The Plastic Brain


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Education 3.0 and the Pedagogy (Andragogy, Heutagogy) of Mobile Learning

User Generated Education

The evolution of the web from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and now to Web 3.0 can be used a metaphor of how education should also be evolving, as a movement based on the evolution from Education 1.0 to Education 3.0.  I discussed this in Schools are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning and implementing Education 3.0.

Many educators are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning and implementing Education 3.0. This post compares the developments of the Internet-Web to those of education.  The Internet has become an integral thread of the tapestries of most societies throughout the globe.  The web influences people’s way of thinking, doing and being; and people influence the development and content of the web.  The Internet of today has become a huge picture window and portal into human perceptions, thinking, and behavior. …

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Teaching Scientific Writing

Year after year, in school after school students are forced to write investigation reports based on a rigid format, often with very little understand of how and why this format was developed. Clearly they are meant as simplified simulacra of peer-reviewed, scientific articles. But there is a deep abyss between “prac reports” and real articles, which are the combined efforts of scientific teams,working for years, distilled into a dozen pages. How can we expect students to understand what they are doing, and why it is important when they can even read what they are trying to replicate? The program outlined below aims to address this problem by progressively constructing the concept of a scientific article from basic principles.

Step 1 – Histories and letters

Scientific writing did not start out with the formal structures we see today. Originally, verbal accounts were given by gentleman scholars at institutions such as the Royal Society. If they could not attend the meeting, a letter may be read in their absence. These letters have become the basis of the scientific article, indeed, publications in the prestigious journal Nature are still called letters.

I had long thought that getting students to write letters describing their experiments might be a good way to introduce them scientific writing. I was discussing this with a former research colleague, now turned award-winning science teacher (@SamMoyle1) who decided to enact my idea. Happy that someone would get my idea off the ground, we chatted, shared resources and off she went. My favourite resource is this letter from Isaac Newton (transcribed here), describing experiments with light (which we do in Yr 9 science). Not so much from the era of scientific letters, but Crick’s letter to his son on the discovery of DNA’s structure is also worth a mention.

When I met up her last week she said she had done it and it was successful. She had the students write a letter to their parents about an experiment. The task was titled “Dear Learned Colleague” and she sent me her task sheet:

Before the advent of email, Internet and phones etc., early scientists had to communicate their findings by written letter. They did not use the standard template for experiment write-ups as we use today (Sectioned by Hypothesis, Methods, Results, Discussion and Conclusion) but rather, as though they were talking to their friend or colleague explaining what they were doing, why, what happened and what their thoughts about it were. From this early form of correspondence between colleagues, the modern day science communication journal, ‘Science Letters’ evolved.

Next semester we plan to actually get our students to write and post (yes, snail mail) letters to each other. Our challenge will be to see if one group can replicate the other’s experiment. The aim here is to show why the formal and meticulous structure of the journal article was developed.

Step 2 – The evolution of journals

The modern format of the scientific article is a result of the professionalism of science. Scientific journal began being published in the 17th and 18th centuries, and really took off in the 19th.

 An impetus for expansion was the increasing interval between a paper’s reading to a learned society, and its publication in that society’s organ – up to five years later. Scitext

Along with the new format, came stylistic restrictions and formal referencing. It is important for students to see why these changes were important, and how they helped to improve the quality and reproducibility of scientific work. Wrapped up with this is the system of peer review, a unique feature of scientific publication. Though seemingly diabolical for authors, peer-review is one of the most robust systems of quality assurance developed.

Step 3 – (De)constructing an abstract

By now students should know what an article is, and why it has its many parts. But they are still a long way from having the skills to write one (or the shadow of one, such as we require in high school).

As is done in many English classrooms, before you can construct a text type, you should first deconstruct a text type. Before we tackle a full article, the abstract provides an accessible entry point for secondary students.

Take this abstract, for example:

Many plants in Australia have their seeds buried in order for the species to survive fires. The seeds start to germinate under the soil at certain temperatures. Seeds of Acacia terminalis and Dillwynia floribunda were examined in this experiment. It was hypothesised that the seeds need heat for the germination to start.Seeds of the two species were treated in hot and cold water and left to start germinating.Acacia terminalis showed a significant response in germination after the hot water treatment while Dillwynia floribunda did not. Neither seed showed a response in germination after cold water treatment. The results for Dillwynia floribunda were unexpected but may be explained by factors such as water temperature and the length of time the seeds remained in the heated water.

Which students should be able to break down into sections like this:

Many plants in Australia have their seeds buried in order for the species to survive fires. The seeds start to germinate under the soil at certain temperatures. Seeds of Acacia terminalis and Dillwynia floribunda were examined in this experiment. It was hypothesised that the seeds need heat for the germination to start.Seeds of the two species were treated in hot and cold water and left to start germinating.Acacia terminalis showed a significant response in germination after the hot water treatment while Dillwynia floribunda did not. Neither seed showed a response in germination after cold water treatment. The results for Dillwynia floribunda were unexpected but may be explained by factors such as water temperature and the length of time the seeds remained in the heated water. Background InformationOutline of what was investigated in this experiment
HypothesisSummary of MethodSummary of Results

Summary of Discussion

Once they understand abstracts, they could move from writing reports as a letter, to summarising they experiments as an abstract. Many sites, like this, offer tips in writing a good abstract, which I feel is much more manageable for students as they start their scientific writing journey.

Step 4 – Deconstructing an article

As I wrote at the start, students cannot be expected to read and understand peer-reviewed articles. But with the aid of a teacher, they should be able to read the headings, interpret the graphs and follow the flow of the argument.

Here, I would have students construct a hypothesis and evidence concept map of a simple paper. This would be based on drawing out claims from a paper’s abstract, and looking at which figures support those claims.

Step 5 – Writing an experimental report

Only after the preceding steps do I feel students would be ready to write a full experimental report. It is clear that it takes time to build through all of these steps. I would suggest for Year 9s it would take the whole year. However, I feel it is a worthwhile investment of time.

Australian Curriculum

I would be negligent of me not to mention the new Australian Curriculum at this point.

Take a look at the Year 9 Science as a Human Endeavour and Science Inquiry Skills (which account for two thirds of the year’s content). Surely the program outlined above goes a long way to putting that content on equal footing to the Scientific Understanding content which currently dominates most syllabi.

Finally, let us not forget this:

8-Year-Olds Publish Scientific Bee Study


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Teachers’ Day with Martin Westwell – Follow up

This links to the post below, in which I reflected on some lesson from Teachers’ Day with Prof Westwell.

At the end of the day, he said that only 5% of us would put something we learned today into practice, and challenged us to commit to something in order to up that percentage.

Well, I took up that challenge in my next Maths class, teaching, of things, percentages. I chose to use principle 10 of Dan Meyer’s Ten Design Principles For Engaging Math Tasks

Highlight the limits of a student’s existing skills and knowledge. New mathematical tools are often developed to account for the limitations of the old ones. You can’t model the path of a basketball with linear equations — we need quadratics. You can’t model the growth of bacteria with a quadratic equations — we need exponentials. Offer students a challenge for which their old skills look useful but turn out to be ineffective. That moment of cognitive conflict can engage students in a discussion of new tools and counter the perception that math is a disjointed set of rules and procedures, each bearing no relationship to the one preceding it.

I used as my leading question: How can we order fractions with different denominators?

We came the position that it would be much easier if they had the same denominator. Hey presto, this is where I stepped in with the idea of percentages – A way of comparing fractional amounts, where the denominator is always 100.

I didn’t work perfectly, as these thing rarely do, but I got through to some of them, and it’s something I can build on.

At least I’m part of the 5%.


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Reflections on Teachers’ Day with Martin Westwell

On Martin Westwell

Prof Westwell is the Director of the Flinders Centre for Science Education in the 21st Century. The Centre aims to bring evidence-based research findings to teaching through various partnerships and programs.

On the Australian Curriculum

  • The new AC provides a sound foundation for moving Australian Education forward
  • It could be used to support a shift from industrial to post-industrial practices
  • For all those who watched the Ken Robinson RSA video and said “Yes!”, this is your chance.
  • The (Maths) proficiencies in the AC provide a useful way of drilling down to the “essence”. These are: Fluency, Understanding, Problem Solving, Reasoning.
  • I currently build through these sequentially, but there is no reason not to start at “higher” levels
  • The latter three can be referred to as Fluency+
  • Students do well in NAPLAN numeracy at fluency, poorly at Fluency+
  • Fluency+ is teachable and learnable, but not instructable (but Fluency is).
  • Westwell’s “essence” seems similar to Lynn Erikson‘s “concepts”, which form part of her concept-based curriculum, which itself is strongly influencing the IB MYP approach.

On Success Predictors

  • Self efficacy and self directedness have positive correlations with education success
  • A surface approach to learning has a negative effect, of the same order as procrastination and test anxiety

On Pedagogical Aspirations

  • Evidence-rich teaching and learning environments
  • Engagement is a three-legged stool, where cognitive, emotional and behavioural engagement are all required.
  • DECD (?) will be providing a new online resource for SA teachers, which will provide tools for marrying these aspirations and the AC.

ON “Dan Meyering”

  • Westwell has coined this phrase to refer to using techniques pioneered by Dan Meyer to bring new life and learning to his Maths classroom. If you don’t know of Dan Meyer, you really should check out his blog.
  • Some of the ideas discussed included – using intuition and guessing, helping less (knowing when to stand back), highlighting the limits of a student’s existing skills and knowledge
  • Dan’s key tip on engagement is perplexity