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PET Learning About Learning

November 13, 2012

D. Harlow, L. H. Swanson & V. K. Otero (2012), Prospective elementary teachers’ analysis of children’s science talk in an undergraduate physics course, J. Sci. Teacher Educ. DOI 10.1007/s10972-012-9319-7

This article looks at video of elementary education majors working through two of the Learning About Learning (LAL) activities in the second chapter of Physics and Everyday Thinking (PET). The premise of the paper is that developing pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) requires one to practice using subject matter knowledge within the context of teaching. One of the primary uses of PCK is interpreting and translating students’ “everyday language” into scientific language to uncover student ideas even when they are expressed imprecisely and without technical vocabulary. Towards this end, the researchers examine the ways in which the elementary education majors (in a course using PET) use their subject matter knowledge in discussing video clips of young learners in the LAL activities.

The researchers video record several different groups discussing LAL activities on kicking a soccer ball and the microscopic origin of friction. The video/transcript was first coded for subject matter knowledge (SMK), that is, statements that could be mapped to physics-content learning goals (for the PET class) were identified. These segments were then investigated to determine how the SMK was utilized by the college students to analyze the videos of younger learners in the LAL activities. The researchers found that 42% of conversations coded as involving SMK included discussion of the pre-service teacher’s current or prior ideas or describing the learning process. Another 55% of conversations coded as involving SMK included pre-service teachers restating the younger students’ ideas in more standard scientific terminology. The researchers thus argue that the LAL activities are helping the pre-service teachers develop PCK, helping them practice and demonstrate conceptual understanding of science concepts rather than simply memorizing vocabulary (which would not make a student successful in PET anyway), and helping them to see an immediate connection between the science content they are learning and the tasks they will face in their careers as teachers.

I would like to do something like this with our PD program. It would be interesting to look at how the PD program affects teachers’ ability to recognize scientific ideas in their students’ everyday language. This would go along nicely with the focus of a previous paper in which they looked at the evolution of teachers’ from focusing on working with content to focusing on working with students. Responsive teaching in which students are engaged on their level and (when appropriate) in their language requires teachers to be able to interpret student statements and to help students articulate their scientific ideas. Like the previous paper, this paper also has a number of potentially useful references on PCK and on the use of video analysis in professional development settings.

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