The Excitement of the Endless Quest


S. Ossokine , A. Buonanno /W. Benger via NPR.org

What is our quest as science educators? What is the quest of scientists? What are the science learning quests of students? How are they similar?

The recent detection of gravitational waves proved Einstein’s theory that was postulated in 1916. This detection was a very big deal in the science community. Scientists are on a tenacious, never ending quest to better understand our life processes, our natural and physical world, and the universe. The scientists’ quest to detect gravitational waves took significant collaboration, learning to improve their own scientific understandings, and overcoming failures as well as obstacles.

Consider the scientists’ quest to detect gravitational waves in comparison to this 7 year-old boy’s description of his thinking and wondering about the universes. The boy’s description discusses an endless quest to find out more about the universe noting there is aspects of the universe we don’t even know exist yet. He compares the quest to better understand the universe to an ant’s quest on the patio, to illustrate the lack of being able to identify the end point or what might be discovered in the quest to understand the universe and beyond. This story gives us a small glimpse into the boy’s natural wonderings, as his response is a spontaneous answer to someone’s question.

We might for a moment think that this 7 year-old in unique in his ability to wonder and discuss the possibilities in the universe. While he might be more focused on the universe than another 7 year-old, other 7 year-olds wonder about the world they experience. I have experienced kids of similar age asking things like:

  • “If the sun and the stars we see at night are all stars, why do we see only the sun during the day but all the other stars at night?”
  • “Why do we see the moon a lot of times at night but also sometimes during the day?”
  • “Why do puddles disappear?”
  • “Where does the snow go when it melts?”
  • “Why does it get darker earlier in the winter than in the summer?”

These are but a few examples of questions I have heard kids ask that illustrate their natural wonderings. Thus, while this boy’s wonderings might be unique in drawing a comparison to an ant’s journey across his patio, the phenomena of kids wondering about their world and universe is not at all unique. In fact, I think this boy’s wonderings illustrate something that is quit natural for kids. Kids are on a consistent quest to understand the world around them.

As science educators one of our quests is to capture, expand, and extend each students’ natural quest to understand the world around them. Our quest includes developing cohesive, robust, and continuous science learning experiences for students that allow them to build evidence-based explanations about their world that relates to their natural wonderings. This quest includes working to understand students’ thinking and responding to that thinking by facilitating appropriate learning tasks based on that thinking. This is a complex quest.

The idea of science education building on the natural wonderings of children is a foundational principle in A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (NRC 2012) stating: “A rich science education has the potential to capture students’ sense of wonder about the world and to spark their desire to continue learning about science throughout their lives.” (NRC, 2012, p. 28).

In fact the disciplinary core ideas in the Framework and the NGSS were selected based on their connection to kids’ natural wonderings: “As a strategy for building on prior interest, the disciplinary core ideas identified here are described not only with an eye toward the knowledge that students bring with them to school but also toward the kinds of questions they are likely to pose themselves at different ages.” (NRC, 2012, p. 28). As New York State is in the process of adopting the NYSSLS, which are based on the NGSS, we as science educators are going to be starting a new quest to implement these standards.

Yes, at this point there are plenty of things we do not yet know about the NYSSLS (ex. implementation and assessment plans) or how we are going to achieve them. Lets reflect on the boy’s illustration of the excitement of a quest that comes from not knowing exactly where we are going, what the end point is, or what we will discover. The new standards are an opportunity to learn and explore new possibilities. As science educators we are at the precipice of a quest to achieve the standards and give each student the opportunity to experience a K-12 science education that builds on their natural wonderings. This quest will require learning (related to content and instruction), collaboration with colleagues, and overcoming failures as well as obstacles.

We have the opportunity to be learners as science educators. In fact to achieve the principles of K-12 science education outlined in the Framework, we must become engaged as learners ourselves. The type of instruction envisioned by the Framework “represents a significant departure from current teaching approaches, all teachers – regardless of their preparation or experiences – will require some new knowledge and skills” (National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, 2015). Thus, of upmost importance is providing science teachers with learning opportunities to support their successful transition to the new standards.

A quest of the OCM BOCES Center for Innovative Science Education is supporting the region and providing science educators with learning opportunities that will support the successful implementation of the new standards and our continuous learning as a science education community. This is exciting.

The recently published Science Teachers’ Learning: Enhancing Opportunities, Creating Supportive Context identifies seven recommendations to support teacher learning to achieve the NGSS:

  1. Take stock of the current status of learning opportunities for science teachers.
  2. Design a portfolio of coherent learning experiences for science teachers that attend to teachers’ individual and context-specific needs in partnership with professional networks, institutions of higher education, cultural institutions, and the broader scientific community as appropriate.
  3. Consider both specialized professional learning programs outside of school and opportunities for science teachers’ learning embedded in the workday.
  4. Design and select learning opportunities for science teachers that are informed by the best available research.
  5. Develop internal capacity in science while seeking external partners with science expertise.
  6. Create, evaluate, and revise policies and practices that encourage teachers to engage in professional learning related to science.
  7. The potential of new formats and media should be explored to support science teachers’ learning when appropriate.

We will be carefully considering the findings and recommendations in this book as well as other research-based publications, our experience, and collaboration with leaders in the field as we continue to build cohesive and comprehensive profession development opportunities in science teaching for the region.

We have already begun this quest by focusing on the Framework in the work Science Leadership Network has been doing this year. This learning quest will continue next year with a fall science conference on November 8, 2016, which is being organized in collaboration with Syracuse University. We are excited to announce our keynote speaker Dr. Carol O’Donnell, director of the Smithsonian Science Education Center. Lets capture and use wisely the excitement of the quest to improve science education that is before us.

Hehl_Jessica_150pxJessica Hehl
jhehl@ocmboces.org

 

 

 

References:

  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Science Teachers’
  • Learning: Enhancing Opportunities, Creating Supportive Contexts. Washington,
  • DC: The National Academies Press, 2015. doi:10.17226/21836.
  • National Research Council (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices,   Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: National Academies    Press.

One thought on “The Excitement of the Endless Quest

  1. Nicely stated Jessica….and what a great opportunity to engage in the thinking around how we have moved the mark on knowing how kids learn….and to revisit ways to create and support the curiosity of kids and support their understanding and provide rich learning environments to enhance these experiences for students and teachers….thanks for sharing!

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