Tuesday, March 10, 2009

field trips, content and pedagogy

This past weekend we took our son on a field trip, the local university had an "open house" - basically every single student group puts up a booth and the university gives presentations to prospective students (and their parents) On the advice of a "tour guide" we visited the natural sciences area. The boy enjoyed the activities they had... using glue, borax and water to make "slime", recycling plastic by making "shrinkie dinks" and of course putting solid CO2 into water to watch it boil......Cool.

Now a word about content knowledge and pedagogy. One element of the new federal legislation is to put a "high quality teacher" in every classroom. Sounds like a good idea, yes? Well.... the problem for many of us within the field (check out Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 2006) is in how this notion is defined. The federal government strongly favors content knowledge over pedagogical knowledge - basically it is more important that teachers know Chemistry than that they know how to teach it. (See how this might not sit well with the College of education? - We spend the bulk of our time teaching pedagogical knowledge.)

So what does this have to do with the field trip? The young man working at the CO2 booth made a comment about how they would only have a "shrinkie dink" - portraying some chemical symbol in the Chemistry department. This guy was excited about Chemistry. He loved Chemistry. He challenged students to blow on the solid stuff and see the steam rise. It was pretty cool. No explanation of why it was so cool, just repeated exhortations that it was.

Now I began to wonder.... I am not suggesting that this young man had expressed an interest in becoming a teacher. I simply wondered about people like him becoming high-school Chemistry teachers, if only for a short time. He sure knew his chemistry- but did the children learn anything?

He lacked a fundamental pedagogical knowledge as he related to the children visiting his booth.... he was so excited about the coolness of the solid Co2, that he forgot to tell the kids that this is the stuff that we exhale when we breath- that this is a essential to plants for the production of O2 (I know this probable gets taught in the biology or botany department but...)

I am not suggesting that we should simply train teachers with pedagogical knowledge and let them learn Chemistry elsewhere. I just think send Chemistry teachers out into the field without a fundamental/working knowledge of teaching is not beneficial for students, teachers or the profession.

Wondering how education is improved when we forget that it takes more than content knowledge to help children become successful in the world around them (not to mention in the classroom).

Keep asking questions. I am sending a draft of the dissertation to my adviser at the end of next week.... I couldn't be happier (or more stressed).

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