Using representational tools to learn about complex systems: A tale of two classrooms

Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver, Lei Liu, Steven Gray and Rebecca Jordan

Orchestrating inquiry-based science learning in the classroom is a complex undertaking. It requires fitting the culture of the classroom with the teacher’s teaching and inquiry practices. To understand the interactions between these variables in relation to student learning, we conducted an investigation in two different classroom settings to understand how different teachers use and appropriate the same physical and computer-based tools into their teaching practices. Each worked with physical aquaria, function-oriented hypermedia for background information and reference, and NetLogo (Evanston, IL) simulations for computer-supported collaborative inquiry learning. The students engaged in inquiry as they used the NetLogo models in small groups. Because of distinct teaching styles and varying levels of comfort with the materials and content, these two enactments were extraordinarily different between the two classrooms. We present a contrasting case analysis to examine how each teacher’s practices set the stage for the kinds of interactions that occurred during students’ computer-supported inquiry learning. We suggest that one teacher worked from a cognitive-elaboration perspective whereas the other teacher took an approach to teaching that incorporated socio-cultural perspectives. Both of the approaches to teaching supported the active engagement of learners and may account for the similar learning outcomes measured. In light of the current move toward standards-based public education, it may seem that there is only one pathway for teaching to support of student learning. However, our results do not support this notion and we provide evidence that different instructional models, classroom norms, and appropriation of tools can support similar student learning outcomes with respect to content knowledge.



Evolutionary theory in letters to the editor

This research note presents the results of a content analysis of 234 letters to the editors that discuss evolutionary theory and were published in American newspapers. We find that letters to the editor both support and hinder the cause of teaching evolutionary theory in American secondary schools. On the one hand, anti-evolutionary theory messages are marginalized in the letters section. This marginalization signals a low level of legitimacy for creationism. It might also contribute to the sense of tension that sustains creationist identities. On the other hand, relatively few letters explicitly note the fact that scientists or the scientific community accept evolution. Interestingly, the obscuration of the scientific community’s support for evolutionary theory occurs both in letters supporting and opposing evolutionary theory.


The Space Public Outreach Team (SPOT): Adapting a successful outreach programme to a new region

Kathryn Williamson, Angela Des Jardins, Irene Grimberg, Shane L. Larson, Joey Key, Michelle B. Larson, Sue Ann Heatherly, David McKenzie, Tyson B. Littenberg

The Space Public Outreach Team (SPOT) recruits and trains undergraduate ambassadors from all disciplines to deliver astronomy and space-science-themed interactive presentations. They deliver these presentations to primary and secondary schools and organisations across the state of Montana, USA. SPOT was started in 1996 by physics graduate students at Montana State University, USA, and it has grown to reach an average of 10 000 students per year for a low institutional cost of less than five dollars (four euros) per student. In the last year, the Montana SPOT model has been adopted in the state of West Virginia. The West Virginia SPOT programme also shows great potential, with eleven ambassadors trained to give two new feature presentations, reaching over 2600 students. In this paper, we describe how the Montana SPOT model works in practice and discuss how this model was adapted with new resources, and for a new audience, such that others may also adapt the programme to inspire space science interest for their own particular setting. We invite these groups to plug into the SPOT brand to broaden the impact of astronomy and space programmes and applications in their own region.


Making sense of Islamic creationism in Europe

Salman Hameed

Islamic creationism has been noted as a serious concern in Europe. There have been reports of boycotts of university evolution lectures and, in one extreme case, even a threat of violence. While religious objections are indeed at play in some cases, our understanding of the rise of Islamic creationism should also take into account socioeconomic disparities and its impact on education for Muslim minorities in Europe. Furthermore, the broader narrative of rejection of evolution in Europe, for some Muslims, may be bound up in reactions to the secular culture and in the formation of their own minority religious identity. On the other hand, the stories of Muslim rejection of evolution in media end up reinforcing the stereotype of Muslims as “outsiders” and a threat to the European education system. A nuanced understanding of this dynamic may benefit those who support both the propagation of good science and favor cultural pluralism.