Rethinking Workshops

A book from the library’s “new books” shelf caught my eye this morning. The title is “Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8.”* I picked it up because my daughter and I have been discussing science education this week. (She concludes that science should be an elective instead of a required course, because it is boring and because all it is is memorizing jargon and facts and then taking a test on that. )
However, one of the findings discussed in the book resonated with some discussions we’ve had about how to structure the contents and delivery of our faculty and student workshops, particularly our 3 day workshop for Mcnair scholars for whom we are supposed to be providing technology tools to enhance and devlope their research and scholarship.
The finding states:
“Many standards and curricula contain too many disconnected topics that are given equal priority. Too little attention is given to how students’ understanding of a topic can be supported and enhanced from grade to grade. As a result, topics receive repeated, shallow coverage with little consistency, which provides a fragile foundation for further knowledge growth.” (213)
Now, we don’t usually have follow-up workshops so we can’t address the “repeated, shallow coverage” aspect (though I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the actual experience for people who take multiple workshops from both us and other sources).
The first statement, though, the “disconnected topics given equal priority” is the one I think we can be mindful of and can use. How might we re-frame the segments of our workshops to provide what the same authors call “successively more sophisticated ways of thinking about a topic that can follow and build on one another.”
For example, we could turn the EndNote section upside down. That is, instead of starting from EndNote per se, we could jump in to EndNote, skip over the basic “how-to’s” and go right to Connecting to a database. This is a bit tricky given EndNotes limitations but I think we could structure it so that it would work. (I plan to try it out at the next EndNote workshop so I’ll let you know how it works out.) Once the students understand the ‘why’ we can go back and pick up some of the ‘how.’
Or, to conceive of the workshop overall and map it to specific tasks, we could follow a progression something like this:
1) do research (through EndNote)
2) write about the research/present the research (EndNote, Word, blog, PowerPoint)
3) connect the research to the researcher (blog ‘about me’)
4) enhance the presentation of the research and the researcher (blog tech add-ons/formatting, Elements, video)
5) move beyond this research project to the next stage of professional development, including tapping into the community of fellow scholars (blog, video, resumes/cv…)
We started to do this by stating objectives, but I think we need to “connect the dots” more.
Of course, we would have to give some thought to how time and technology might work against this progression, or how we might reconcile the two. For example, to create a video you need both some experience with structuring a video and with using the equipment. You need a good idea of what your end-product will be before you start to shoot, which argues for placing the video-making segment later in the workshop, but you also need sufficient time to shoot and edit which argues for beginning it early on.
* Duschl, R.A, H.A. Schweingruber, A. W. Shouse, eds. “Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8.” Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007.

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