Communicating Science Sessions

Sequencing the Sessions

Communicating Science Sessions

An important structural element for the sessions, and the entire course, is using a learning cycle based instructional model. For each session or pedagogical topic:

This cycle is also repeated on a larger scale in the way that the sessions are sequenced in the course. We begin by exploring the domain of science itself and what is generally known about teaching and learning. We then explore how particular strategies, such as encouraging student dialogue or uncovering alternative conceptions, can help to support student learning. By the third or fourth week of the course, participants begin to apply what they’ve learned about teaching science when instructing their students and later when they design a lesson. They also devise and administer a brief assessment task and draw inferences from the student responses to obtain feedback on their teaching. The culminating experience in the course is an authentic assessment of the participants themselves, as they present a shortened version of their self-designed lesson for the other course participants.

In order to follow this kind of gradually deepening exploration of science teaching, we suggest presenting the sessions in the sequence shown here. Adjustments can easily be made within the framework provided in order to plan around classroom visits from elementary students or preparation for specific assignments. Of course, you may have different pedagogical emphases, scheduling issues, or other factors that might lead you to adjust the order and/or select only some of the sessions. We’d be glad to consult with you and discuss possibilities, as over the years the course has often been modified for different purposes and various audiences.

View each Session’s page:

  1. Nature and Practices of Science
    Participants take a critical look at a variety of common misconceptions about science, and in the process uncover some of their own misconceptions. Misinterpretations about science, conscious and unconscious, are widespread, and examining them helps participants hone their own understanding of science. Through attempting to define science, participants gain a deeper understanding of its strengths and limitations. They are then introduced to website materials from UC Berkeley’s Museum of Paleontology, where they encounter resources for teaching about the nature and practices of science and how it is distinct from other disciplines. Through exemplar activities from the GEMS unit, Oobleck: What Do Scientists Do?, participants experience the meticulous nature of scientific exploration and debate, and the challenge of arriving at an agreed upon scientific statement.

  2. Teaching and Learning
    Participants leave this session with a useful tool for planning and conducting educational activities. This session is designed to explore how people learn best and to model how to develop lessons that support a variety of learning styles. Participants experience four simple activity stations that illustrate different teaching approaches. The presenter then leads a discussion in which participants reflect on their own learning style, and how they were affected by each approach. This leads to a deep understanding that learners are diverse, and that particular teaching approaches have specific benefits and potential drawbacks. Participants also discuss how to effectively sequence learning experiences, as they are introduced to an instructional model known as “the learning cycle.” They learn how this model can be used to help provoke curiosity and enable students to integrate and apply new concepts and information. Finally, an abbreviated version of GEMS’s Fingerprinting models the use of the learning cycle to teach about methods of categorizing fingerprints.

  3. Constructing Understanding
    Participants learn the basic ideas of constructivism, and begin to envision effective constructivist teaching strategies as applied to the classroom. The session begins with a discussion about children’s ideas about the world, and how these ideas might evolve. Participants then read about research on teaching and learning and discuss how instruction can be designed in order to apply each aspect of the research. Participants then experience an exemplar activity from GEMS’s Space Science Sequence, modeling a variety of strategies for dealing with students’ alternative conceptions related to Moon phases. After discussing effective teaching strategies from the exemplar, they view a video that powerfully illustrates how challenging it can be for students to embrace new ideas about science, because they often retain their original conceptions in quite ingenious ways.

  4. Questioning Strategies
    Participants experience the effects of two categories of questions—“broad” and “focused” questions, through the interactive, discussion-based activities in this session. They are introduced the appropriate use of both types of questions and the emphasis is placed on analyzing the impact of each type of question on student thinking, behavior and discussion, and using this information to help decide how and when to best use them. In addition, they explore how to sequence various types of questions in order to help guide discussions. They also contrast how two typical approaches teachers take, as far as their role in the classroom (“sage on the stage” and “guide on the side”) can either draw out student responses or sometimes shut them down. As an exemplar of leading science discussion with young children, participants are introduced to a GEMS activity exploring sinking and floating objects, Sifting Through Science. Finally, they use what they’ve learned about questioning strategies to plan a series of questions they will ask their visiting students during the next session as they lead them in the same Sifting Through Science activity.

  5. Questions Lab
    In this session the course participants practice their questioning skills with children who are invited to attend the class. The participants use the question plans they crafted during the previous session, to lead the children through the sink/float station activity from GEMS’s Sifting Through Science. They experience firsthand which of their planned questions are effective, and which are not. Then, as the participants observe, the instructor of the course gathers the children and leads a meaning-making discussion of the activity, in order to demonstrate effective discussion-leading techniques for participants. The children are then introduced to a more open-ended, exploration using the same materials, and the course participants are challenged to devise questions to guide the students’ investigations “on the fly.” Participants finally reflect on and discuss the effectiveness of the questioning strategies they implemented and those that they observed others using.

  6. Promoting Discussion
    Participants focus on how teachers can build upon students’ diverse responses to questions to engage them in learning through discussions. Participants take part in a scripted skit that highlights a variety of discussion issues and strategies. After watching the skit, they discuss their observations, as well as information from research cards that offer several practical discussion-leading strategies. In small groups, participants also brainstorm how a teacher might respond to a variety of student responses, and in the large group, they discuss the merits of each approach. The session closes with an exemplar activity from GEMS Liquid Explorations, which includes ample opportunities for use of questioning techniques. One person in each table group plays the part of “teacher,” while the others play the parts of young children investigating liquids. The “teacher” leads the “students” through the activity, attempting to incorporate effective questioning and discussion-leading strategies.

  7. Classroom Conversations
    Participants are introduced to additional information and experiences highlighting the importance of classroom discussions, while also modeling strategies that can be used with their own students. They explore the role of dialogue in learning by: reading and sharing short excerpts from research; observing a video of a classroom lesson and analyzing coded transcripts, and taking part in an exemplar GEMS Dry Ice Investigations activity. They examine common patterns of teacher-student exchanges during discussion, the benefits of teacher guidance in learning science, and the importance of peer-to-peer discourse. During the dry ice investigations, individual participants have the opportunity to take on the role of teacher, and to practice asking questions that encourage observations, investigations, and explanations. At the end of the session, they review all the strategies used in the session and discuss how they can be used in classrooms with children.

  8. Designing a Lesson
    The class now focuses on the “Application” phase of the overall learning cycle of the course, as they practice planning lessons incorporating some of the pedagogical ideas addressed in the course. They view one of the Minds of Our Own videos, in which Harvard graduates and middle school students demonstrate a commonly held alternative conception regarding photosynthesis. After a discussion about the strategies used in the video to identify and address alternative conceptions, the class is presented with a series of common alternative conceptions in science which they examine to try to identify the source of the erroneous ideas. Groups are then given a variety of photosynthesis-related concepts appropriate for different grade levels, and challenged to choose one and devise a thoughtful hands-on activity to help students build on their prior knowledge and deepen their understanding.

  9. Assessing for Learning
    Participants become familiar with current best-practices in formative assessment. The session begins with the participants taking part in a group assessment activity, which reviews all the content of the preceding sessions and brings out the instructional goals of this type of group assessment. Participants learn that current formative assessment practices emphasize using a balance of testing methods that assess for various types of knowledge and understanding in students. They are also introduced to the importance of continuous assessment, in order for teachers to obtain feedback about instruction and student learning that can be used to inform instructional decisions. Participants also explore a collection of actual student work from various science assessment tasks. They discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each assessment task, how they might be improved, and how the information might be used to inform teaching. This exercise serves as a model of the analytical process they will use when writing a paper about the assessment task they will design and administer to their own students.


Communicating Science, all nine sessions (as a PDF)