The work we have been doing for the past few years in the CCU Physics Education Research Group has focused on scientific reasoning. Our research has focused mainly on university students, but there are certainly parallels to secondary and primary education. The two big take-aways from our work to date have been that (1) improving student reasoning ability takes A LOT of explicit instruction, and (2) as a group, science teachers have sucked at this.
I want to share with you an article that just came out in the journal Research in Science Education, and not just because our work is heavily cited! Lin Ding et al. assessed student scientific reasoning ability across China. Not surprisingly, they determined that students majoring in a science field exhibited higher reasoning skills than education majors, and that first-tier university attendees scored higher than second-tier university attendee. Students that like and are good at science tend to self-select into science majors. What may be shocking is what they found when they looked at reasoning ability across the four year levels of higher education.
On Monday, I was the invited speaker for a joint colloquium of science education researchers and students at the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich. Guillaume Schiltz is a faculty member in physics education at ETH Zurich that I had meet a few years ago at the International Conference on Physics Education in Cordoba, Argentina. He invited me to discuss our groups work in Zurich while in Europe this semester.
I gave my “stump” speech about science reasoning and process skills, with results from a few of the studies we’ve been working on. The basic structure of this talk is as follows:
On Monday, I had the opportunity to visit the physics classes of Dr. Irena Dvořáková. Irena teaches physics at ZŠ Červený vrch, which translates to English as Red Hill Primary School. When not teaching at Red Hill, Irena sits on the faculty in the Department of Physics Education at Charles University. That makes us colleagues for the next four months!
For those physics teachers in the USA, you'll notice something interesting. Irena teaches physics at a primary school. Here in the USA, when I visit physics classes, I'm always sitting in a room with students ranging from 16-18 years old in an American high school. When I taught physics in Virginia secondary schools, my students were all about one year from university. So what's different about the Czech (and most of Europe!) public school system and the definition of a "physics teacher?"
I'm on sabbatical from Coastal Carolina University this semester while I complete a Fulbright Scholar Award in Prague, Czech Republic. My host is the Department of Physics Education at the Charles University, where I will be teaching a graduate seminar on scientific reasoning and process skills to in-service and pre-service physics teachers in the Czech Republic.
This is an exciting opportunity, and I hope to find the time to report here on all of the interesting things that I see. I am already learning the many differences and similarities in physics teacher preparation between the USA and European countries. Later this semester, I will be presenting a plenary talk on STEM education in the USA for a workshop on Study Abroad that will highlight some of these differences.
It looks like I have a nice European speaking tour coming up, as well. Expect reports soon on my visits to Zurich, Munich, Brno, Dresden, Berlin, Malta, and who knows where else. I'll be presenting my "stump" speech titled "Creating Scientists: Teaching and Assessing Science Thinking and Practice," the various versions of which will be posted in the pubs section of the website.
There should also be a ton of papers coming out from our research group this semester. We have several under review right now, and I'll write a little about each as they get accepted and ready for publication.
Later, I have a little story about my visit to a Czech lower secondary school. I'll talk about that visit and the structure of Czech primary and secondary education and how it contrasts with the US system. Plus, there are some surprising differences between the way we train physics teachers in the US and the way they do it here. My high school physics-teaching colleagues might be surprised.
So ... this is the official start of the blog for the Coastal Physics Education Research Group. More to come.