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EDTEP 586 Strategy #1 Eliciting students ideas

When to use:
Anytime you are introducing a topic that is conceptually distinct from students previous work.

Key idea about this strategy: This strategy is based on a philosophy/theory about learning
called constructivism. Simply put, it suggests that all individuals construct and re-construct
knowledge for themselves. No teacher is able to put knowledge into the heads of any learner.
Unless teachers provide opportunities for learners to make sense of science ideas themselves
based on what they already know, then learners will be forced to simply memorize meaningless
vocabulary and mindlessly plug numbers into formulas they dont really understand. So, when a
teacher is introducing a new topic, the first priority is to see what common everyday experiences
students have that offer a bridge to understanding the topic, and get students talking about how
they understand the ideas that make up that topic.

Goals for using this strategy:

1) For you to understand:
what students do know about a science concept,
language they use to express their familiarity with the topic,
what aspects of the topic the students are interested in or familiar with, and
what alternative conceptions students have about a topic.

2) For students to make their existing ideas explicit and public so they (and you) can work with

Note: DO NOT use this strategy to explain ideas from a scientific point of view or to introduce
vocabulary. Your exclusive focus is on getting kids to talklisten to them!

Note: How can you use these student understandings to guide later instruction?
A) Use their terminology first and later introduce the corresponding scientific terminology.
B) Use examples of phenomena that they seemed interested in or familiar with.
C) Make plans to address unexpected misconceptions in later classes
D) Have students compare their early ideas or explanations to those they develop a few days (or
weeks) later.

Guide to action:
A1. Big Idea: Select a big idea in science. You have NO TIME in your curriculum for trivia!
How can you recognize a big idea? These are concepts and principles that help explain many
phenomena in the natural world and that are themselves connected to other ideas in science. The
biggest of these for example (some of the most well-connected) are:
Plate tectonics in earth science
Newtons laws in physics
Evolution in biology
Chemical bonding in chemistry

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There are, of course, many important ideas that are small parts of the big ideas mentioned above.
You may want to choose a more focused idea rather than some of the grand theories listed above.

Another way to identify big ideas is to look up standards from documents such as the Essential
Academic Learning Requirements of Washington, the National Science Education Standards, or
the Atlas of Scientific Literacy.

Important note: When thinking of a big idea, do not select a THING (like plants or layers of the
earth). Especially for your microteaching experience, stay away from microscopic, abstract things
like cells and atoms. Rather, select DYNAMIC PHENOMENA like photosynthesis, genetic
inheritance, pendulum motion, plate tectonics, or chemical change. These are much more
compelling to learn and require understanding of relationships and mechanisms in addition to
knowing vocabulary.

HOWEVER students will have a difficult time talking about scientific molecular processes-
hypothesizing how photosynthesis works or how inheritance works are science ways of thinking
that target specific content rather than student thinking about larger principles. Having students
talk about photosynthesis or inheritance would be better suited for strategy 3 (interactive
concept building).
Sample questions that work well: Diagram all of the products that go into making a
Sample questions that do not work well: Why is the sky blue? How does your heart work?

A2. Approach: Find a way to approach your topic from existing ideas and experiences that your
students are likely to have. By connect I do not mean that you simply ask students Have you
ever heard of photosynthesis? (or momentum or acids and bases). Rather, think of real life
experiences that your students are familiar with and think of open-ended questions about those
experiences. Instead of asking about photosynthesis, ask about plants growing in a terrarium,
instead of asking about momentum, ask about a roller coaster, instead of asking about acids ask
about car batteries or common household products.

Important notes: All students, despite their backgrounds should have reasonable expectation to
engage in discourse about your question/task, i.e. it relates to their out of school experiences.
o Your question/task should have multiple plausible answers that encourage student
o You are not fishing for a right answer.

Use some kind of prop or activity. One way to get students talking (which is what you want) is to
generate a sense of puzzlement by giving an example of the topic/concept and posing questions
about it. This is particularly helpful if your students do not have shared experiences to draw on.
This can be done with a:

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- teacher-led demo - video clip
- brief demo that students can do - image
- provocative question about a current - interesting artifact
event - pictorial riddle
- story - combinations of the above

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A3. Questions: What kinds of questions can you ask? (Dont forget, your goal is to engage
students in a conversation, not to lecture or quiz!)

Observations only: ask safe questions in which every student can likely contribute without being
right or wrong. For example, if you are studying plate tectonics, ask students where they were
during the recent earthquake and what they felt (personal experience questions). Another example
is to do a demonstration of pendulum motion and ask what do you see happening as I shorten the
string? Try not to let individual students explain phenomena in detail, it preempts efforts to
understand by others.

Hypothesizing next, you will try to get a sense of student thinkingto make it public through
dialogue, writing, or drawing. You ask riskier questions such as what-ifs? (predictions). For
example, What would happen if we swung the pendulum from a greater height? or What would
happen if all the coyotes in this ecosystem were eradicated?

Through experience, you will develop a skill for follow-up questions such as Can you tell me what
you mean by .? Or How is that related to what your classmate said earlier? Dont depend only
on questions such as Have you ever heard of? By themselves, these types of questions tell you
very little. (Side note: closely monitor your own use of languagedont use terms students arent
familiar with early in the lesson.)

What are other ways in addition to class dialogue that you can get a sense of students pre-
- have students draw representations of the concept/topic in the form of concept maps,
diagrams, art works, or flow charts, etc.
- have students offer interpretations of graphs, images, drawings

Treat all experiences by your students as valid, respectable interpretations of the world. Treat all
comments and initial hypotheses with respect.

B. Sometime during the course of this introductory lesson tell students what the topic of study is
and help students understand why the topic is important.

C. After this conversation with students, summarize and record the ideas that have been elicited
from students and move into next phase of instruction, taking into consideration what students
find interesting and their level of understanding of the topic. The next phases of instruction
(which we will explore later in our methods class) might include:
- guided exploration (Strategy #2)
- interactive concept development (Strategy #3)
- building students skills (e.g. how to interpret a graph, do a titration, analyze data)

- a field trip
- inviting a guest speaker in
- reading key material
- others...

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Questions to ask yourself as you are developing your 10 minute segment of a lesson

What am I eliciting responses about?

o A complex scientific model (this can be problematic)
o An underlying theme important to science or the nature of science
o Students experiences with a concept/ underlying theme important to science
o Students explanations of the underlying concepts sparked from a discrepant event (an
demonstration that causes wonderment)

In what way am I eliciting students responses?

o Teacher leads discussion asking questions that can be answered in a few words
o Teacher leads discussion asking open-ended questions and probes for in depth responses
from students (follow-up questions)
o Teacher leads discussion asking open-ended questions, probing for details about students
ideas & encourages students to respond to one anothers ideas
o Teacher initiates small group discussions in which students share ideas with each other
and then discuss their ideas with a larger group
o Teacher provides a discrepant event and encourages students to discuss their thinking
about the event (without walking the student through the teachers, or scientific, way of

Other Questions
o How much time am I planning on talking? How much time were my students
o Can I describe how individual students in my class understand this concept?
o Do I have a sense for the kind of words they would use to describe this concept?
o Can my students repeat back to me, why this topic is important or what they might be
learning in the future?
o What were my students doing most of the time? Listening? Dialoguing with the teacher?
Group discussion? Drawing? Making inferences?

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Peer Comments on the Eliciting Ideas Strategy



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