Research in Science Education

Combating Low Expectations

What do you think is the most important research on how a leader (principal, instructional coach, thoughtful teacher...)can work with others to combat low expectations for students' learning? I'm contemplating working with supervisors to improve their science program, and we know that all the best PD on best practices won't actually get implemented when teachers believe that their students can't learn. What breaks the cycle?? Isn't this what a "turnaround school" needs to do? What is the recommended pathway? Thanks for any pointers on research-based practices!

Jan Tuomi
Jan Tuomi
1330 Activity Points

Wouldn't it be great if an actual answer to your question existed? I teach at a Title 1 school and low expectations come from many different sources. I find that if the administrators expectations are high, and teacher's attitudes are positive MOST teachers hold higher expectations. PD is difficult to provide if the teacher is not motivated... I became a science teacher because I was a scientist. I love science! As a 16 year veteran of the science field, I find PD needs to be interactive, team building, and exciting. Timed task requirements, creative task requirements, and entertaining task requirements bring out the wonderfully creative side of teachers. I don't think PD that tells a teacher what they should be doing works. (Who am I to tell someone who has been teaching successfully for 22 years that I know more about teaching than them?) Why not have PD that is more like a think tank; present ideas (or problems) and ask for solutions. I guess I think challenging the teachers, challenges the expectations. Low expectations are never a "one size fits all" problem. I tell my students that they are my own children's peers, their success is as important as my children's success, because they will all be responsible for taking care of each other as a part of society. My expectation is that every one of my students is successful at whatever they do. If they happen to love science...that's a bonus!

Stacy Holland
Stacy Holland
6865 Activity Points

Yes indeed Stacy. Identifying with students, colleagues and any others for that matter, is an important first step in communicating. I have found it working very well in classrooms, PD and in the out-of-school community.

Guruprasad Panamalai
Panamalai R Guruprasad
645 Activity Points

I agree with Stacy, too. Looking at Jan's question again, "I'm contemplating working with supervisors to improve their science program, and we know that all the best PD on best practices won't actually get implemented when teachers believe that their students can't learn. What breaks the cycle?? Isn't this what a "turnaround school" needs to do? What is the recommended pathway?"
Here's another thought, Jan. I sense that a lot of teachers still think of themselves as dispensers of knowledge rather than facilitators of learning. We must NOT see ourselves as merely grade givers! (Gosh that sounds a lot like grave diggers...hmmm)
An NSTA book that I found to be extremely helpful in seeing the connection between high expectations, inquiry learning,evaluation and student responsibility is:
Assessment in Science: Practical Experiences and Education Research. Many of the book's chapters are free in the NSTA Learning Center for members to download.
Especially see Chapter 16: Revised Views of Assessment. It discusses the research for moving away from the "giver of grades" mentality.

Carolyn Mohr
Carolyn Mohr
86483 Activity Points

[color=blue]Here's another thought, Jan. I sense that a lot of teachers still think of themselves as dispensers of knowledge rather than facilitators of learning. We must NOT see ourselves as merely grade givers! (Gosh that sounds a lot like grave diggers...hmmm) [/color] Carolyn- grade givers - grave diggers This really hit home for me. When I work with pre service science teachers I try to change the classroom culture they seem to be use to in their own schooling. [i] We are collaborating with each other ( as instructor and participants) to explore science concepts rather than competing with each other for a grade. My hope is that this type of learning atmosphere is transferred to their classrooms [/i] Arlene

Arlene Jurewicz-Leighton
Arlene Jurewicz Leighton
44543 Activity Points

[color=blue]An NSTA book that I found to be extremely helpful in seeing the connection between high expectations, inquiry learning,evaluation and student responsibility is: Assessment in Science: Practical Experiences and Education Research. Many of the book's chapters are free in the NSTA Learning Center for members to download. Especially see Chapter 16: Revised Views of Assessment. It discusses the research for moving away from the "giver of grades" mentality. [/color] Carolyn and Jan Here is a collection I just put together on Assessment and Student Learning with (free) chapters from this book http://learningcenter.nsta.org/share.aspx?id=NbvuSHSxkh'' target="_blank">http://learningcenter.nsta.org/share.aspx?id=NbvuSHSxkh' target="_blank">http://learningcenter.nsta.org/share.aspx?id=NbvuSHSxkh Arlene JL

Arlene Jurewicz-Leighton
Arlene Jurewicz Leighton
44543 Activity Points

Pam, I think you have hit on something. We have a culture of competition in our middle and high schools, and at times, it also seems to be permeating our elementary schools. Our learning objectives are not always consistent with our tradition of applying a single letter grade at the end of a semester. This was apparent in my summer school class where I had students from grades 3 through 8. The younger ones were excited, and had lots of questions, but the older ones were less enthusiastic. They were more interested in doing the activities "right" than they were with the experimentation. I think as they become older, they are increasingly afraid to fail, and therefore take fewer risks. They also become less collaborative, perhaps because they are afraid that another student might cause them to do less well. Just a couple thoughts. What does everyone else think?

Going back to assessment, I think we need to be extremely carefully to use feedback to inform our own practices, and not so much to sort our students like eggs in the carton. We need to encourage our students to make mistakes in order to learn, an idea echoed by Vineet Nayar in a post The Miracle of Making Mistakes on the HBR (Harvard Business Review) Blog Network.

Jennifer Rahn
Jennifer Rahn
67935 Activity Points

Hi Carolyn, I agree with you that many teachers view themselves as dispensers of knowledge rather than facilitators of learning. We teach a subject that is very content-heavy and it is easy to get bogged down in the content to the point where there is not enough time to conduct inquiry labs. There are a lot of issues that make this a tough problem to fix, including o Teachers tend to teach in the way that they themselves learned o Many teachers feel that inquiry learning takes too long and that they won’t be able to “cover” the curriculum o The old pressure to teach to the test---we’ve gotten to the point where things have become very scripted in many districts which doesn’t leave much time for inquiry o Many teachers feel that inquiry will lead to classroom management issues or they lack the ability to scaffold students in the manner required for students to be successful …and many more. It will be interesting to see if the new science framework has a trickle down effect, especially since engineering is such an inquiry field. Teachers will have to find the right balance, however, between teaching and conducting inquiry; inquiry lacking conceptual knowledge becomes an activity. Jennifer, isn't it a shame that kids get jaded as they progress through the school system? We train them to value grades over learning.

Patty McGinnis
Patricia McGinnis
25580 Activity Points

I think it is interesting how the talking heads of business understand the need to make mistakes in order to grow, but as teachers, we are expected to produce a "product" according to certain "standards" which may not even satisfy the objectives of the ultimate "consumer" of our product. I would love to see much improved interactions between business and education. There has been an incredible level of distrust and animosity on both sides, when frankly, we need to build a culture of trust, and effectively spend the dollars we have allocated for education to achieve our objectives. Can we develop a consistent set of objectives?

Jennifer Rahn
Jennifer Rahn
67935 Activity Points

I came across an interesting article intended for college-level teachers, but definitely worth a read for those of us with students middle and high school. "Teaching Failure in the Laboratory" describes how we focus our efforts on creating successful, fail-proof experiences for our students; it then discusses the importance of allowing failure, even in circumstances where expected outcomes are the norm, and using them as teaching / learning experiences. Perhaps more inquiry would better prepare our students to ask questions when the unexpected occurs. The article, though not intended for middle and high school, makes sense for all of us to read and apply.


Inquiry Collection
(19 items)
Teaching Failure in the Laboratory
     -Journal Article
Unlocking the Power of Observation: Activities to teach early learners the fundamentals of an important inquiry skill
     -Journal Article
Perspectives: Defending Inquiry
     -Journal Article

Jennifer Rahn
Jennifer Rahn
67935 Activity Points

Hi Jennifer, I posted this in another forum but thought this would be a great follow up to your fool proof labs and why they do not foster good science thinking.......... Arlene "Data that you don’t like, you don’t even process. This is a worrying type of situation. ” Kevin Dunbar http://poptech.org/popcasts/kevin_dunbar_on_unexpected_science Psychology professor Kevin Dunbar studies how scientists approach the unexpected and learn from mistakes. Over the course of a year, Dunbar’s team studied the habits of four molecular biology labs. They found that those labs most successful at turning mistakes into new theories tended to be more diverse and willing to take risks. If you have 20 minutes to watch this I think you will find Dunbar's finding very informative about what happens when data from labs is discussed by scientists. Molecular biology labs who had the most scientific breakthroughs had teams made up of diverse talents and science disciplines but a common focus They were able to look at the data collected to develop ways to make sense of the 'mistakes'. The conversations scientists had about their unexpected findings was most often in the form of analogies. The more insular laboratories used ' local analogies' often tied to the similar backgrounds of their team members. Local analogies are used to fix labs. More productive labs used regional analogies which had a broader scope. These types of analogies where key to discovering new theories. You might find of interest some of the gender differences he found, as well and how teams ,based on their social construct, dealt with risk and failure . Any thoughts on these ideas as teachers of science? "The challenge going forward, then, is to change the context of the way mistakes are approached in the lab; to train young scientists to look at mistakes as potential successes and pushing them to search for reasons why things went wrong, rather than teaching them to explain unexpected results away." Arlene JL

Arlene Jurewicz-Leighton
Arlene Jurewicz Leighton
44543 Activity Points

Greetings to the posters and the readers in this thread. I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for responding to my question about low expectations. Your remarks really do help my thinking. I thought I would share with you my current thoughts. These are pieces of a resource for building administrators that I am working on. NSTA holds the copyright, and I'm the author, they are not yet published---so they are for YOU only, please. If you have the urge to distribute please let me know. I wish I knew more about what makes an "ordinary" person into an inspiring leader. Are they born that way, or can they be "made"?? If a transformation takes place, what was the catalyst? Anyway, attached is a research overview, a sample agenda and a book chapter mentioned in the text, and thanks again.

Jan Tuomi
Jan Tuomi
1330 Activity Points

I have taught a school at the extremes in terms of expectations. I think that parent education in the early grades in a big deal. Role models and heroes can help too. For the average kid it goes back to the family / community. We have to shift the culture and we can't do it alone. I love malcolm gladwell's books the tipping point and outliers . I think they have really interesting things to say about how to turn around a school.

Mars Brownsen
Mars Brownsen
575 Activity Points

[color=blue]We have to shift the culture and we can't do it alone. I love malcolm gladwell's books the tipping point and outliers . I think they have really interesting things to say about how to turn around a school[/color]. Hi Mars, I have read Malcolm Gladwell's books. Here is a 20 minute presentation on human potential he gave at Pop Tech 2008. Should we instill persistence and effort into our educational systems.? This is Malcolm Gladwell's Pop Tech 2008 presentation on human potential. http://poptech.org/popcasts/malcolm_gladwell_human_potential'' target="_blank">http://poptech.org/popcasts/malcolm_gladwell_human_potential' target="_blank">http://poptech.org/popcasts/malcolm_gladwell_human_potential Food for thought...... Arlene

Arlene Jurewicz-Leighton
Arlene Jurewicz Leighton
44543 Activity Points

I was thinking of how to instill students with that fire in the belly for learning and doing. We have lost a visionary genius yesterday Steve Jobs. I am writing this on a Macbook Pro. In 1984 I bought an IMac for my then 4 year old son. Perhaps there can be some way for our students to understand that often thinking 'outside of the box' and 'doing things differently' is what it takes in this life. What do you do with the life you are given. His Standford Address 2005 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA Arlene

Arlene Jurewicz-Leighton
Arlene Jurewicz Leighton
44543 Activity Points

Jan, early on in my career, I was exposed to a little book by Ron Berger, A Culture of Quality and have embraced that philosophy every since (even now as I'm teaching pre-service teachers). I re-read it every so often so that I'm reminded of my role and passion in helping kids be the very best that they can be. I'm not sure that it's still available, but I do see that he has a new book, likely similar, called the An Ethic of Excellence. I've also been able to hear him speak.

He discusses the many facets of building this culture--obviously more powerful when done school-wide, starting with the way we talk to students and the way we recognize their achievements (real achievements based on real work). He celebrates learning as if it were Christmas, and the community and peers to celebrate along with him. Kids see the power of multiple drafts, and public display of work (mostly authentic problem solving). A good read.

Wendy Ruchti
Wendy Ruchti
24565 Activity Points

Hi Wendy, I will look on Amazon.com for An Ethic of Excellence. Good teachers feel safe to experiment, learn from these experiments, and thus deepen their connection to the subject and their students. Some methods work and some don't work for me. Students will make the greatest gains when they feel invested in the teacher and subject. Testing can help narrow the focus of study; however, the whole-self connection to the material comes from a teacher's ability to create a community of learning. It took me many years to develop the comfort level to portray myself in my teaching. I was so tentative to expose myself to my students and to connect my own prior knowledge to the subject. Good teachers come in many forms--there is no cookie-cutter mold to effective teaching. Great schools allow teachers to experiment, explore and collaborate best practices.

Erin Mendelson
Erin Mendelson
2680 Activity Points

I geuss if we all had the answer that had proven to work in every situstion we would all be millionaires. I have a suggestion, however, that I think may help. I realise that most of the students who are "not as motivated" have a different learning style to the manner in which the content material is presented in the classroom. If we as educators present the material to suit each individual student I think that may help. Now the question is how difficult is such a task? Well it does take a lot of planning and a whole lot of time searching for material. I think if departments would brain storm at the beginning of the term and fine tune the strategies to be used in the classroom things can be a lot more motivating. Remember Vygotski's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). We have to reach them where they are and scaffold them. We would discourage them and thus their losing motivation if the material is boring or just too difficult. That is my suggestion. It may not be the ultimate answer, but it is worth a try.

Uriel Richardson
Uriel Richardson
2395 Activity Points

I have recently started a conversation in one of my on-line classes based on ideas from the recently published book Academically Adrift "In spite of soaring tuition costs, more and more students go to college every year. A bachelor’s degree is now required for entry into a growing number of professions. What exactly are students learning? According to the analysis in Academically Adrift , not much. According to the author's analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at twenty-four institutions, 45 percent of these students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills—including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing—during their first two years of college. We have just spent nearly three weeks discussing a key component of learning, memory. In this discussion, use what you have learned about memory and provide one suggestion of how classroom learning could be improved. You must connect your response to topics we have covered in class" While the responses I received were not always connected to things we had discussed in class, they were remarkably candid and insightful. Among the things I heard. Teachers should raise their expectations of all students Teachers inflate student grades because they are afraid of losing their jobs Some teachers hand out extra credit like candy resulting in some students "passing" on easy extra credit alone. More opportunity for heads on learning would help hmmmmmmm Thought provoking

Pamela Auburn
Pamela Auburn
68535 Activity Points

Jan originally asked, "What do you think is the most important research on how a leader (principal, instructional coach, thoughtful teacher...)can work with others to combat low expectations for students' learning? ".
Jan, I just got my "free" book in the mail from ASCD (and McREL). It is the 2nd edition of Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. It has new authors, but it builds upon the work of Marzano, Pickering and Pollock's 1st ed. It starts out with the all important connection between student and teacher. The research reinforces how that translates into high expectations for student achievement and success. It seems to follow that teachers need to have opportunities to observe outstanding teachers as they interact with their students. Just like one can pick up exemplary table manners, teachers can learn exemplar ways to connect with their students by watching it being done effectively. The only way administrators (and thoughtful teachers) can improve student achievement is by improving instruction; the teacher holds the master key. Learning begins (or doesn't) from the moment the student makes eye and foot contact with the teacher and classroom. I really liked how the book narrowed down effective teaching strategies into 9 that should be embedded in all instructional planning. There were no surprises there. We know how important the teacher is - short of cloning the ideal, we can share those attributes (high expectations being one of them) that are found to positively influence student motivation, self-efficacy, and achievement. What are others' thoughts?

Carolyn Mohr
Carolyn Mohr
86483 Activity Points

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