Monday, April 11, 2016

Harlow Response - Phillip

Despite the potential gains students receive when I use modeling instruction, I have still retained some reservations which Harlow et al. identify and respond to.  My major reservation is that I wonder whether we should ask students to reinvent the wheel.  Scientists create and use models, yes, but they do so in the context of their own knowledge and experience as well as that of the scientific community.  With that in mind, should we ask our students to develop models of concepts for which the scientific community has already tested and accepted certain models?

While this article did not address this reservation explicitly, it gave me some ideas as to how to approach instruction through modeling based activities.  Based on our previous readings, I think that it might be a good idea to begin a unit or instructional sequence by giving students a specific situation and asking them to develop a model to explain what they see, similar to what we did with the Galapagos ground finches in class.  After students develop their models, and perhaps compare them with those developed by their classmates, I can use those models and the current understanding shown in them to design the instructional sequence with the goal of getting students to revise their models to come close to a target model.  The instructional sequence may include some elements of traditional science teaching - giving students the answers - but only for some parts, likely the ones students are completely off base on.

The challenges presented in this method of instruction are that 1) student understanding will vary.  Determining how to design the instructional sequence based on student understanding will be difficult to do, especially as the sequence might necessarily vary from period to period.  2) Limiting the length of an instructional sequence will be difficult to do without giving students the answers some of the time.  If students are allowed to explore every possible aspect of their models, even with guided instruction, we could spend all semester on a single topic.  In fact, there are several topics we only spent a week or two on in high school biology which we spent a whole semester covering in college, sometimes more.

The biggest takeaway I got from this article is that while teaching by getting students to develop models is important, it is also very difficult.  I will probably use some inappropriate methods, especially early on, but I hope that I can identify them and learn from them over the course of my career.

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