Winter 2012: Methods for improving teaching and increasing students’ science literacy

Week 1 – January 12 and 13

For the first meeting of the quarter, we reviewed and discussed Dee Silverthorn’s Teaching and learning in the interactive classroom.

Thursday’s group began by discussing ideas from the paper that were related to themes brought up during several Fall SLTJC meetings. Among those were practical issues associated with transitioning from a typical lecture-style classroom to an active learning environment. What are the potential concerns of students who have been conditioned to the standard lecture model and are uncomfortable adapting to a new style of teaching and learning? How do we address these concerns? Is there enough time in a term to cover all the content of a course if class time is not dedicated entirely to lecturing? How can students be motivated to do readings outside of class and come to class prepared to discuss new ideas?

This last question prompted a new discussion about the effective use of course reading materials. Effective use of class time in an active learning environment requires that students come to class prepared for discussion and with assigned pre-class readings completed. Due to the unique nature of courses offered by the Science Literacy Program’s there is often no accompanying textbook. Therefore, course reading materials often consist of primary literature, sections taken from a variety of texts books, and articles from the science sections of newspapers and magazines. How can we motivate students to read assigned materials? How do we know if the reading assignments are being completed? Is it possible to know?

Friday’s group began by discussing our focus and format for the quarter. It was decided that we would spend this term designing a “mock” Science Literacy Program course titled SciLit Pedagogy 101. For this exercise, each week will be dedicated to one of eight topics essential to any course designed as part of the SciLit Program. For each topic, keep in mind that the course curriculum should be related to teaching pedagogy. When possible, journal articles related to the theme of the week will be assigned for reading, review and discussion. The topics are:

  • Course Content – Choose ideas and concepts that will determine the scope of the course that is being designed.
  • Course Objectives – Narrow the selection of course content to fit the parameters of the course. What do you expect from students once they have completed the class?
  • Syllabus – Construct a comprehensive syllabus that informs and empowers the student.
  • Pedagogical Methods – List specific active learning strategies, classroom activities and assignments.
  • Resources for Students – Select effective course reading materials, strategies for maximizing the value of these materials
  • Interactive Classroom – iClickers, good clicker questions, facilitate relevant group discussions
  • Involving Co-Instructors – Make sure co-instructors understand and are on board with new teaching methods and strategies.
  • Assessment of Teaching Methods – Are new strategies effective/worth it?

Week 2 – January 19 and 20

Reading – Thursday:
Faculty Focus, 11 Strategies for Getting Students to Read What’s Assigned,The Teaching Professor Newsletter, Internet:

The next paper presents some information on how many students read assigned material, looks at some reasons why students don’t read and gives a strategy for getting them to read.

Roberts, J.C. and K.A. Roberts, Deep Reading, Cost/Benefit, and the Construction of Meaning: Enhancing Reading Comprehension and Deep Learning in Sociology Courses, Teaching Sociology 2008 36: 125. Internet:

Reading – Friday:
We discuss course content for our mock course “SciLit Pedagogy 101.” Please come prepared with suggestions for content that will define the scope of our imaginary course. This can be a broad perspective that will later be narrowed down to fit the parameters of the course with learning objectives.

Here is the draft syllabus created to summarize the outcomes of the discussions that took place during Winter journal club: Science Teaching Pedagogy 101

Week 3 – January 26 and 27

This week in the Thursday section of the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club we will continue our discussion of how to motivate students to read. Our readings this week are from the book Gamification by Design, by Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham. Steve Fickas from the UO’s Department of Computer Science suggested these very interesting chapters. Chapter 2, Player Motivation, discusses factors important in motivation and considers different types of “players” and how they approach games. Chapter 3, Game Mechanics: Designing for Engagement (Part I), discusses point systems, levels, and leaderboards. We will start on Thursday by considering Chapter 2 and trying to apply to our “players” (the students) some of the exercises it contains to see if some aspects of gamification can be worked into courses to help motivate students to learn.

Week 4 – February 2 and 3

This week we will continue our exploration of how to motivate students to read and understand the materials assigned in courses. Steve Fickas has again suggested some interesting materials, this time dealing with a method called Reciprocal Teaching (RT). In this method, students work in conjunction with the instructor (at first) to understand a text, using four strategies: questioning, clarifying, summarizing, and predicting. Our reading for this week will include a Wikipedia article about reciprocal teaching, material from theReading Rockets website describing a K12 implementation that could be applied to university courses, and an article by Yu-Fen Yang published in Computers and Education containing a description and evaluation of an implementation at the university level that uses minimal class time.

Week 5 – February 9 and 10

Last week people raised some questions about simulations and animations in learning- are they effective, are complicated models and animations better than more simple models, and are “3D” models on a computer as useful as actual physical models, e.g. molecular models students can build and hold in their hands. This week we will look at some of these questions in more detail. Our reading will be Design Factors for Educationally Effective Animations and Simulations, a review paper by J. L. Plass, B. D. Homer, and E. O. Hayward that appeared in the Journal of Computing in Higher Education (J Comput High Educ (2009) 21:31-61). The paper reviews research on effectiveness of learning from animations and simulations and looks at design principles that enhance learning from those representations.

Week 6 – February 16 and 17

This week at the Thursday meeting of the Science Literacy Journal Club we will extend our study of effective animations and simulations and their role in teaching and learning by creating a simulation that follows the design factors laid out in last week’s reading: Design Factors for Educationally Effective Animations and Simulations, a review paper by J. L. Plass, B. D. Homer, and E. O. Hayward that appeared in the Journal of Computing in Higher Education (J Comput High Educ (2009) 21:31-61).

To prepare for the activity, please be familiar with the paper and have a look at simulations and animations available on the web to see if they follow the directions for effective design. Suggestions for places to look: the Phet website, the extensive list of links at North Harris College. Some textbook publishers have animations available as well. Have fun playing!

Week 7 – February 23 and 24

This week in the Thursday meeting of the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club we will discuss an interesting technique for helping students understand how primary evidence is used to construct scientific knowledge. In the method known as research deconstruction, a research scientist presents a standard-level research talk to first- and second-year undergraduates, who understand little of the presentation. Over the next 10 contact hours of classroom instruction, each class meeting focuses on approximately 5–10 minutes of the seminar, allowing the instructor to approach each fragment independently from many different angles and explore the fundamental concepts underlying the creation of the data. After this treatment, students are able to discuss the experiments intelligently and critically, and can apply the techniques they learned to hypothetical scenarios involving scientific research within as well as outside the field of the seminar presentation. The technique is discussed in “Deconstructing” Scientific Research: A Practical and Scalable Pedagoglical Tool to Provide Evidence-Based Science Instruction, by I. E. Clark, R. Romero-Calderon, J. M. Olson, L. Jaworski, D. Lopatto, and U. Banerjee, PLoS Biology, vol. 7, 2009.

Week 8 – March 1 and 2

This week in the Thursday meeting of the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club we will start to investigate the use of non-textbook materials as information sources in class. For this week we will focus on couple of articles dealing with the use of science fiction movies in science classes. Many students feel that they learn science from these movies but, not surprisingly, it turns out that what they learn often is not accurate. Critical discussion in the classroom of the science in movies can be a useful tool for helping students to gain a more accurate understanding of concepts. It can also induce them to be more critical in the future- a key goal for science literacy. There are two articles this week: Does Students’ Source of Knowledge Affect Their Understanding of Volcanic Systems? (T. L. Parnham, et al. , J. Coll. Sci. Teach. Vol. 41.1, September-October 2011, p. 100)- Attached, and Using Science Fiction Movie Scenes to Support Critical Analysis of Science (M. Barnett and A. Kafka, J. Coll. Sci. Teach.

Week 9 – March 8 and 9

In the Thursday meeting of the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club this week, we will continue our discussion of the use of non-textbook materials as sources of information in class. Wikipedia plays a valuable role as an information source today. What role, if any, should it play in science courses?

To get some background about the issues and controversies surrounding Wikipedia, as well as tips if you want to make your own contribution, please have a look at the following articles:

Internet Encyclopedias Go Head to Head, by Jim Giles, Nature 438, 900-901 (15 December 2005). An early comparison of the accuracy of science articles in Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica.

The Undue Weight of Truth on Wikipedia, an opinion piece by Timothy Messer-Kruse in the Feb. 12, 2012 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education

Ten Simple Rules for Editing Wikipedia, Logan DW, Sandal M, Gardner PP, Manske M, Bateman A (2010), PLoS Comput Biol 6(9): e1000941. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000941

Week 10 – March 15 and 16

This week in the Thursday meeting of the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club, we continued our exploration of the use of non-textbook materials as sources of information in class. Many instructors use popular science books and articles and even science news articles in their courses, sometimes as supplements to traditional textbooks, sometimes because an appropriate textbook is not available, and sometimes for other reasons. How does the writing in popular science books and articles affect students’ learning and views of science, and how does it affect their science literacy after graduation? How can these materials be incorporated into courses so as to promote the development of critical thinking skills?

Our readings this week consist of:

The use of popular science articles in teaching scientific literacy (Jean Parkinson and Ralph Adendorff, English for Specific Purposes 23 (2004), 379). This is a long article, but the material of main interest to us is in section 8.

A written media review project that reinforces introductory biology topics & promotes critical thinking (J. Michael Guill, American Biology Teacher 68(6):365-367. 2006)