Thinking About an Elementary Science Education Curriculum:
Continuing the Conversation

Alice Lesnick
Initial Project Thoughts
17 May 2006

On the Observation/Interpretation Cycle

Your formulation of this process opens a view of learning that puts sense-based and thinking/narrative-based exploration into a clear relationship. [Are you comfortable with this distinction? Maybe it's false. ] This formulation may also be applied to areas such as literary study and history.

We may observe naively, through daily experience and using everyday means, or deliberately and systematically, through the use of specialized tools, selective areas of attention, and constructed, over-time procedures. But even in terms of naive observation, careful attention (unaided by technology) gives us access to much that we would not otherwise see. Observations lead to interpretations - taking care with the manner of moving from one to the other is an important part of science, and of learning. Interpretations then lead to/enable observations, and obscure/eclipse other observations.

Knowing things can help people take care of the way they move their explorations from observation to interpretation. Knowing things (including language) informs observation. It can also prejudice observation. Elements of foundational knowledge (i.e., what a variable is; that living things change over time; that categorizing things/events can be a useful project) play a role in fitting the senses and the thinking for further learning. "Having" these is also mobilizing as it gives learners a degree of confidence, a feeling of belonging inside the discourse.

So one question for today's conversation is what foundational knowledge do teachers want students taking out of each experience? Another is how can participating in each experience contribute to positioning the student as an insider to science-making discourse? Another is how can/does educational experience contribute, over time, to engaging children in an ongoing process of wondering, observing, and interpreting? Alongside all of these and needfully informing them are the students' motives, questions, and interests in science study.

What is Lansdowne currently doing to assess students' science learning? Would it be profitable to link assessments to the questions above?

When you speak of helping students become "successful inquirers" I wonder about the connection to discourse. We want students to feel engaged, and able to engage, with processes of discernment, description, debate, narrative; we want them to act as insiders in the discourse of science work.

In typical descriptions of Inquiry-Based Science, we find accounts such as this one:

This is a rendition of what has traditionally taught as the scientific method. While perhaps useful in narrow terms, it isolates and threatens to render formulaic processes that more often take place in relation to one another and recursively. It also suggests a more or less positivistic end to the process - it sets up interpretation as leading to stable "findings" to certainty (if not total, then sufficient to warrant publication). We want provisional certainties to enable productive, new uncertainties.

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