Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Post #4 Week 5

In “Practicing Representation” the authors contend that students need to be taught multiple forms of representation in the sciences, not as a “means in themselves” but rather, as “useful tools for constructing understanding and for communicating information and understanding.” Individuals often come up with unique representations to solve problems. Although representations can vary, certain conventions allow people to communicate and interpret others’ representations. In real life situations (such as engineering), representations are variable and often specific to a certain situation; they allow individuals to experience a “hypothetical reality”. According to the authors, it is these real, "situational" aspects of representations that should be brought into the classroom. For example, linking representations to real-life problems combined with the discussion/presentation of representations was shown to have a positive effect on students’ ability to interpret representations and communicate understanding.

In “Interviews to explore student ideas in science”, the authors contend that interviews can be useful in developing an understanding of students’ attitudes, conceptions, and prior knowledge of science topics. Interviews are especially useful because one can access student thinking regardless of how much time one has spent in the classroom. Interviews reveal student knowledge in a way that cannot be assessed with more standard types of assessments. According to Ginsburg (“Guidelines for Conducting Clinical Interviews”) it is imperative to use interviews as a way to “uncover student thinking, not change it”. The child should be seen as an “autonomous constructor of knowledge” that “takes an active stance toward theory and assessment”. The interviewer should recognize that the child’s ideas are the result of an honest attempt to make sense of the world.

These readings reinforce the idea that students are individuals and all have unique ways in which they represent or think about scientific concepts. Teachers and students would benefit if students’ preconceptions were not interpreted as “wrong” but rather as a form of learning potential. Indeed, encouraging students to come up with their own representations as a way to solve real life problems (such as maintaining caribou populations) and communicating those representations with others not only helps students develop an understanding of the process of problem solving but also allows them to practice communicating knowledge as they explain their representations to others. The latter is frequently used in various aspects of everyday life.


  1. I agree completely with not interpreting students as wrong but rather making the most of student's current knowledge to move forward. I think it will be difficult though, at least for me, to teach with this mentality after having been taught for so many years simply with a focus on right and wrong. How can we as teachers rid this mentality from our own minds?

    1. I definitely agree that there should be a shift towards the "seeding future learning" concept and not just interpreting students prior knowledge as wrong. I wonder, however, how much of this we can allow given time constraints and large class sizes. Maybe one approach would be to work around one or two of the most popular "current knowledge" theories that the students provide and see how we as teachers can build upon their prior understanding.

    2. With regards to both replies, I agree as well--some of those difficulties we would have with large classes and a wide array of students will, of course, make it difficult for us to scaffold on the differing knowledge bases of 20-30 different students. I think this is where the role of the parents in a child's education becomes crucial, but the right/wrong critical approach is so deeply woven into our perception of education that it would be nearly impossible to expect parents to help with this. Kind of a sticky situation.