I am currently teaching a 1-credit "science teaching seminar" for ten undergraduate science majors, each serving as a learning assistant for a different university science course in chemistry or physics. This week, I'll be running the "Are all the colors in the rainbow?" question on the heels of a reading on talk and argumentation in the science classroom. The focus of the reading is on making thinking visible in the classroom.
I hope to do the rainbow activity and then, afterward, use that activity as the focus of a conversation on argumentation in the classroom. I also hope to model for them a few specific strategies for facilitating classroom discussion that are mentioned in the paper.
Here's the new plan:
1. Students do a five minute free write on the question, "Are all the colors in the rainbow?"
2. Students share their ideas with a partner (5 minutes):
- I circulate, listen, praise their ideas and questions, and probe for specificity, explanations, and evidence when appropriate.
My goal is to write all the ideas on the board and to model for them a few of the following strategies:I want to end the rdiscussion by valuing the questions that have come up. I also want to point out that some interesting examples have come up, and that I think we can make progress with our questions by having everyone to scrutinize closely some of our interesting examples.
- Asking for agreement, "Does anyone want to agree or disagree with what that?"
- Asking for additions, "Does anyone want to add to what so-and-so just said?"
- Acknowledging significance "That sounds really important. Let me write that down"
- Requesting explanation, "Why do you think that? What made you think that?"
- Re-voicing, "It sounds like you are saying..."
- Asking for restatement, "Does someone think they can repeat what so-and-on said in their own words?"
4. Students go back to working with partner (10 minutes):
I pass a pack of crayola colors to each group and sort into three categories:
- Yes, in the rainbow. For all the colors that are in, sort them into rainbow order. Explain
- No, not in the rainbow. It not in the rainbow, explain why it's not in the rainbow.
- Unsure or undecided. Explain why you are unsure. What arguments do you have either way?
Changes to the Lesson Structure
#4 on the list is modified from how we ran it in the workshop. It is now more structured and focused by passing on the crayola colors that we think will drive further discussion. It also allows the whole class to focus on a common set of colors, rather than each group doing something different. It also temporarily suspends consideration of "what counts as a color?", because I am tacitly asserting that each of these crayola colors has to be considered. While we need to return to the question, I think it's valuable to close some questions so we make progress on others.
My Goals for Better Facilitation
- Stick to my time-line, or at least consciously not-stick to it. Last time, I was always surprised by how much time everything took, and often realized that I let the conversation go too long. I shouldn't be caught off-guard like that. Maybe I need a watch.
- Model strategies with deliberate intent. Benedikt said in the Friday's morning workshop session I covered almost all of the facilitation strategies listed above, while in the afternoon session I hit maybe one or two. That's a big difference! Glad I had Benedikt to call me out on that.
- Write down all their ideas and questions on the board during discussion. I think it's a mistake not do it, because doing so contributes to "valuing" participants ideas and questions rather than answers.