MSU Urban STEM Summer 2016 Reflection

Our summer session was unique to me in that it modeled the integration of the ideas put forth in our readings while also modeling effective, engaging professional development. This seems like a rarity in teacher education and the structure of our meeting time was the most important aspect of my summer learning. This structure followed directly from the TPACK model, which asserts that effective instruction considers pedagogy, content knowledge, and technology.


Pedagogical Knowledge (PK) Modeled:

Instead of presenting the class with lectures, students were the center of the learning experiences: having group discussions where we evaluated the articles we read; engaging in quickfire challenges to help us explore technology, investigate concepts using non-traditional means, such as representing our content in the Illuminate challenge, and pushing us to think more creatively. This was far more engaging and effective than giving us our technology and lecturing us about what to use and how it works. The quickfire challenges also were instructional in that they prepared us with the skills necessary to complete our Imagine IT photos and videos, thus modeling how learning experiences must align with performances of understanding in that the student practices the skill needed for the performance. Additionally, I found the use of photos and videos to begin the description of our Imagine IT to be completely novel to me. I feel that forcing us to represent out Imagine IT in this way forced us to think about our idea aesthetically and conceptually instead of most likely following our gut instinct to try to dig into the details of the project. This method aligns with teaching for aesthetic understanding and models how, if we engage our students in an exploration of the aesthetics of a concept, the concepts comes alive and engage the learner in new and exciting ways (Girod 2001).


Content Knowledge (CK) Modeled:

When I reflect on the amount of content presented to us in two weeks, I am astounded. To me, the “content” of the course falls under three main descriptors: technology, pedagogy, and curiosity.

Technology- It is no surprise that in a STEM program, technology was at the forefront of the content being presented. While I enjoyed learning about photo and video editors, social media, and other tech tools that can be repurposed for the classroom, learning how to integrate the tech was more important than what tech to integrate. Mishra and Koehler (2009) note that a teacher should think deeply about the discipline and what strategies and technology will help the students learn. They also point out that if the technology based activity is, “divorced from what happening in the classroom it is worthless”, and that teaching students “how to use or evaluate (technology) more important than what” tech is used. My fear has always been that I am not using the right tool or the most cutting edge tool and that my students will fall behind. I walked away from the summer session realizing that it is not about the best  or most cutting edge tool, it is about teaching in a meaningful way to enhance and support exploration of concepts and to teach the students disciplinary thinking. Technology should support this pursuit and any tech instruction should teach students how to evaluate and select technology that is appropriate for their needs.

Pedagogical approaches- We explored a variety of complementary pedagogical approaches, including, teaching for conceptual understanding, exploring misconceptions, the use of TPACK, teaching aesthetically, and what knowledge we should be teaching in our classrooms. Many of these ideas were very familiar to me, but the readings and discussions helped me see connections between some seemingly separate ideas such as teaching for conceptual understanding and what we should be teaching in the 21st century. The greatest shift in my understanding happened around exploring student’s prior knowledge and misunderstanding. I have always known that it is important to elicit what our students know about a particular concept before instruction around that concept. I have also known that it is important to make connections to their prior knowledge, but what I knew was an over-simplification of how prior knowledge plays a role in learning. My assessment of prior knowledge allowed me to do two things as a teacher. Firstly, it helped me decide which concepts students already knew fairly well and which we needed to spend more time on. For example, in a preassessment of students’ abilities to simplify and evaluate expressions, I might recognize that almost all students successfully evaluated numerical expressions, but most were unable to substitute into expression with variables and then evaluate. As a result, I now knew that I did not have to spend much time on simplifying expressions without variables, but would need to be strategic about teaching substitution and evaluation. The second way I used students’ prior knowledge was to build. I would build on their interests. I would build on the ideas that somewhat aligned with the concept being taught. In my building, I would ignore any prior “knowledge” that did not align with what was being taught because it wasn’t really knowledge. They were misconceptions that would not help us get to the right answer so I did not want to revisit these ideas because they had no merit. Schulman (1997), Watson and Kopnicek (1990),  and the National Research Council (1997) opened my  eyes to the possibility that there is so much more work to do around prior knowledge, particularly misconceptions. I learned that by ignoring the incorrect prior knowledge, I, most likely, just allowed those misconceptions to continue to exist without the student even realizing they might be incorrect. I immediately thought of an activity I completed in my classroom called “novel ideas only”. The students had to brainstorm what they knew about a particular topic, only adding novel ideas to the class’s list. The concept was lines. Students offered up ideas like, “thick”, “thin”, “curvy”, “dotted”, “straight”, “long”, “short”, and more. Any math teacher knows, this list is not a good sign! Straight is the only descriptor even remotely acceptable as a way to describe a line in mathematics. I completed this activity and thought, “my goodness I have work to do!”. I never explored this list again with the students; it just hung in the corner of the classroom as a reminder to me that they really did not understand or remember what they had learned about lines the year before. After exploring the role of misconceptions in learning, I realized what a huge misstep I made by not addressing these misconceptions. I could have had discussions or asked students to research lines with the goal of comparing and contrasting the use of the word line in math and other disciplines. We could have more deeply explored what a line is versus a curve in mathematics (and that lines are curves) allowing for opportunities of greater understanding. By ignoring the misconceptions presented to me, I knew then and now that those descriptors would stick with the students even after my lessons. At least now I feel I have the strategies to address them.


Curiosity- I am curious and certainly try to follow the interests and curiosities of my students in class, but I’ve never thought about teaching curiosity prior to this summer. The World of Wonder (WOW) was such an interesting addition to our day. I can imagine the WOW being a great addition to any classroom, as students can easily share out a WOW that aligns with the content area. Being a math teacher I can already imagine students being resistant to the idea of finding a WOW moment aligned to math, so I would ask that they just present their world of wonder moment and then the class could spend five to ten minutes searching online for mathematical connections to the WOW, which could then be tweeted out. My hope would be that students would begin to become more aware and thoughtful about the world around them and that, by trying to find mathematical connections to their curiosities, students would begin to appreciate the myriad ways that math is used in the world.




Technology Knowledge (TK) Modeled:

The use of technology in our coursework as a tool achieved multiple goals. It allowed us to approach ideas from different perspectives. For example, creating pictures to represent our Imagine Its or using circuits and lights to represent our content area. The technology also helped support and organize our discourse. For example, using twitter allowed fellows to continue discussions started in class and, when coupled with Storify, helped us organize the events and discussion of the day into easily accessible packages. The technology also helped engage in exploring the content, whether it was misconceptions in science through stop-action, creating more challenging and authentic learning engagements through video story problems, or just quick checks for understanding using Plickers. Because technology is so hands- on, it also immediately engaged groups in common goals and forced us to take risks in our learning and interactions, which set the stage for an engage, open community of learners.


Going forward I look to integrate the TPACK framework when designing professional development and helping teachers design their instruction in much the same way as our summer session was organized.


Works cited:

Girod, M. (2001). Teaching 5th grade science for aesthetic understanding. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, 194-203, Michigan State University.

Graves Wolf, Leigh. “Quickfires Explained.” Leigh Graves Wolf. N.p., 19 Aug. 2009. Web. 17 Aug. 2016.

National Resource Council, “Science Teaching Reconsidered: A Handbook” at” Front Matter. 2007 Web. 20 Aug. 2016.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2009, May). Too Cool for School? No Way! Learning & Leading with Technology, (36)7. 14-18. [PDF download].

Shulman, Lee S. “What Is Learning and What Does It Look like When It Doesn’t Go Well?” Change 31.4 (1999): 10-17. Web.