21 April 2007

Building Knowledge, Piece by Piece

Primary teachers will be coming next week for their last round of math and science cadre training. We have one teacher per grade for each of the fourteen elementary schools. It's been a worthwhile experience and experiment for me this year---and I know that it has for most of the cadre members. There were a variety of goals with this project. The biggest one was simply to begin the development of grade level math and science experts for each building. This was especially important because we only have literacy coaches---nothing to support math and science. Secondly, we hoped to give a wider range of teacher leadership opportunities. We also wanted to help teachers gain a better understanding of math and science concepts, not just instructional issues. There are some drawbacks with this model. Three meetings a year is not really enough to sustain conversations...only one-third of our elementary staff receives training...and there's little we can do to support and monitor things once staff have returned to their buildings.

I've been spending time today putting together a jigsaw puzzle in anticipation of helping teachers learn more about the concepts of a hypothesis and theory. It's not a new idea for teaching these (read more here, if you're interested in the details), but I am going to put a bit of a twist on the process. It starts with giving each person a few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. On their own, they make some observations of the information they have in their pieces before receiving a bit more "data." Then, they can collaborate with a table partner or two and see what hypothesis they can build. These ideas are then shared around the room. No edge pieces are given (science can be ever growing) and people start to see connections between what they have and "research" done by others. My twist, however, will be not to randomly bag puzzle pieces. My plan is to give each person a section of the puzzle, minus one piece that I will distribute to someone else. I won't be telling them this, of course, but what we should end up with is a whole picture by the end of the activity. I think the connections could be a lot more powerful this way.

I'll use this activity in conjunction with a mystery box to develop understanding of observation and inference. Although most of these ideas are well beyond what primary students need to know about science, the point here is to enhance teacher knowledge. Teachers who understand the "end product" of certain concepts are better able to see how their piece of the puzzle fits and communicate this to kids...building their knowledge, piece by piece, too.

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