) provides a comparative overview of the four educational ideologies: the scholar academic, the social efficiency, the child centered, and the social reconstructionists and how they view teaching, learning, assessment, the child, and knowledge. I will hence forth present my opinion on the assessment discussions solely.  The scholar academic ideology view assessment as a way to rank students for a future in the discipline whereas the social efficiency ideology view assessment as a way to certify to the corporate world’s a view of students’ skills that are relevant for the jobs that they offer. Furthermore, the learner centered ideology views assessment as a tool to diagnose students’ abilities and to use the obtained diagnosis as a tool to facilitate growth in student learning, whereas, the social reconstruction ideology views assessment as a measure of student progress with respect to students’ ability rather than in comparison with other students.
 I concur with the assessment views presented by both the learner centered and the social reconstruction ideologies. I see the value of assessment as a diagnostic tool for educators. The diagnosis can help educators to propel students forward to reach their potentials best according to the students’ abilities. In my views the corporate assessment environment that we are operating under is not helpful. The current testing environment greatly hinders student growth.  I feel like the current testing environment does not benefit students at all but, instead it benefits the parents, the administrators, and the corporate world.
Reference
Schiro, S. M. (2013). Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc

Phenomenological Study


According to Creswell (2013), a phenomenological study, “describes the common meaning of several individuals of their lived experience of a concept or a phenomenon.” There are two types of phenomenological studies.  The first type is a heuristic phenomenological approach which brings to the fore the personal experience of the researcher (Moustakas, 1990b:9, as cited in Patton; 2002b).  The second type is a transcendental phenomenological approach that involves the researcher bracketing themselves through acknowledging their experiences with the phenomenon under investigation (Creswell, 2013).  I will use the transcendental phenomenological approach for my pilot study.  

 

There are seven main features in a transcendental phenomenological study. These features include:  a) deciding on a phenomenon to be explored, b) identification of a group of individuals who have experienced the phenomenon, c) a discussion of the theoretical framework guiding the phenomenological study, d) a discussion by the researcher regarding their personal experiences with the phenomenon (known as bracketing), e) a data collection procedure commonly involving interviewing individuals who have experienced the phenomenon, f) data analysis procedures that move from narrower significant statements to broader units and, g) a description of the essence of the individuals ‘shared experience.

 

In the next several paragraphs, I apply these seven steps to my dissertation topic.  The phenomenon to be explored in my dissertation project is to investigate teachers’ shared experience using virtual labs in their classrooms. In my initial interview, I would like to ask six main questions to capture teachers’ experiences with virtual labs. These questions include:

 

1)                  Tell me about your educational and professional background.

  1. Probe: How did you become an educator?

2)                  What is your teaching philosophy?

3)                  How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?

4)                  How did you learn about virtual labs?

  1. When did you start using them?
  2. Why did you decide to use virtual labs in your classroom?

5)                  What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?

6)                  What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?

 

While conducting the pilot study, teachers’ experiences with virtual labs will be the main focus or what Creswell (2013) calls “the phenomenon to be explored.” I intend to use a sample size of two teachers who have experience using virtual labs with their students to explore this phenomenon. This number is well below what Creswell (2013) suggests in his book.  Creswell (2013)  advises that a phenomenological study should be conducted with a heterogeneous group of at a minimum 3 to a maximum of 15 individuals.  Given time constraints, I will only be able to interview two teachers.  I am concerned that this sample size will not be sufficient for me to determine the essence of the lived and shared experiences of teachers who have used virtual labs in their classroom.  In addition, the teachers I have chosen are both new to the profession. They each have two years of teaching experience and therefore they have only two years of using virtual labs with their students. I am afraid that the two teachers I have chosen may present a homogeneous rather than a heterogeneous group. Therefore, the teachers I have chosen may not provide a comprehensive picture of teachers’ experiences using virtual labs. In other words, a larger sample size (more than two individuals) consisting of teachers with varied amount of experiences would have given me a richer understanding of teachers ‘experiences using virtual labs.  Despite these limitations, I feel that conducting this pilot study will give me the experience and skills I need to conduct a rigorous qualitative exploration using a phenomenological approach as part of my dissertation..

 

An example of a well-conducted study using a phenomenological approach can be found in the article entitled “A Phenomenological Study –Cognitive Representations of Aids” by Anderson and Spencer (2002).  In this study, the authors wanted to “describe AIDS patients’ cognitive representation of their illness.” The authors used a purposive sample of 41 men and 17 women. To be eligible for the study, participants had to:  have an AIDS diagnosis, be 18 years or older, be able to communicate in English, and have a mini-mental status exam score of greater than 22.  This study shows the rigor that must be met to conduct a phenomenological study.  In my study, I have also set clear inclusion criteria.  To be eligible for my study, teachers must have at least two years teaching experience, be currently using virtual labs in their classroom, be a high school science teacher, be able to communicate in English.  The sample size used by Anderson and Spencer (2002) is more aligned with the guidance given by Creswell (2013).  As previously mentioned, I plan to interview just two teachers for my pilot study.  If I use a phenomenological approach in my dissertation, I will need to increase the number of teachers that I interview in order to get a clearer picture of the range of teacher experiences’ using virtual labs.  

 

Since I am a researcher and also an educator who uses virtual labs in my classroom, it will be necessary for me to acknowledge and bracket these experiences during my study. Creswell (2013) states in conducting a phenomenological study it is necessary for the researcher to acknowledge their experiences, especially when the researcher has experienced the phenomenon under investigation. Anderson and Spencer (2002) acknowledged in their article that they provided health care to persons living with HIV and AIDS.  In addition, they explicitly stated that none of the participants in the study were and/or had been their patients. I found myself in a similar position with these ­­researchers in my attempts to conduct this pilot study. First and foremost I am an educator. I have a lived experience with virtual labs. Second, I am a researcher. I will be interviewing people that I work with on a daily basis. Therefore, it is essential for me to acknowledge these experiences so that I will be able to approach the lived virtual labs experience with a sense of newness (Patton, 2002b). This will help me to set aside the feelings and perceptions I have experienced with this phenomenon to be able to reach a better understanding of other teacher experiences’ using virtual labs in the high school setting.

 

During the data collection phase, I plan to interview high school teachers who have used virtual labs in their classroom.  These interviews will be my only source of data collection.  Creswell (2013) suggests using varied sources of data in a phenomenological study including poems, observations, and documents in addition to interviews. Anderson and Spencer (2002), in their phenomenological study with AIDS patients, used several methods of data collection including interviews, paper-and-pencil questionnaires, drawings, journals, music, and other forms of documentation. These varied methods of data collection helped them to triangulate and validate their findings. Furthermore, it helped them to describe the essence of the lived experience for persons living with HIV/AIDS in a much richer way. I have learned from Anderson, Spencer, and Creswell that I must include varied methods of data collections to capture the essence of teachers’ lived experience with virtual labs in their science courses. In my actual dissertation, I plan to use a combination of data collection methods including in-depth interviews, paper-and-pencil questionnaires, and observations to increase my understanding of teachers’ experiences using virtual labs.

 

To analyze the data from my pilot study, I will transcribe the interviews verbatim.  On the transcripts of these interviews, I will highlight significant statements, quotes, and sentences. I will then use these statements, sentences, and quotes to build my understanding of how the teachers experienced virtual labs.  Finally, I will write a composite description of the similarities and differences in how the teachers experienced the use of virtual labs in their science classrooms.

 

In summary, there are many lessons learned from this analysis. First, the best sample size for a phenomenological study is between 5 to 25 participants. My pilot study only includes a sample size of two teachers.  Thus, I will need to increase the sample size of teachers that I interview for my dissertation. Second, I am relying on a single method of data collection for my pilot study.  However, I will need to use a variety of data collection methods during my dissertation to gain a richer understanding of teachers’ experiences with virtual labs.  Third, since I will be using the transcendental phenomenological approach, it is imperative that I acknowledge my experiences with virtual labs (bracketing) so that I can be able to look at the participants’ experiences with a fresh set of eyes or what Patton (2002b.9) calls looking with “a sense of newness.” Fourth, to elicit a deeper and richer understanding of teachers’ experiences with virtual labs the set of questions I have developed needs to be streamlined. My questions are a little too broad and may need some refining for my actual dissertation study. I got some ideas for how to refine these questions during the interviews I conducted as part of my pilot study. 

 

For my next analysis, I will use a case study approach to guide my qualitative inquiry. This analysis will help me determine if a case study approach is better suited to explore teachers’ shared and lived experiences with virtual labs.

 


 

References

Anderson, E., & Spencer, M. (2002). A phenomenological study: cognitive representation of AIDS. Qualitative Health Research, 12(10), 1338-1352.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Patton, M. Q. (2002b). Variety in qualitative inquiry: Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

Curriculum Development: Lessons from South Africa


The article entitled “A Strategy for Teacher Involvement in Curriculum Development” by Ramparsad (2001) discusses effective strategies for involving practitioners in curriculum development. Ramparsad begins the article by providing a brief history of the educational system in South Africa.  Historically, South Africa was an apartheid state and all educational systems and curricula were centrally controlled. Ramparsad argues that this centralized model of educational delivery, with its centrally created and disseminated curricula, led educators to become technicians rather than professionals. In 1994, after the collapse of apartheid, South Africa held free and fair elections for the first time.  These elections ushered in majority rule and led to a new focus on creating an egalitarian society.  The educational system under apartheid had been geared toward educating the white minority.  However, with the collapse of apartheid, the need arose to address the shortcomings in the existing educational institutions and curricula in order to achieve a more egalitarian educational system and society.   

As part of this effort, in 1996, the government of South Africa developed a new ten year curriculum known as the “2005 curriculum” to replace the curricula used under apartheid.  As part of developing this curriculum, the government sought greater teacher participation during all four phases of curriculum development including the design phase, the dissemination phase, the implementation phase, and the evaluation phase.  To assess the level of teacher participation in developing the “2005 curriculum”, Ramparsad (2001) conducted interviews with foundational grade one teachers.  The purpose of these interviews was to assess whether teachers had the necessary skills and training to effectively engage in the curriculum development process and their feelings and anxieties during the development and implementation of the “2005 curriculum”.  Ramparsad used the findings from these interviews to inform the adaptation of the national “2005 curriculum” by  Provincial level authorities in the Gauteng Province Department of Education (the province where Pretoria and Johannesburg are located).   

Ramparsad’s study identified three main recommendations for the Gauteng Province Department of Education to improve teacher involvement in the curriculum development process.  First, the Province needed to dedicate time to train teachers on curriculum development in order to give them the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in all four phases of the development process and to be able to meaningfully contribute to the process. It was evident from the study that educators did not have the required skills for developing curriculum and training was therefore required to address this skills gap. To develop this training, Ramparsad (2001) recommended that the Province:

1)      assess what skills and knowledge teachers’ already possessed in terms of curriculum development,

2)      provide teachers with formal training on the curriculum development process during semesterized courses to address identified gaps, and

3)      ensure that the courses offered to teachers were accredited by the National Qualifications Framework.

Ramparsad also recommended that the Province invest in formal in-service training at the schools to familiarize teachers with the new curriculum in order to facilitate widespread adoption of the new curriculum. Finally, Ramparsad’s study found that teachers reported limited involvement in the evaluation phase of the curriculum development process and so special effort would be needed by the Province to engage teachers during this phase. 

Overall, I think this study was very informative and provided clear recommendations for successfully engaging teachers in the curriculum development process. The researcher touched on all necessary phases of curriculum development: design, dissemination, implementation, and evaluation. He also offered useful recommendations for each phase which I found to be very useful. However, I felt that Ramparsad placed an over emphasis on training.  While I agree, that it is essential that teachers have the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in the curriculum development process, I do not believe that training alone is sufficient to fully engage teachers throughout the process.  Given the historical context in which this curriculum was being developed – the end of apartheid and the beginning of a new democratic country – teachers should have had greater input into what information the new curriculum would contain. 

In my opinion, offering training courses to teachers on curriculum development is a top-down-approach that does not allow teachers to fully input into the design of the new curriculum.  This is what Bennis and colleagues (1969; as cited in Kelly, 2009) call a “power-coercive” strategy.   The researcher is looking at educators as deficient in the curriculum process and therefore through training their deficiencies will be addressed. In my view, a bottom-up approach would be more successful in this case. The bottom up approach would involve asking teachers as professionals to articulate what they believe should be included in the post-apartheid curriculum through a participatory approach.  This approach, along with training, would more effectively engage teachers in all aspects of curriculum development. 

References

Kelly, A. V. (2009). The Curriculum Theory and Practice (6th ed.) Southern Oaks, CA: SAGE Publication, Inc.

Ramparsad, R. (2001). A strategy for teacher involvement in curriculum development. South African Journal of Education, 21(4): 287-292.

Narrative Research Approach: Synthesized.


In this synthesis of narrative qualitative inquiry, I will review the readings that I have done on narrative inquiry. I will also present my plans for using the narrative inquiry tradition to develop my exploratory study. Finally, I will provide lessons learned throughout the process and discuss whether a narrative inquiry approach is appropriate for answering my research questions.

 Creswell (2013) states that “introducing and focusing the study, data collection methods, and data analysis and representation” are the essential components of a narrative inquiry. Creswell also identifies five components that should be included as part of the introduction to a well-conducted qualitative research study.  These components include: 1) a clearly defined topic, 2) a well-stated research problem, 3) a literature review justifying the problem, 4) identification of gaps and deficiencies in the existing literature, and 5) a justification and rationale for why the problem is an important area of research (Creswell, 2013; p. 132). As I start to develop my rationale and research questions for my exploratory qualitative study, I found Creswell’s five prong process to be helpful. I am interested in exploring the experiences of high school science teachers when using virtual labs with their students. I am planning to explore this topic using a narrative inquiry approach.

 

Creswell (2013) identifies several approaches to conducting a narrative inquiry. These approaches include: biographical studies, auto-ethnographies, life histories, and oral histories. In my exploratory study I plan to use a life story narrative approach.  I am not, however, trying to portray the person’s entire life history.  Instead, my questions will focus on capturing a defined time period in the lives of two teachers, namely their experiences using virtual labs as a teaching tool in their high school chemistry course.   This life story narrative approach will take the form of a personal experience story. Denzin (1989a; as cited in Creswell, 2013) states that a personal experience story may be used to study an individual’s personal experience in a single episode and/or in multiple episodes. In this pilot study, I will be asking the teachers to recall the episodes where they used virtual labs in their classrooms and to relay to me their personal experiences using these labs in their classrooms.  In addition, I will collect information about the teachers’ background.  This information will help contextualize how their experiences using virtual labs were influenced by their educational background and their teaching philosophy.

 

During my review of the literature, I identified two qualitative studies that described the experiences of teachers who became students.  Their experiences as students helped them identify strategies to improve their teaching.  Mann (2003), a college professor, described her own experience as a student attending an online course.  From her experience, she identified several strategies that teachers can use to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Similarly, Sinclair (2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010) spent two years as a student in a mechanical engineering program.  During her time as a student, she identified several challenges that students encounter when entering a new discourse or discipline. She also identified strategies that educators can use to help their students be successful in a new discourse.

 

The two studies points to the need to understand teachers’ experiences with virtual labs as it may be one strategy to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Currently, little research has been done in this area, especially among high school science students. My study will address this existing gap in the literature by exploring teachers’ experience with virtual labs using a narrative inquiry approach and examining the impact of virtual labs on student learning using quantitative methodology. In addition, the teachers’ experiences and stories from my exploratory study will help other educators understand the challenges and opportunities associated with using virtual labs in their classrooms, including identifying best practices for integrating virtual labs into the science classroom.

                                                                                                                      

Creswell (2013) describes several types of data collection techniques that can be used as part of a narrative inquiry.  These include in-depth interviews, personal observations, field notes, and attendance at events.  In their study entitled “Transformational Teaching Experiences of a Novice Teacher”, Kumi-Yeboah and Waynne (2012) use a combination of in-depth interviews, observations of teacher-student interactions, field notes, and follow-up interviews to trace the evolution of a teacher from a novice to an expert. For my exploratory study, I also plan to use a variety of data collection techniques including in-depth interviews with two teachers to elicit their experiences with virtual labs and to observe how they use virtual labs in their classrooms.  In my initial interview, I would like to ask six main questions to capture teachers’ experiences with virtual labs. These questions include:

 

1)   Tell me about your educational and professional background;

  1. Probe: How did you become an educator?

2)   What is your teaching philosophy?

3)   How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?

4)      Describe the professional development that has helped you to be effective in using virtual labs for teaching?

5)      What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?

6)      What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?

 

In my data collection phase, I am purposely choosing my two participants for the following reasons. First, the participants are new teachers (two years of teaching) in my department and because of that they have limited experience with virtual labs. Thus, I will not interview them during my actual dissertation study. Second, the participants and I work in the same hallway and have the same planning period; therefore, I have easy access to them. However, during the actual study I would like to interview just one veteran teacher who has extensive experience with virtual labs. This is in accordance with Creswell’s (2013) description that narrative inquiries are best suited for studying the lived experiences of a single individual. During my interview with this veteran teacher, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of how she uses virtual labs in her classroom in order to provide guidance to other teachers on the opportunities and difficulties of using virtual labs as a teaching tool in the science classroom.  .

 

Finally, in my data analysis phase, I intend to identify and interpret the major themes arising from the teachers’ stories. This is where the information gathered from the interviews will help create developing themes regarding the participants’ experiences with virtual labs.  I will then, present a visual comparison of the themes that may have developed from the interviews to show similarities and differences between the interviewees. I realize that including just two participants in my exploratory study may result in findings that are devoid of richer and triangulated stories (Sinclair, 2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010). However, I hope to use the lessons learned from the interviews conducted as part of my exploratory study to refine the interview guide and methodology that I use for my dissertation.

 

The use of various data collection methods in a narrative study increases the validity of the study findings by offering the means to cross check the developing themes across the data collection methods (Sinclair, 2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010). I plan to use both in-depth interviews and observations as part of my exploratory study.  It is my hope that the exploratory study will offer me some insights on what additional methods of data collection and analysis I should use as part of my dissertation study. In addition, the exploratory study will help me to determine if the initial questions that I have developed are appropriate for collecting teachers’ experience or whether the questions need to be refined.

 

In conclusion, the synthesis for this week has helped me to frame my research study using a narrative inquiry approach.   As part of this process, I came to realize that other approaches may be more appropriate to answer my research question, namely categorizing the types of experiences that science teachers have when using virtual labs. For example, a phenomenological inquiry could help me understand the essence of the teachers’ shared experiences using virtual labs. Therefore, in synthesis two, I will explore these same questions using a phenomenological approach of qualitative inquiry. This will help me to determine which approach, narrative or phenomenological, is best suited to help me answer the questions outlined in my dissertation study. 

 

References

Case, J. M., Marshall, D., & Linder, C. (2010). Being a student again: A narrative study of a teachers’ experience. Teaching in Higher Education,15(4): 423-433.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Kumu-Yeboah, A., & Waynne, J. (2012). Transformation teaching Experiences of a Novice Teacher: A narrative of an award winning teacher. Journal of Adult Learning, 23(4): 170-177.

Mann, S. J. (2003). A personal inquiry into an experience of adult learning on-line.

 Instructional Science, 31, 111-125.

Charlie Rose Reflections


In this reflection I will discuss Charlie Rose’s interviews with President Obama and Michael Moore. I will also discuss the lessons I learned from watching these interviews. In addition, I will discuss how the lessons learned will help me in conducting my own interviews with my study participants. Finally, I will end my reflection by reflecting back on the introduction part and the ending part of the interviews I saw.

While interviewing Michael Moore for the documentary entitled “Capitalism a Love Affair,” Mr. Rose started the interview by asking a general question, the focusing question. The question was, “What’s wrong with capitalism? I thought we all liked capitalism.” The question was very broad but at the same time very focused. The purpose of the question was to center the whole interview on the idea of capitalism — the good, the bad, and the in between. As Patton (2002a) points out, narrowing a complex issue into a singular burning question helps the researcher gain clarity and focus around the question itself. I feel as though Charlie Rose used a similar approach in his interview with Mr. Moore by narrowing a complex issue such as capitalism into one broad but targeted question.  This question than got the respondent, in this case, Mr. Moore, to share his views of the benefits and drawbacks of capitalism.  This approach helped the interview remain on topic and allowed Mr. Rose to elicit the interviewee’s perspective on a very complex topic. 

In another interview, Charlie Rose discussed the developments in the Middle East with President Obama. The interview was centered on the Civil War in Syria, the elections in Iran, and the continued turmoil in Egypt. Since the topics he was exploring were not entirely connected around a single theme, Mr. Rose’s interview was conducted as more of a discussion as opposed to a question-answer format. What I learned from this interview was that not all interviews follow the same script. Some interview may take the form of a discussion with general leading questions. While others, may follow the question and answer format. Mr. Rose, in his interview with President Obama, was interested in eliciting the President’s views on a multitude of issues including peace, war, nuclear weapons, and American interests in the Middle East, and so he chose the methodology that would allow him to achieve this aim.

While interviews can be a great tool for data collection, like all data collection tools, they have strengths and weaknesses. Interviews can help the researcher explore the feelings and thoughts of the interviewee.  However, interviews are subject to several limitations including “personal bias, anger, anxiety, politics, and the emotional state of the interviewee at the time of interview” (Patton, 2002b, p. 306). Other limitations include recall error and responses that are either self-serving or reflect a social desirability bias.  In other words, respondents may not be willing to admit to engaging in behavior that goes against social norms and rules.  As I prepare to conduct my own interviews, I feel that it is important for me to know the limitations and benefits associated with this method of data collection. Furthermore, since I am relying entirely on interviews for my exploratory study, it is important for me to be aware of the limitations inherent with this method of data collection so that I can take steps to minimize these limitations.  For example, developing a good rapport with my respondents will be critically important to ensure participants are comfortable enough with me to share their perspectives in an open and honest manner and thereby reduce the risk of social desirability bias. 

To conclude, I greatly enjoyed watching Mr. Rose conduct interviews.  He obviously has a lot of skill in this area and I can learn many techniques for my own interviews by observing him.  At the beginning of both interviews I observed, Mr. Rose began with simple, friendly, and directed questions that served to frame the focus of the interview.  And, if there was more than one area of focus to the interview, Mr. Rose conducted a discussion rather than a question and answer type of interview.  By actively listening to his interview subject, Mr. Rose indicated a clear interest in what the interviewee was saying and this helped him establish a strong rapport with the respondent.  I intend to incorporate some of the techniques I witnessed Mr. Rose using in his interviews into the interviews I conduct as part of my own research.   This will help me improve my questions, use a format that matches the aims of my interview, and ensure that I establish a good rapport with my participants so that they feel comfortable sharing their experiences using virtual labs with me.

References

Patton, M. Q. (2002a). Variety in qualitative inquiry. Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Patton, M. Q. (2002b). Fieldwork strategies and observation methods. Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Post Structuralism and Deconstructionism In Education


This week’s supplemental reading was very informative and added to my overall understanding of chapter five of the book entitled “Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches” by Creswell. Chapter five of Creswell (2013) details the five qualitative inquiry types: Case Study, Ethnography, Phenomenology, Narrative Study, and Grounded Theory.  I, however, will not dwell on the five types of qualitative lines of inquiry in this reflection. I will mainly discuss two ideas that I found to be interesting in the supplemental reading. First, I found the post-structural theoretical approach to be very interesting and trans-formational. I have always had an inclination that inclusion practices in education were a problematic endeavor since my first encounter with the idea. My doubts for inclusion may have been caused by conflicting educational ideologies. My upbringing and the schooling philosophies I studied under while growing up in Tanzania were very different from the ones I found myself working under in the American schools.

I struggled with the inclusion ideology a lot in my first few years of teaching in Baltimore, Maryland. I do understand the importance of mainstreaming disabled students, students with color, and others in the general education classroom. However, I was somehow dismayed by the fact that administrators will put students who were 3 to5 grade levels below in reading, writing, and mathematics in the same classroom with those who are on or above grade level. The inclusion idea is a brilliant one in theory, but in practice, it is flawed in many levels. It is a challenge for teachers to differentiate instruction to 30 plus students who are 3 to 5 below grade level and who also happen to have varied learning styles.  Dunne (2001) points out that inclusion is seen as fundamentally a good idea in the inclusive education arena. However, post-structuralism lens provides us with the tool to question the practice. Post structuralism also helps us realize that inclusion is laden with many problems in practice. For me it was heartwarming to realize that there are qualitative research methods such as post structuralism and discourse based qualitative inquiries that can be used to illuminate/or critique the fallacies of inclusive education.

In addition, I found the article entitled “The Q Standards and Initial Teacher Training: The Discursive Formation of Teachers and their Trainers” by Bartle (2011) quite interesting. It had never crossed my mind that text can be hegemonic. According to Derrida (1978, as cited in Bartle; 2001) deconstruction is a useful means of understanding text and the world.  Using Derrida’s deconstruction method we will be able to deconstruct the binary opposition in the text for instance, power/powerlessness, groups/individuals, knowledge/ignorance and so forth.  A good example of current education policies text that is embedded with hegemonic languages is the No child Left Behind and the Race to the Top. The Race to the Top is littered with the language of power (the county, the state, and the nation) and the language of powerlessness for the teachers. The undemocratic nature of the Race to the Top policy is clearly laid out in its language regarding the teacher evaluation system that is tied to student achievement. The document leaves no room for teachers to be knowledgeable and empowered professionals. All the power is allotted to the politicians. Thus, deconstruction and post-structural methods of qualitative inquiry can be a powerful tool in understanding meanings embedded in text that perpetuate and promote hegemony.

 

Reference

 

Bartle, P. (2011). The ‘Q’ standards and initial teacher training: The discursive formation of teachers and their trainers. In J. Adams, M. Cochrane & L. Dunne (Eds).  Applying theory to educational research: An introductory approach with case studies (pp. 31-46). New York, NY: Wiley.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Dunne, L. (2011). How applying a discourse-based approach. . In J. Adams, M. Cochrane, & L. Dunne (Eds).  Applying theory to educational research: An introductory approach with case studies (pp. 123-138). New York, NY: Wiley.

Social Efficiency and Learner Centered Ideologies in Education


Reading through chapters 4 and 5 of the book entitled Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns by Schiro (2011), I gained an in-depth understanding of what the Learner Centered and the Social Efficiency ideologies represent. In this week’s brief reflection of the two chapters, I will base my discussion on how the two ideology views the child/learner and the teacher.

In the Social Efficiency ideology, the child is not the main focus. The focus is to develop skills necessary for society’s needs. The child’s is viewed as potential adult members of the society. The Social Efficiency ideology places less emphasis on the individual needs of the child. It places more emphasis on the capability of the child to fill social needs of the society.  I take issue with this approach of educating children. I believe in educating the whole child and that other aspects of the individual child are equally as important as the capability to fulfill social needs of society. Individual needs of the child need to be addressed in the process of teaching and learning.

On the other hand, the Leaner Centered ideology’s main focus is on the learner.  The child’s needs and interests are central to his/her learning and needs to be incorporated in the learning experiences. I agree wholeheartedly with this view. As a teacher, I spend quite sometime in the beginning of the semester to learn my students’ interests, prior knowledge, and abilities. I believe that in order to teach students (kids) effectively, we need to know who they are and what they like. Being aware of students’ interests and ability is useful in the process of creating the experiences from which students will create their own meaning of the curriculum content.

The Social Efficiency ideology views a teacher as a “manager of the conditions of learning (Gagne, 1970, p. 324; as cited in Schiro, 2011). In essence the teacher’s role is to implement curriculum developed by developers with little or no input of their own. As a teacher I feel that the role of the teacher in the Social Efficiency ideology is misguided. Teachers should be able to make needed changes to the curriculum to meet students’ needs and interests. This will help students to learn, create meanings, and the skills necessary to be fully functioning members in a democratic society.

The role of the teacher in the Learner Centered ideology is to provide consultations to the child. The consultation that will help the child to reach whatever destination s/he needs to go. I am in favor of this teaching and learning approach. I see myself in this role while teaching my courses. I create experiences and put myself in the background to watch and admire as my students create their own meaning from the experience.  In conclusion, I see the value on both ideologies and I tend to borrow the goods from both in my praxis.

Reference

Schiro, S. M. (2013). Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns ((2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. 

A Reflection on Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design


While reading through chapter three of the book Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches, Creswell raised two points that I found to be very informative in conducting qualitative inquiry.  The first point was that there are varied designs that can be used to frame a qualitative inquiry. Creswell, however, finds it useful to design a qualitative inquiry following the scientific method; an approach to which I agree. I work better when I have a set of guidelines to follow. I believe the scientific method provides the skeleton onto which I can anchor the meat of my research – from stating the research questions and hypothesis, through data collection and analysis, to discussion of the implications of the findings. While I prefer the scientific method to anchor my research, it is up to the individual researcher to choose the design that best fits his/her philosophical framework. On the other hand, as I read chapter two of the book Strategic Themes in Qualitative Inquiry I came to realize that maybe seeing the world as one, my own, may not be enough. Therefore I need to learn and become familiar with the multiple realities of the world I live in and the varied qualitative research designs that will help me understand those worlds better.  Having an open mind will help me to study the real world situation “without interjecting predetermined constraints on the findings” (Patton, 2002a).

Secondly, Creswell states that qualitative researchers need to be sensitive to vulnerable populations and to take great care not to place participants at risk from imbalanced power relations (Hatch, 2002; as cited in Creswell, 2012). I find the advice to be very useful especially for a beginner researcher like myself. As I continue to learn the ethical issues related to conducting qualitative research, I must also learn to be mindful of the nature of power balances I might find at my research site. Respecting the native culture and whatever power relationship they have within themselves and the wider community is paramount. A qualitative researcher, therefore, must tell the multiple stories they find in their research in a way that does not compromise the power relationship found in vulnerable populations. Our research should not in any way compromise and/or jeopardize further the relationship and power imbalances our participants are already experiencing. However, critical pedagogy and critical theory as described in Part II of the book Paradigms and Perspectives in Contentions, (Olesen as cited by Denzin and Lincoln, 2011), argues that “getting mad is no longer enough.”  Qualitative researchers need to learn to act and expose the injustice and power imbalance in marginalized societies so that hegemony can be stopped.

In chapter four, Creswell discusses the five approaches to qualitative inquiry.  I am relatively new to most of the approaches i.e. narrative approach, phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and case studies.  There are many similarities and differences amongst the five approaches. I will however, reflect on one of these approaches namely the case study approach. I was introduced to the case study approach when I was taking a classroom management course for my graduate degree in education. I have used the case study approach before to study whether utilizing an inquiry method for learning lessens incidents of misbehavior in my classroom. When I started teaching in the Baltimore City Public Schools, I had major problems with classroom management stemming from students’ misbehavior. As a way to lessen the incidents (i.e., fighting, classroom disruptions such as table banging, and lack of participation in class activity) I developed two inquiry based unit plans geared to helping students create their own meaning of concepts and topics. It was a case study approach and I tracked the number of incidents in each period while using the inquiry learning approach. I realize now after reading Creswell’s chapter four that my case study approach was lacking in many levels. I only used one method of collecting data which was observing the type and frequency of disruptive incidents. Creswell suggests using several methods of data collection including interviews, audiovisual, documentation, and artifacts to capture data that will help to develop a detailed analysis of the problem. Thus, reading these two chapters has broadened my understanding of the various approaches, designs, and ethical issues related to qualitative research.

Reference

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, T. S. (2011). Paradigms and Perspectives in Contention. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds), The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (pp. 91-94). New York, NY: SAGE.

Patton, M. Q. (2002a). Strategic themes in qualitative inquiry. Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

A Reflection on Curriculum Theory


Reading the first two chapters of the book entitled Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns I gained three major ideas that I will discuss in this reflection. In chapter one, Schiro briefly discusses the beliefs that people have about the American school curriculum and the four curriculum ideologies namely: the scholar academic, the social efficiency, the learner centered, and the social reconstruction. Even though Schiro did not offer an in-depth introduction to the four curriculum ideologies in the first chapter of the book, I was able to identify myself with both the scholar academic and the social efficiency curriculum ideologies. I agree with the premise that curriculum should foster the acquisition of knowledge and provide students with the experiences, skills, and traditions needed to become practicing professionals. Anything short of that is a disservice to students. In other words, when I teach Chemistry, I strive to provide students with the experiences, skills, and traditions needed to become actual chemists if they so choose.

Despite my firm beliefs in the scholar academic ideology, I also find myself being in favor of training students in the skills and procedures necessary for the workplace, home lives, and in meeting their democratic functions to society. This belief of mine is in line with the social efficiency curriculum ideology. In addition, I tend to side more with the views that the classification system that categorizes educators into one of four distinct groups (i.e. academic, social efficiency, learner centered, and social reconstruction) is flawed. I believe that many educators, myself included, have a strong affinity to one of the curriculum ideologies, but may also have an affinity to elements of the other types of curriculum ideologies. Therefore, we may be considered eclectic in how we align ourselves with the curriculum ideologies.

In chapter two of the book, Schiro discusses the scholar academic ideology in detail. I will mainly reflect on the teaching methods used by educators who subscribe to the scholar academic ideology. The three teaching methods Schiro discusses in this chapter include didactic discourses, supervised practices, and Socratic discussions. I find myself using almost all of these teaching methodologies in my teaching.  As I develop my 5E lesson plans, I normally think of the best ways and/or teaching methods I can employ efficiently and effectively to convey concepts to students.  For example, I may ask myself “is guided practice the best way to present this material to my students” or “will power point presentation (didactic) or Socratic questioning be more helpful?”.  Teaching is more than knowing the content; it also involves knowing the pedagogical processes of presenting the information to students who naturally have varied interests, abilities, and backgrounds. Thus, to effectively teach students new concepts, you have to constantly think about the best way to present the information.

In conclusion, chapters one and two were very informative. I gained a lot of new information including the different curriculum ideologies, the problems associated with classifying educators into these ideologies, and the teaching method and evaluative tools associated with the scholar academic ideology.

Reference

Schiro, S. M. (2013). Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns ((2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. 

Virtual Labs: Are they as effective as face to face lab instruction?


Article Title: Investigating the Effectiveness of Virtual Laboratories in an Undergraduate Biology Course.

Name of Reviewer: Shaaban Fundi

Overview

            In his article entitled “Investigating the Effectiveness of Virtual Laboratories in an Undergraduate Biology Course”, Flowers asserts that most research has shown virtual labs to be highly effective with benefits equal to and in some cases better than physical laboratory activities (Dalgarno, Bishop, Adlong, & Bedgood, 2009; Dobson, 2009; Swan & O’Donnell, 2009, as cited in Flowers, 2011).  Studies by Allen & Seaman (2010) and Chen, Lambert, & Guidry (2010) indicate that web-based learning can positively impact student learning outcomes and promote student engagement.  However, a study by Stuckey-Mickell & Stuckey-Danner (2007) found that students perceived virtual labs less favorably than traditional, physical labs. To explore this potentially negative perception, Flowers conducted a study among university biology students to obtain their perceptions regarding the ability of virtual labs to teach them how to correctly use laboratory equipment and follow correct laboratory procedures. 

Study design and results

            For his study, Flowers recruited 19 undergraduate students from an introductory biology course.  The course included five virtual laboratories and five traditional face-to-face laboratories.  In the virtual labs, students designed experiments using computer mouse manipulations. Students’ understanding of scientific materials was assessed following their completion of the virtual labs. In addition, students completed a questionnaire at the end of the semester.  This questionnaire utilized Likert scales to measure students’ perceptions of the effectiveness of virtual labs at teaching biology concepts compared to traditional labs. Results indicate that the majority of students perceived that they learned more biology concepts from the virtual labs compared to the traditional labs and that they preferred to participate in virtual labs. However, students felt virtual labs were less effective at teaching them how to operate lab equipment compared to traditional labs.

Reflection

            The findings from the Flowers’ study are consistent with many other published studies from college settings which have found that students prefer this mode of learning over traditional labs. Students also perceive higher learning gains when participating in virtual labs.  Some topics, however, are more effectively taught in a traditional laboratory setting including the proper use of lab equipment. As I think about how to apply these findings in my own classroom, I realize that I need to strike a balance between virtual and traditional labs in order to provide the most benefit to my students. I plan to use virtual labs to help teach scientific content, especially when traditional labs are either too expensive or dangerous for my students to complete, and use traditional labs to demonstrate the proper usage of lab tools and equipment.

            This study also gave me some ideas for my own research. I am starting to realize that I do not need an overly complex study design such as a randomized control trial for my dissertation.  Instead, I can use a relatively simple study design like the one used in this article to answer the question of whether virtual labs are a beneficial tool for teaching chemistry to high school students.  This more simple design will be more feasible for me to implement.  In addition, I plan to employ a survey with Likert scale items like the one used in this study to collect and analyze students’ perceived learning gains and their perceptions of virtual labs compared to traditional labs.         

In conclusion, I have obtained a number of ideas for my own dissertation after reading the five articles for this class.  I will continue to review the literature to identify and explore other possibilities for my dissertation research and to add to my arsenal of evidence-based teaching strategies. All in all, this exercise has opened up many possibilities for me as an educator and as a researcher.

Reference

Flowers L. Investigating the effectiveness of virtual laboratories in an undergraduate biology course.  The Journal of Human Resource and Adult Learning,2011; 7(2): 110-116.

The Politics of American Education: My take on Joel Spring’s Book


By: Shaaban Fundi
Growing up in the East African country of Tanzania, attending school was the only way I knew to escape poverty. My parents and teachers emphasized to me from an early age the importance of remaining in school so that I could gain the skills necessary to get a high-paying job.  In my view, the main socio-cultural factor driving this belief was the lack of a social safety net for the elderly.  This was especially true for individuals working in informal sectors like agriculture and day labor.  Since 70% of Tanzanians are subsistence farmers, including my parents, there was a strong belief that you had to earn as much money as you could during your prime working life to have the money and resources you needed when you could no longer work.  Culturally, children were also expected to help take care of their elderly parents.  Therefore, educating your child was seen as an investment not only for the child’s future, but also for the parents’ golden years.

Moreover, as a child, the only people I knew who were not subsistence farmers, and who appeared to be “rich” to me, were those who went to school and were able to secure lucrative positions with the government. Thus, when I read the quote from Spring (2011, p 141) that “schools can help people escape from poverty by teaching the knowledge and skills needed for employment and instilling values of hard work and discipline”, I knew it to be true from my own life experience. What was interesting to me after reading Spring’s book (2011) was that since my early childhood, I had been indoctrinated to embrace a conservative view regarding the human capital ideology of education.

Human capital ideology is very appealing to parents, politicians, and business leaders. It assumes without question that teaching students the skills they need to be competitive in the world market is the primary reason for education. However, Spring (2011, p 11) posits that education has many objectives including “nationalism and patriotism; active democratic citizenship; progressive education; social justice; environmental education; human rights; arts education; cultural studies; consumer and critical media studies; and the social reconstruction of society.  I agree with Spring’s argument and would further state that if we center the purpose of education and schooling only on the human capital ideology, we miss the opportunity to raise the next generation to be well-rounded with strong grounding in ethical, moral, cultural, and patriotic values.

Other criticisms of the human capital ideology center on the fact that there are “not enough jobs in the knowledge economy to absorb school graduates into skilled labor presently” (Brown & Lauder, p 320; as cited in Spring, 2011).  In addition, Hacker (p.38; as cited in Spring, 2011) argues that capital education ideology has been oversold, and that “the number of jobs operating high-tech instruments will outnumber jobs requiring college trained scientists and engineers in the future.” These jobs require only a high school graduation diploma or associate’s degree.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 introduced data-driven decision management.  The NCLB legislation “sought to close the achievement gap between the rich and the poor students by creating common curriculum standards, closing failing schools, and introducing the public reporting of student test scores” (Spring, 2011, p 36). In my 8 years as an educator, I have witnessed the pendulum shift introduced by the NCLB.  Before the Act was introduced, educators had the ability to choose instructional strategies for their classroom, to create their own lesson plans, and to design appropriate evaluations to test student knowledge and understanding.  While teacher accountability may have been difficult to measure under that system, the pendulum has swung so far over that I now feel, like Spring, that the current model of teaching consists of “scripted lessons created by some outside agency” and that teachers are increasingly forced to teach to the requirements of standardized tests (Spring, 2011, p 11).

This is what I refer to as the “standardization of the curriculum”.  In my view this standardization has narrowed the focus from educating students to be thoughtful, productive citizens with the skills necessary to successfully compete in the global marketplace to teachers concentrating on “teaching to the test”.  The consequences for teachers who fail to reach the targets outlined in NCLB are dire including job loss or failure to receive a pay raise under the newly proposed teacher merit pay system that ties students’ scores to teachers’ salary. I fear that one unintended consequence of NCLB may be that teachers will lose the ability to utilize alternative teaching styles and strategies that actively engage students in the learning process and that are fundamental to the development of skills that students need to be successful in the 21st century (i.e., critical thinking, analytical, problem solving, etc.).  America may then lose its historical advantage in producing the world’s technological entrepreneurs and innovations.   

Another issue that Spring (2011) discusses in his book is the idea of brain gain, brain drain, and brain recirculation. Before reading this book, I was unaware of how the human capital ideology had impacted the relationship between developed and developing countries.  I did not know, for example, that the World Bank – an organization that provides loans to resource limited countries from capital provided by resource rich countries – was supporting education in poor countries to create a skilled labor force.  This is known as “brain gain”.  Unfortunately, the motive behind these loans was not entirely altruistic as this skilled labor force was meant to help supplement the dwindling workforce seen in many resource rich countries due to declining birth rates. The resulting “brain drain” has led many of the brightest, most highly educated citizens from resource limited countries to seek opportunities in resource rich settings, leaving behind indebted nations unable to compete in the global workplace without their skilled laborers.

Countries hit hard by the brain drain phenomenon in sub Saharan Africa include Sierra Leone (52.5%), Ghana (46.9%), Mozambique (45.1%), Kenya (38.4%), Uganda (35.6%), Angola (33.0%), and Somalia (32.7%). These are countries from “a region that is struggling with poverty, health problems, and wars” that have lost most of their educated population to resource rich countries including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and Canada (Spring, 2011, p 233). However, there is evidence that instead of a “brain drain” there may be a “brain recirculation” as many migrants are beginning to travel back and forth between the richer countries and their countries of origin as the economies of their home countries grow.  Upon their return, these migrants pass the knowledge and wealth they gained during their years abroad with their fellow citizens. 

The “brain drain” discussion hit especially close to home for me since I was educated in both Tanzania and the United States and I currently live and work in the United States.  I see myself as a “brain gain” for the United State and a “brain drain” for Tanzania. I received my undergraduate education in Tanzania free of charge since the government pays all college tuition.  I then immigrated to the United States and have lived and worked here for over a decade while pursuing three graduate degrees.  Eventually, I would like to be part of the “brain recirculation” by returning to Tanzania and sharing the knowledge and skills I have acquired during my time in the United States.  In the meantime, I have already started a program in my home village called the Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center.  Each summer, I go back to Tanzania and provide seminars for teachers on the latest evidence-based teaching and learning strategies (e.g. experiential learning and project based learning) so that they can utilize this information to teach the next generation of Tanzanians.

In his book, Spring (2011) also discusses how local education standards are increasingly being supplanted by global standards, leading to the rise of multinational companies seeking to exploit this burgeoning market.  Moreover, in developing countries like Tanzania, the ability to speak and write English is viewed as essential for securing high paying employment.  In many former British colonies in sub-Saharan Africa, the primary language of instruction and of commerce is English.  As a result, students learn math and science and all other subjects in English.   The local language is taught as a subject.  Parents support their children learning English as they view it to be a necessary skill to help their child compete successfully in school and in the marketplace, a view based on human capital ideology.

Many multinational corporations have seized on this demand for English as a Second Language to develop curricula, computer-based instruction, and resource books that are marketed globally.  According to Spring (2011) global testing producers such as “Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Educational Testing Services benefit from educational systems that rely on standardized testing for promotion, graduation, and college entrance, and on English as a Second Language commerce”. Multinational Corporations promote the idea of human capital ideology and the standardization of curricula and standards so that they can create and market textbooks, tests, and other resources not only to American schools but also to education systems throughout the World.  In my view, these for-profit educational companies are contributing to the over-emphasis on “teaching to the test” as it benefits them financially.  However, unless the pendulum begins to swing towards a balance between accountability through standardized testing and utilization of teaching strategies that provide students with the high level skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace (e.g. synthesis, analysis, problem solving), I fear that the options for teachers will continue to be limited and our students will be increasingly unprepared to be true global citizens.

In summary, my take home messages from reading the “Politics of American Education” (Spring, 2001) are that: (1) education is very complex; (2) politics and commerce play a major role in our current education system; (3) human capital ideology is flawed; and (4) multinational for-profit corporations have an interest in maintaining and even increasing the use of standardized curricula and testing both in the United States and globally. As an educator, I now realize that I will have to plan and develop curricula that meet the needs of diverse stakeholders including students, teachers, administrators, politicians, parents, and Multinational Corporations.  I also realize that I will have to continue to advocate for student-focused teaching strategies (e.g.  experiential and project based learning) in my lecture hall and in other classrooms across the country to ensure my students leave my classroom with a love of learning and with the skills they need to be productive global citizens.  I will end with words of wisdom from Freire and Macedo, 1987 (as cited by Wink, 2011) “reading the world is as important and more so as reading the word.”

 

Reference

American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

 

Spring, J. (2011). The Politics of American Education. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

 

Wink, J. (2011). Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the Real World (4th ed). New Jersey, PA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Literature Review: Cognitive Functioning Models and Cognitive Brain Imaging


Currently, there are two fundamental approaches to cognitive science of modeling. The two approaches are the connectionist approach and the probabilistic or computational approach. The probabilistic or computational approach is viewed as the top-down approach of studying the mind whereas the connectionist approach is viewed as the bottom-up approach. Connectionist modeling begins with “the characterization of the neural mechanism and exploring what macro-level functional phenomenon might emerge” (Griffins, et al., 2010). In contrast, the probabilistic approach starts with “identifying the ideal solutions, then, modeling the mental process using algorithms to approximate the solutions” (Griffins, et al., 2010).  

For the purposes of this review, I will focus on the Box-and-Arrow concept as it forms the fundamental base to all three kinds of cognitive function models that I will discuss later in this review (Griffins, et al., 2010).  Box-and-Arrow information processing models are normally designed to follow the input-cognitive system-output logic. For a normal subject with intact cognitive functioning, input is sent to a specific area of the brain (cognitive system) to be processed.  This then results in a desired and correct outcome. Box-and-Arrow models are normally depicted using fairly generalizable verbal descriptions to yield what a normal individual with intact cognitive function would produce if given the same input words.

To detect cognitive impairments, a model designer can change the cognitive structures of the model to mimic that of a cognitively impaired subject but keep the input the same. Investigators can then compare the outcomes from this cognitively impaired model to the outcomes from the model with intact cognitive functions.  The difference in outputs between the two models help investigators detect the correct positioning of the impaired cognitive function area of the brain. Although the predictions based on the box-and-arrow models are fairly good for capturing the characteristics of normal and impaired cognitive function, they are “generally unreliable to account for detailed phenomenon” (Ashby and Maddox, 1993).

There are numerous types of cognitive functioning models in the literature. For the purpose of this synthesis, I have chosen to focus on three of these models including: 1) the prototype model of categorization, 2) the exemplar model of categorization, and 3) the artificial neural networks models.

In the prototype model of categorization (the nearest prototype classifier) the “learner estimates the central tendency from all the examples experienced from and within each category during the training” (Ashby and Maddox, 1993).  The learner is then able to “assign any new observed instances to the class of the prototype that is nearest” (Gagliardi, 2008) to the training data.

The exemplar based model (the nearest neighbor classifier) is referred to as the memory based model (Gagliardi, 2009). There is no learning phase in this model.  Instead, the learner memorizes all the category examples during the training and when a new stimulus is presented, the “category with the greatest total similarity is chosen” from the stored or memorized example (Ashby and Maddox, 1993).

The artificial neural network (ANNs) model has “small numbers of nodes particularly feed forward networks (with input nodes, hidden nodes, and output nodes) and simple recurrent networks (SRNs)” (Krebs, 2005). The feed forward and simple recurrent networks architecture have been used to “model high level cognitive functions such as detecting syntactic and semantic features for words” (Elman, 1990, 1993; as cited in Krebs, 2005), “learning the English past tense of verbs”(Rumelhart and McClelland, 1996; as cited in Krebs, 2005), and “cognitive development” (Schultz, 2003; as cited in Krebs, 2005).

The difference between the prototype models and the exemplar models are based on the assumptions they make regarding what is learned and how the category decision is made. For the prototype model, the assumption is that when identifying a category of objects, we refer to a precise object that is typical of the category (Krebs, 2005). Decision making in a prototype model is based on the similarity between the input target and the category prototype that was used during training. The category that is the most similar prototype is selected to match the input target. While in exemplar models, decision making is based on the memorized examples for each of the stored categories in the model. When a new stimulus is presented, the similarity of the target is computed against each stored example, and the example with the highest similarity will then be chosen. This is based on exemplar theory which states that “people increment the number of stored exemplars by observing different objects to the same category, and so they categorize new objects according to the stored ones” (Krebs, 2005).

The artificial neural networks (ANNs) are very different from the two models mentioned previously. There are two types of ANNs models including the feed-forward network model and the simple recurrent model. The feed-forward network model transfers information in a unidirectional way from input units to output units via a hidden layer. The simple recurrent networks are believed to be more appropriate since they have interconnections between the input units, the hidden layer, and the output units.  The ANNs are a “loose adaptation of the processes by which the brain is thought to operate” (MCMillen & Henley, 2001).  The operating processes of ANNs are analogous to learning by experience as the network “learns associations by modifying the strength of connections between nodes “(McMillen & Henley, 2001). Unlike the other two types of models described above, ANNs are robust and work well with problematic data such as missing data and data with high random variance.

All three of these cognitive models are similar in that they “must account for a common set of empirical laws or basic facts that have accumulated from experiments on categorization” (Krebs, 2005). In addition, they are all based on basic architectural structure derived from the Box-and-Arrow model (i.e., input, cognitive system, and output). Thus, all these models are employed to try to understand and detect cognitive functions of the brain. Furthermore, all three models follow the see-think-and-do architectural sequence. In this sequence, a new stimulus is received; a mental picture of the received stimulus is created; and a stored mental construct is used to predict and/or detect its representation.

The models have many aspects that are related to brain cognitive function and metacognition.  Elman (1993) posits “successful learning may depend in starting small”. This is true not just only for the models but also for the human child. It is believed that the “greatest learning in humans occurs during childhood” (Elman, 1993). This is because most dramatic maturational changes along with the ability to learn complex language patterns occur during childhood (Elman, 1993). Like the human child, “a model succeeds only when networks begin with limited working memory and gradually mature to the adult like state” (Elman, 1993). Consequently, the metacognitive ability of the model, like that of a child, will be more enhanced if the information (input) is restricted to mimic developmental restrictions necessary for mastering complex domains such as language acquisition (Domoney, Hoen, Blanc & Lelekov-Boissard, 2003). 

According to Elman, (1993) training “fails when models (networks) are fully formed and adult like in their capacity”. The reason for the failure may be attributed to the fact that two things are happening when learning complex domains such as language. The first is that we learn through incremental input of simple and childlike language and progressively increase the difficulty to achieve adult language skills. Second, a child’s memory increases in complexity as he/she undergoes developmental changes and matures. For models to be successful, they must take this same approach.  Starting with full adult-level words will lead the model to fail because the model is not given the opportunity to start small and increase in complexity.

There are several relationships between these cognitive functioning models and metacognition.  First, each of the models employs a sequence of “see-think-and-do” (Hudlicka, 2005) similar to a metacognitive process. The models “map incoming stimuli (cue) onto an outgoing behavior (action) through a series of representational structures referred to as mental construct” (Hudlicka, 2005). The mental construct created in the training cycle is then used to predict which action to take when a model encounters a new stimulus that resembles a particular mental construct. The subsequent encounter with stimulus resembles the feedback mechanism in a metacognitive process.  In addition, sequential procedural activities, like those used in these models, help with metacognition.  Finally, the cognitive system architecture of the models resembles metacognitive functions such as “attention allocation, checking, planning, memory retrieval and encoding strategies, and detection of performance errors” (Hudlicka, 2005).

I will now turn to discussing a neurological process that explains some aspects of cognition. According to Straube (2012) “memory formation comprises at least three sub-processes including encoding, consolidations, and retrieval of the learned material”. In other words, for a memory to happen the brain has to encode the incoming imagery, consolidate it, and then retrieve it. However, the processes of encoding, consolidation, and retrieval are prone to many types of errors that may lead to a false or true memory (Straube, 2012).

Declarative memory or long term memory in humans is associated with recall of facts, knowledge, and events (Straube, 2012). Declarative memory is “further divided into semantic memory and episodic memory” (Straube, 2002).  Semantic memory deals with “facts about the world”, while episodic memory “deals with the capacity to re-examine an event in the context in which it originally occurred” (Straube, 2012).  Human memory is governed by many factors including “prior knowledge, present mental state, and emotions” (Straube, 2012). What is retrieved from memory sometimes differs measurably from what was initially encoded. Thus, memory does not “reflect a perfect representation of the external world” (Straube, 2012).

Research indicates that processes like imagery, self-referential processing, and spreading activation at encoding may result in the formation of false memories (Straube, 2012). According to Straube (2012) memory of an imagined event or “fantasy” can later be falsely remembered as a “true” event and lead to the retrieval of a false memory. In brain imagery research, increased brain activity of the precuneus region is believed to “indicate the engagement of visual imagery during encoding which can lead to falsely remembering something that was only imagined” (Straube, 2012).  Brain imaging results have also indicated that “greater activity in the hippocampus was related to correct context”, while the “ventral anterior cingulate cortex was activated for subsequent inaccurate context memory” (Straube, 2012).  Similarly, a study using functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) found that “activity in the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) and visual areas at encoding contribute to both true and false memory and the activity in the left posterior medial temporal lobe (MTL) contribute mainly to formation of true memories” (Kim & Cadeza, 2007).  These results suggest that activity in different regions of the brain is associated with creation of a false and/or a true memory.

Cognitive brain imaging (CBI) research, however, has many critics. Most criticisms relate to three main points: 1) resolution, 2) differences between individuals, and 3) reproducibility. Critics argue that most of the brain imaging technology (i.e., MRI, fMRI, and PET) lacks the ability to capture brain processes at the neuron level.  Instead, their magnification captures processes at the millimeter level, deemed by critics to be too large to detect neural brain activity occurring at the neuron level. Thus, brain imaging technology provides “an inaccurate reflection of the underlying activity” (Logothetis et al, 2001). 

Cognitive brain imaging has also been criticized for not accounting for the differences between individuals.  This issue was addressed in a brain imaging study by Miller and colleagues (2002) who found a lot of variability between individuals and stable variability within individuals. Miller (2002) suggests that brain functions related to memory are not localized and may differ significantly between individuals.  If true, this suggests the need to be cautious when interpreting the results of studies involving the use of brain imaging technology to study memory formation.

The issue of reproducibility has also been a contentious issue in cognitive brain imaging research. Reproducibility is the idea that if you repeat an experiment under the same conditions, you should be able to reproduce the same results as the original investigator. Reproducibility is the hallmark of scientific experimentation that allows researchers in the field to validate or invalidate the results of other researchers and to build on each other’s work.  Critics have argued that results from cognitive brain imaging studies are difficult to reproduce.  As stated by Marshall et al., (2004) the “generally poor quantitative task repeatability highlights the need for further methodological developments before much reliance can be placed on functional MR imaging results of single-session experiments”.

In conclusion, cognitive brain imaging techniques can be plausibly used to study some aspects of brain function (e.g. patterns of activity associated with the basic learning mechanisms which are believed to be localized) but are not as effective at studying more complex brain functions (e.g. memory formation which is not believed to be localized). Caution needs to be taken when interpreting the results of cognitive brain imaging studies until issues of resolution and reproducibility have been addressed. 

 

 

 

Reference

Ashby, F. G., & Maddox, W. T. (1993). Relations between prototype, exemplar, and decision bound models of categorization. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 37(3), 372-400.

Domoney, P. F., Hoen, M., Blanc, J. & Lelekov-Boissard. (2003). Neuralogical badis of language and sequential cognition: Evidence from simulation, aphasia, and ERP studies. Journal of Brain and Language, 86, 207-225.

Elman, J. L. (1993). Learning and development in neural networks: the importance of starting small. Journal of Cognition, 48, 71-99.

Gagliardi, F. (2009). The necessity of machine learning and epistemology in the development of categorization theories: A case study in prototype-exemplar debate. In AI* IA 2009: Emergent Perspectives in Artificial Intelligence (pp. 182-191). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Gagliardi, F. (2008). A prototype-exemplars hybrid cognitive model of “phenomenon of typicality” in categorization: A case study in biological classification. In Proc. 30th Annual Conf. of the Cognitive Science Society, Austin, TX (pp. 1176-1181).

 Griffiths, T., Chater, N., Kemp, C., Perfors, A., & Tenenbaum, J. (2010). Probabilistic models of cognition: exploring representations and inductive biases. Journal of Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14, 357-364.

Hudlicka, E. (2005). Modeling interaction between metacognition and emotion in a cognitive architecture. In Proceedings of the AAAI Spring Symposium on Metacognition in Computation. AAAI Technical Report SS-05-04. Menlo Park, CA: AAAI Press. pp. 55-61.

 

Kim, H. & Cadeza, R. (2007). Differential contributions of prefrontal, medial temporal, and sensory-perceptual regions to true and false memory formation. Journal of Cereb Cortex, 17(9), 2143-2150.

Krebs, P. R. (2005). Models of cognition: Neurological possibility does not indicate neurological plausibility. [Conference Paper]

Logothetis, N. K., Pauls, J., Augath, M., Trinath, T., & Oeltermann, A. (2001). Neurophysiological investigation of the basis of the fMRI signal. Nature, 412(6843), 150-157.

Marshall, I., Simonotto, E., Deary, I. J., Maclullich, A., Ebmeier, K. P., Rose, E. J., … & Chappell, F. M. (2004). Repeatability of motor and working-memory tasks in healthy older volunteers: Assessment at functional MR imaging1. Radiology, 233(3), 868-877.

MCMillen, R. & Henley, T. (2001). Connectionism isn’t just for the cognitive science: neural networks as methodological tools. Journal of Psychology Record, 51(1), 3-18.

Miller, M.B., Van Horn, J., Wolford, G.L., Handy, T.C., Valsangkar-Smyth, M., Inati, S., Grafton, S., & Gazzaniga, M.S. (2002). Extensive individual differences in brain activations during episodic retrieval are reliable over time. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14(8), 1200 – 1214.

Straube, B. (2012). An overview of the neuro-cognitive processes involved in the encoding, consolidation, and retrieval of true and false memories. Journal of Behavioral and Brain Functions, 8(35), 1-10.

Summer Vacation: St. Simons, Jekyll, and Savannah, Georgia.


Pili and Rick

We usually take our June vacation somewhere by the beach in the hot and swampy Florida. This year I was in for a change. Not changing the beach scene, but changing the vacation location altogether. It gets boring going down to the Sunshine State when you have already seen and done all the beaches and coastal towns. We made a decision to go to the beach off course, but in the home state of Georgia. So, we decided to go for a week at St. Simons Island.

The Bridge to Jekyll IslandDeciding where to go was easy, but not enough in and by itself. We had to also decide on where we would stay for the whole week. The house or hotel where we would stay had to be next to the beach and also had to have an easier access to other places in our hit list (i.e., Savannah, Jekyll, and St. Simons Islands). We ruled out hotels, condos, and apartment complexes. The reason for ruling out these places was simple—too much traffic (tourists) as we needed a secluded place just for ourselves.

Dolphin Tour Jekyll Island

We decided to rent a house. There are many rental house options in St. Simons. We wanted a house that had a pool to sock in after long bike rides in the hot afternoons. We were able to get a house three blocks from the beach which was really nice. The house had an authentic island vide with bougainvillea drapes and the best part of all it was three blocks from a serene beach. We could watch the sunset by the beach every night just by taking a shot five minutes walk. The atmosphere was very relaxing, romantic, and secluded.

So, we spent about two days in each of our hit locations. The first day, which was a Saturday, we just lounged at the pool and made some barbeque for dinner. The next day (Sunday), we went to the main street St. Simons and spent a couple of hours there riding bikes, walking at the fishing pier, saw the lighthouse,  saw the bloody marsh, and then we retreated for a swim at the main attraction swimming pool next to the Atlantic Ocean. It was so much fun.

Century Old Oak Tree

We spend the next two days visiting Jekyll Island. It is a very small version of St. Simon but packed with a lot of activities. We did the wharf boat tour. We were able to see tones of dolphins along the way. We also did the Sea Turtle Center where we saw firsthand the work that the center does to protect the marine environment and its creatures. As a marine scientist I was very impressed with the center and with the types of sea turtle species they had there. Then, we decided to see the Summer Waves Water Park. This park is kind small but the waves are worth all the money. It was really fun to hit the water again. And to finish off, we went took a tour of the historic Jekyll Island. Now I know why the rich and famous loved this island in the early 20th century.

Migrant Birds StopMy Future Parking Spot

Wednesday and Thursday, we went to Savannah. Unlike St. Simon and Jekyll Islands, Savannah is a big city. It was not possible to cover the entire city of Savannah in a single day. We had to be strategic. We decided to only do two things: 1) take the bus tour and a walking tour in the first day, 2) do shopping along the river the next day. The bus tour was fantastic. Savannah is rich of history and culture. Later on we walked the trail following the civil war battles that ended in Savannah. Tired and ready to sleep we drove back to St. Simon for our night. We concluded our vacation by seating back and relaxing at the pool.

The Beach

Till next time………

A Day in the Woods, Social Circle, Georgia.


Blueberry Tasting
Hiking the Trails

It was one of those days again when you wake up in the morning and say to yourself I am getting out of here. I was tired of the daily grind and ready to chi-relax my mind by hitting up some trails in a nearby town named Social Circle. So, we left the house after breakfast and headed for nature.Blueberry Tasting

We stopped at Social Circle for lunch at the historic Blue Willow Inn. This place has a great customer service, great atmosphere, and great southern Food. The food was amazing—corn on the cob, collard greens, roast beef with gravy, and the best shrimp rice in town. When you eat in the south, you take your meal down with either a glass of cold sweetened ice tea or a glass of cold lemonade.You know my choice already, LEMONADE.

After lunch we headed down to Hard Labor Creek Blueberry Farm to pick some yummy blueberries. As always, they farm did not disappoint. We spent an hour or so in the hot summer sun filling our basket full of blueberries.

Image
We left the farm with full supply of cold water and Gatorade bottles ready to hit the trails at Hard Labor Creek Park.  I love the trails there. They are neither too steep nor too flat for my taste. We did the yellow and red trails just next to the trading post for a combination of 2.5 miles. Yeah, you guessed it right. We were completely tired after all the walking in the bush. Taking on the Trails<
To cool ourselves down we decided to head to the beach. Yeah, they do have a beach. Sat down and watched people swim in the lake water drinking our Gatorade and ice cold waters.
Till next time……

Taking It Easy

The Critical Pedagogy in Me


Learning to read may take many paths. There are those who learn to read from the whole to the parts and those that learn to read from the parts to the whole. I found my experience to be the former. Growing up in the East African country of Tanzania, I experienced a number of challenges in learning to read. Like in American schools, reading is approached from the parts to the whole in Tanzania. The appropriate route to learning how to read involves teaching the student first the sound, then the letter, and finally the words (Wink, 2011). However, I learned how to read using cartoon characters in the newspaper to understand a story. In her book, Wink calls students like me the “others” because we learn to read from the whole to the parts. I found meaning on what mattered to me first. The sounds, letters and words were not meaningful to me. The big picture or “whole” as told through the cartoon characters was.

Growing up in a village in rural Tanzania, there was no kindergarten and therefore I did not attend one. I learned to read through collecting and reading the cartoon sections of old discarded newspapers. There were no books to go around and the fact that my parents could barely read and write themselves did not help either. Therefore it was through my own efforts and watching others read that I learned to read. Because of the interest I had to read the cartoon characters and to understand what they were saying, I was able to look at the whole picture and then put the pieces together. Thus from my own experience, I believe that children have many paths through which they can learn to read. It might be true that most children learn how to read through the sounds, letters and words first, but many other children learn to read through the whole to the parts. Therefore, one size or methodology does not fit all children when it comes to teaching them to read.  Teachers must be aware of this fact and offer their students a range of options in their course instruction.

As we learn and grow as individuals, our social and cultural context plays a major part in our learning. I learned this concept the hard way in my first two years of teaching. Teaching is my second career. Prior to teaching, I worked in the environmental field for many years. I had the content knowledge and believed that this was all I needed to go into a classroom and be a successful educator. However, I did not realize that students also have their own social and cultural context that influenced their learning. It was not long before I realized that content without pedagogy, methodology and a deeper understanding of my students’ social and cultural context was a recipe for disaster.

I started teaching in the Baltimore City Public Schools System through their Baltimore City Teaching Residency. As a Baltimore City Teacher Resident, I was enrolled at Johns Hopkins University to pursue a Master’s Degree in Education and was also assigned a faculty advisor. In my first few weeks of teaching I had to go through the process of “learning, relearning and unlearning” my previous assumptions about teaching. I came to realize that content alone would not help me prosper as an educator. I did not really understand the culture, social interactions, and belief systems of my students. Moreover, I had no solid methodologies for how to teach nor did I have a theory of teaching and learning to ground my praxis. I was completely lost. This is what Wink calls “Contradictions and Change”. According to Freire and Macedo, 1987 (as cited by Wink, 2011) reading the world is as important and more so as reading the word. I had not read my world. I knew the word (the content to teach) but I was clueless as to my world (my students’ social and cultural perspectives and beliefs in education). I had to learn, relearn and unlearn quickly.

The student population at my school was 100% black, low income and low socio-economic status. Coming from Tanzania I thought I was black and I understood what it meant to be black, poor, and of low socio-economic status. I came from those humble roots. I understood early on that education was the only route I had to climb the socio-economic ladder and free myself from the shackles of poverty. This point was emphasized to me repeatedly by my impoverished parents who never had the opportunity to go to school beyond the second or third grade. I thought my students and I were on the same page on the role education could play in their lives. I assumed that because we were all black that we all shared the same culture and beliefs. But, I was very wrong in this assumption. I had to relearn and unlearn my philosophical and cultural position. As Wink (2011) states “in this enlightened-and often uncomfortable-educational space, relearning and unlearning begins.”  I realized we were all black but we all held very different philosophical and social and -cultural positions regarding education. As Vigotsky (as cited in Wink, 2011) puts it, “language and culture drives our thoughts processes”. Through the process of learning, relearning and unlearning, I was able to understand that “culture is not singular, nor is it fixed; it is multiple as in multiculturalism” (Wink, 2011). In order to be an effective educator for my students, I had to challenge my own belief system and begin to understand their thoughts and beliefs.  This is a process I began many years ago and which I find myself continuing to perform with each new class of students that I face. 

Now, I will turn to discussing the three models of teaching. During my education in Tanzania, I was exposed exclusively to the transmission model of learning. According to Wink (2011) the characteristics of the transmission model of learning are that: “The teacher is standing in front of the classroom, and the students are at their seats, which are in rows. They listen to what (s) he says and they write it down in their notes”. This is how I was taught and that is the only way I knew how to teach; thus, this is how I initially taught my students. This model of teaching was boring for my students and was mostly unsuccessful.  Again, I had to learn, relearn, and unlearn my world views on the proper way to learn and teach.

To learn, I had to first name my problems, critically reflect on these identified problems, and then act on my problems to create solutions.  After much reflection, I decided that my main problems were that: (1) I did not know enough about my students to engage them in the learning process and (2) I lacked a solid praxis based on practice, methodology, and theory to guide my teaching. To better understand my students, I conducted some research to find out how kids in urban environments, particularly black kids of lower socio-economic status, learn.  I needed to know which teaching methodologies and practices had been shown to work with these types of students. 

In the course of my research, I found an interested study by Young, Wright and Laster, (2005) entitled “Instructing African American Students”.  Young and colleagues found that there are two types of learners – the global learner and the analytical learner. A global learner (right brain) is visual, tactile and kinesthetic. According to the study, “she/he visualizes what has to be learned, touches what has to be learned and also moves a lot during the learning process”. The authors concluded that most, if not all African American students, are global learners. The authors also argued that instructional variability (movement, oral traditions, visual and touching) are key to ensuring that African American students are successfully engaged in the learning process. Another study by Castle, Deniz, and Tortola (2005) found that need based instruction strategies and grouping students according to their needs was a more effective instructional strategy compared to grouping students by ability in urban school settings. Finally, a study by Heystek (2003) indicated that parental involvement in schools with large African-American populations is limited. They concluded that the “limited involvement in turn, leads to low achievement in most of these schools”.

Presented with the findings from this research review, I had to change the way I taught. Through the process of naming, critically reflecting and acting, I was able to move from the transmission model of teaching to the generative model of teaching. I also believe that the process of critical reflection helped me gain the cultural capital I needed to meaningfully engage my students. To be a generative teacher, I had to learn a number of new teaching techniques including the Socratic dialogue. I learned how to develop questioning techniques (the oratory traditions) that helped my students gain a deeper understanding of the content. For example, during the time I was going through this learning, relearning and unlearning processes, I developed a lesson plan on the concept of carrying capacity (Appendix 1). In this lesson, I wanted my students to understand: 1) what plants needed to survive, 2) what will happen to plants if we vary their requirements, and 3) the overall concept of what the carrying capacity of an ecosystem is (see Appendix I). I used a series of directed questions to help my students gain this knowledge in a way that kept them engaged and let them be discoverers of their own information.  It also helped foster their critical thinking skills. 

In another example, I developed a lesson entitled “Where O’ Where Is All of the Water” (see Appendix 2) to help my students understand how the water cycle was relevant to their lives and not just some abstract concept that they had to learn in science class (Appendix 2). Through the lesson, my students learned how water is distributed around the world. They also learned how they could conserve limited water resources in their own homes and community. Though a letter writing exercise to community leaders, students had the opportunity to use the information they had learned to advocate for environmental protection.  This exercise helped students develop critical thinking and communication skills while arming them with the information they needed to make a persuasive argument.

Along with improving my teaching techniques, I also tried to improve how I assessed my students’ understanding of the material.  After reading Wink’s book, I believe that critical pedagogy runs counter to how we currently assess students in today’s classrooms (Wink, 2011).  Most assessment is currently done through standardized tests. Standardized testing does not assess students’ critical thinking skills nor does it assess higher level skills such as “synthesizing” or “analyzing” information, two skills needed in our increasing technology-oriented society.  A multiple choice test simply is not designed to get at these higher level skills.  Instead, standardized testing focuses on measuring basic understanding of materials (facts) and concepts at a given point in time, and thus, does not adequately prepare students for the work environment.  Moreover, current assessment tools are not suitable for measuring the success of critical pedagogy instruction techniques. Instead, critical pedagogy instruction should be assessed using performance based assessment that “calls for students to typically display fairly high level skills” (Popham, 1997).  In my own classroom, I have tried to supplement required standardized testing with performance based assessment methods to get a clearer understanding of my students’ progress. 

In summary, I found this text to be extremely helpful to me.  I enjoyed how the author used a story telling style to write the text. Often, academic books are written very matter of fact and as a result can be dry and somewhat boring. However, I found this book to be different; the author invites you to create your own understanding of the text through her story telling. I found this approach refreshing. In addition, I was not aware of the term “critical pedagogy” before I read this book.  However, as I read the book, I was happy to discover that I often employ critical pedagogy techniques in my own teaching. This book has empowered me to continue to use these techniques and has given me even more ideas on how to integrate critical pedagogy into my instructional and assessment strategies. As Wink points out, learning does not start and end in the classroom. I want my students to connect their learning experiences with what is happening in their homes, community, and globally. To do that, I will continue to utilize critical pedagogy in my classroom.


 

References

American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Castle, S., Deniz, C.B., and Tortola, M. (2005). Flexible grouping and students seanring in a High-Needs School. Journal of Education and Urban Society, 37(2): 139-150.

Heystek, H., (2003). Parents as governors and partners in schools. Journal of Education and Urban Society, 37(4): 371-397.

Popham, W. J. (1997). What’s wrong- and what’s right-with rubrics. Journal of Educational Leadership, 55(2): 72-75.

Young, Y.Y., Wright, J.V., and Laster, J. (2005). Instructing African American students. Journal of Education and Urban Society 125(3): 516-524.

Wink, J. (2011). Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the Real World (4th ed). New Jersey, PA: Pearson Education, Inc.

 

 


 

Appendix 1: A Socratic Dialogue on Carrying Capacity in Ecology

Q: Question

EA: Expected Answer

EX:  Explanation

Q:  We are going to explore an ecological idea called carrying capacity. Does everybody see what I have in front of the class?

EA: Yes, you have a jar with a plant in it

Q: What does a plant needs to survive?

EA: It needs food, water, shelter and good weather (many different answers were offered, I only used the correct ones based on the book we were using)

Q: What will happen if I added 400 more seedlings in the same jar?

EA: Some plants will survive and some will die (again, different answers here as well)

Q: Why do you think some plants will die and others will survive?

EA: Because there will not be enough food, shelter, and water to support all the plants.

Q: Let say I increase the space of the container and the amount of water while keeping the same amount of food. Will all the plants survive because they now have enough space and water?

EA: No

Q: Why do you say no?

EA: Because the amount of food is not going to be enough to support all the plants

EX: No matter how much shelter, water, and other resources there might be, the population will not grow much higher because it has reached its carrying capacity. The largest population that an environment can support is called its carrying capacity.

 

 

Appendix 2:Where in the World Is All the Water?

 

Grade level: 9th –Grade: Environmental Science

 

Objectives:

 

Students will be able to:

1)      Construct a model illustrating the distribution of the earth’s water.

2)      Graph the distribution of the earth’s water.

Background:

 

Water is the most abundant, unique and important substance on Earth. It is essential to life and is a major component of all living materials. Approximately 1,520 billion liters of water exist on Earth. The earth has been called the water planet. Pictures taken from space show the earth as a big blue marble because of the amount of water found at the surface. The earth’s water, however, is actually found in, on and above the surface in three physical states: solid, liquid and gas. The following is a breakdown of the earth’s water supply: Oceans (97%), glaciers/icecaps (2%), groundwater (0.7%), atmosphere (0.3%), freshwater lakes (0.01%), saline lakes/inland seas (0.01%), soil moisture (0.01%), and rivers (0.001%).

Vocabulary:

 

  • ocean
  • glacier
  • icecap
  • groundwater
  • ponds
  • lakes
  • reservoirs
  • rivers

Materials:

 

  • 1000 ml beaker
  • 5 cups or small beakers
  • 1000 ml tap water
  • medicine dropper

Procedure:

 

1)  Introduction (15 minutes)       

 

Today, we are going to talk about how we conserve water so that we always have enough to drink.

Write the following paragraph on the board and have a student volunteer read it.

“Water is the most abundant, unique and important substance on Earth. It is essential to life and is a major component of all living materials. Approximately 1520 billion liters of water exist on Earth. The earth has been called the water planet. Pictures taken from space show the earth as a big blue marble because of the amount of water found at the surface (show picture). The earth’s water, however, is actually found in, on and above the surface in three physical states: solid, liquid and gas.”

 

2)  Small group activity (60 minutes)

 

Break students into groups of six.  Pass out materials to each group.  Instruct each group to fill their 1000mL beaker with 1000mL of tap water. Label the large beaker “ocean” and the 4 cups as follows:

§  1-glaciers/icecaps

§  2-groundwater

§  3-atmosphere

§  4-Surface water

The students should then pour water from the ocean into each of the cups in the proportions they think the water on Earth is distributed. Allow each group to report their distributions.  Pass out the “Did you know” worksheet showing the actual distribution of water.  Have students distribute their water in the correct percentages.  Discuss with students how only a small percent of water is suitable for human use and that it is important to conserve the water that we use in order to ensure that we always have enough.

Distribute graph paper to each student.  Ask them to create a pie chart showing the distribution of water.  Next to their pie chart, have them write some ways they can conserve water. 

3)      Discussion (15 minutes)

 

Ask students to share some of their ideas for how to conserve water.  Write their suggestions on the board.  Add to list as needed.  Post students’ pie charts outside in the hallway.

4)   Homework

 

Students should select one of the ways for conserving water and try it at home.  They should record their experiences in their journal for two weeks.

Extensions:

 

  1. Have students research a water conservation method and present their findings to the class.
  2. On an overhead, show students a list of organizations that are available that offer information about protecting the environment. Allow students to choose one organization they would like to write to receive information. Assign students as homework to write a short letter requesting information from a specific organization. Have them explain in their letters why they are requesting the information (what they are studying). Send home a letter to parents requesting a stamped envelope if possible. Have the school as a return address and mail the letters.
  3. Have students write a letter to a local or national politician (e.g. their Congressman or even the President) stressing the importance of conserving water.