A “fortune teller” for #WorldOceanDay! What would you work on if you were an ocean scientist? And if you are an ocean scientist — are you doing the work you were destined for? ;-) Your favourite drink can give you the answer!
Click on the image below to download a printable .pdf, and find out!
I would really appreciate it if you could give me a 3-minute feedback (click here!) so I can improve future versions of the “fortune teller” as well as my science communication in general!
Last week, I wrote about increasing inquiry in lab-based courses and mentioned that it was Kirsty who had inspired me to think about this in a new-to-me way. For several years, Kirsty has been working on developing practical work, and a central part of that has been finding out the types and amount of experiences incoming students have with lab work. Knowing this is obviously crucial to adapt labs to what students do and don’t know and avoid frustrations on all sides. And she has developed a nifty tool that helps to ask the right questions and then interpret the answers. Excitingly enough, since this is something that will be so useful to so many people and, in light of the disruption to pre-univeristy education caused by Covid-19, the slow route of classical publication is not going to help the students who need help most, she has agreed to share it (for the first time ever!) on my blog!
A tool to understand students’ previous experience and adapt your practical courses accordingly
Kirsty Dunnett (2021)
Since March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused enormous disruption across the globe, including to education at all levels. University education in most places moved online, while the disruption to school students has been more variable, and school students may have missed entire weeks of educational provision without the opportunity to catch up.
From the point of view of practical work in the first year of university science programmes, this may mean that students starting in 2021 have a very different type of prior experience to students in previous years. Regardless of whether students will be in campus labs or performing activities at home, the change in their pre-university experience could lead to unforeseen problems if the tasks set are poorly aligned to what they are prepared for.
Over the past 6 years, I have been running a survey of new physics students at UCL, asking about their prior experience. It consists of 5 questions about the types of practical activities students did as part of their pre-universities studies. By knowing students better, it is possible to introduce appropriate – and appropriately advanced – practical work that is aligned to students when they arrive at university (Dunnett et al., 2020).
The question posed is: “What is your experience of laboratory work related to Physics?”, and the five types of experience are:
1) Designed, built and conducted own experiments
2) Conducted set practical activities with own method
3) Completed set practical activities with a set method
4) Took data while teacher demonstrated practical work
5) Analysed data provided
For each statement, students select one of three options: ‘Lots’, ‘Some’, ‘None’, which, for analysis, can be assigned numerical values of 2, 1, 0, respectively.
The data on its own can be sufficient for aligning practical provision to students (Dunnett et al., 2020).
More insight can be obtained when the five types of experience are grouped in two separate ways.
1) Whether the students would have been interacting with and manipulating the equipment directly. The first three statements are ‘Active practical work’, while the last two are ‘Passive work’ on the part of the student.
2) Whether the students have had decision making control over their work. The first two statements are where students have ‘Control’, while the last three statements are where students are given ‘Instructions’.
Using the values assigned to the levels of experience, four averages are calculated for each student: ‘Active practical work’, ‘Passive work’; ‘Control’, ‘Instructions’. The number of students with each pair of averages is counted. This leads to the splitting of the data set, into one that considers ‘Practical experience’ (the first two averages) and one that considers ‘Decision making experience’ (the second pair of averages). (Two students with the same ‘Practical experience’ averages can have different ‘Decision making experience’ averages; it is convenient to record the number of times each pair of averages occurs in two separate files.)
To understand the distribution of the experience types, one can use each average as a co-ordinate – so each pair gives a point on a set of 2D axes – with the radius of the circle determined by the fraction of students in the group who had that pair of averages. Examples are given in the figure.
Prior experience of Physics practical work for students at UCL who had followed an A-level scheme of studies before coming to university. Circle radius corresponds to the fraction of responses with that pair of averages; most common pairs (largest circles, over 10% of students) are labelled with the percentages of students. The two years considered here are students who started in 2019 and in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic did not cause disruption until March 2020, and students’ prior experience appears largely unaffected.
With over a year of significant disruption to education and limited catch up opportunities, the effects of the pandemic on students starting in 2021 may be significant. This is a quick tool that can be used to identify where students are, and, by rephrasing the statements of the survey to consider what students are being asked to to in their introductory undergraduate practical work – and adding additional statements if necessary, provide an immediate check of how students’ prior experience lines up with what they will be asked to do in their university studies.
With a small amount of adjustment to the question and statements as relevant, it should be easy to adapt the survey to different disciplines.
At best, it may be possible to actively adjust the activities to students’ needs. At worst, instructors will be aware of where students’ prior experience may mean they are ill-prepared for a particular type of activity, and be able to provide additional support in session. In either case, the student experience and their learning opportunities at university can be improved through acknowledging and investigating the effects of the disruption caused to education by the Covid-19 pandemic.
K. Dunnett, M.K. Kristiansson, G. Eklund, H. Öström, A. Rydh, F. Hellberg (2020). “Transforming physics laboratory work from ‘cookbook’ to genuine inquiry”. https://arxiv.org/abs/2004.12831
Today, we “just” relied on the protective glasses we had from last time, and — super cool idea that I first saw somewhere on Twitter — a colander, which gave us many mini suns, each with their own eclipses. #KitchenAstronomy!
Sadly, the pictures didn’t turn out so well — the edge is not sharp at all. But on a #WaveWatching blog, that’s actually not a bad thing: It just shows that light behaves like a wave and that even though it arrives in parallel rays at the colander, it spreads after going through the holes, thus blurring the edges. Diffraction is pretty awesome! And #WaveWatching is still the best way to learn about optics ;-)
Looking at water is the best relaxation I know. Windy “offshore” just a few meters away, but even the little sheltering that the leaves provide and almost all waves are gone. So calming!
If you weren’t looking at this picture through a #wavewatching lens, you might think the water was completely flat. But if you look closely at the line where the reflection of the trees ends and the reflection of the sky begins, you can see a crisscross pattern of two wave fields meeting each other at an angle
Hardly any wind, lazy geese, no #wavewatching. But still pretty
Tadpoles! So cute when they come up to breathe but don’t even have legs yet
Foggy morning. See the waves propagating from an (invisible) bird somewhere in the far left? They are visible in some part of the reflection of the boundary between trees and the sky, but they haven’t reached the right half yet
Geese refusing to make waves again…
Happy #WorldOceanDay today! Your favourite drink can tell you what your #OceanResearch should be on. Build the fortune teller (link here) and find out!
This is what my weekend looked like. Simultanously admiring the garden pond in the background, the oceanography going on in my coffee, and making the “fortune teller” for today’s #WorldOceanDay that tells you what your research should be on based on your favorite drink Sorry for not including everybody’s favourite drinks — it only had four sides!
How do we know that all the waves here are made by animals rather than the wind? Because even though there are waves, the surface is smooth and there are no rough patches with small ripples visible, even though it’s wide open so if there was any wind at all, it wouldn’t be completely sheltered
The first lecture I attended as a student wasn’t actually a regular lecture, even though I did not know that at the time. It was an intervention.
Together with about a hundred or so new students, I sat nervously in a lecture theatre in the physics department. I had enrolled in physical oceanography, which was taught together with meteorology, geophysics and physics for the first two years. I didn’t know anyone. Since my dad worked at the same university, I was pretty familiar with how universities work in general (which later turned out to be a huuuge advantage). And I wasn’t nervous about starting university itself, that was just something one did after school. But I was nervous about physics. I had stopped taking physics classes in highschool as soon as that was possible, and I had only taken the minimum required maths (both probably more to do with the teachers than the subjects themselves, but it’s sometimes hard to distinuish). But now, in order to become an oceanographer, I knew I would have to study physics together with people who wanted to become physicists, and who had a much better starting position than I had. Oh well.
The lecture started out with the professor arriving late, and then without any contextualising or welcoming us, or acknowledging that this was our first day at university, just starting going through content that — for all I understood — could have been chinese. He was just standing with the back towards us, scribbling on a blackboard so fast that it was impossible to take notes, mumbling something, and I did not have the faintest clue what was going on. I don’t know for how long it went on, but it felt like forever, and in any case it was long enough for me to feel like I had absolutely no chance to ever succeed there. Then, the professor started making weird and sexist remarks, and I started tuning out. This was not how I was going to spend the next couple of years. Then, at some point, a student asked a question and was rudely dismissed. But then another student spoke up, and another. And at some point — surprise! — we were told that this had not been a real lecture, that the professor was just an older student pranking us, and that also the students speaking up were older students playing a role, and that the whole purpose was to show us that we would have to learn to speak up when things didn’t go the way they were supposed to.
Why am I thinking about this now? In one of the recent iEarth teaching conversations, HC talked about something he had heard about how it was really helping students learn if they were given a really hard exercise right in the beginning. In that case, there wouldn’t be any “smart students” standing out and the not-as-smart students wouldn’t feel dumb, because everybody was equally lost (and the teacher would then help them through it to build confidence and grit and it would be all good, so it’s not the exact same story). But hearing about this triggered that memory of my first ever physics lecture, and I can feel the pit in my stomach now, 20 years later, thinking back to the feeling of definitely not belonging there, in that lecture theatre, in that department. Even though I had not thought about it in at least a decade, I don’t think it’s something I have ever fully gotten over, because even though this was meant as an intervention and the scenario was supposed to be much worse than anything we could ever possibly experience for real, there were many situations later on during my studies that were reminiscent of that experience. Only then, they were not pranks, and there was nobody there to resolve the situation for us, and clearly we hadn’t learned our lesson yet to resolve them ourselves. But each of those new situations seemed to confirm to me that at that very first day, I had been warned, and had ignored it, but that now was the time when I was going to be found out as not belonging. And this personal anecdote makes me feel really reluctant to start out a class with any kind of “intervention”.
P.S.: Looking back, what made me persist throughout all the physics and maths was a) that I REALLY wanted to become an oceanographer, so I just had to do what I had to do (and it turned out to be not as bad as I initially thought), and b) that there were two technicians, Rüdi and Manni, who always ran the experiments for the physics professors. They would be in the lecture theatre before the lectures started, setting up the experiments, and then clearing up after. And they were super friendly and approachable, and me and my friend and this one other guy started hanging out with them, asking them lots of questions, and learning more from them than from all the physics professors combined (or at least that was the case for me). And it’s for the first time today that I am putting together how important Rüdi und Manni were for me to feel like I did belong after all, maybe not to the people who wanted to be theoretical physicists like my friend, and for whom the mathematical derivations were enough (or made that much more sense that they didn’t feel the need for anything else, who knows?); but to a group of people who not only understood the phenomena, but in addition could show that they really existed in real life, could run demonstrations that the professors — despite all their theories — never dared touch. I had found my community, and even though it’s been 20 years and we’ve lost touch, maybe all my #KitchenOceanography goes back to those early experiences with Rüdi and Manni being the teachers the official teachers never were. Thank you! <3
I thought I would try a playful approach to ocean sciences for #WorldOceanDay on Tuesday. When I think back to my PhD and postdoc days, I could well imagine printing and building something like the “fortune teller” shown above, and then go visit some of my colleagues to show it to them. I would have thought it was fun then, and I still think so! So let’s see if people like it when I share it on Tuesday. For now, I would like to share my thought process and ask your advice in the end.
Goal, audience and message
The direct goal is to “condition” people to think about ocean sciences in their every day lives by installing an item they encounter every day as a trigger to make them think about ocean sciences. An indirect goal is that those people will then act as multiplyers to their friends and family.
The direct target audience for are people with an affinity for ocean sciences and some (or a lot of) backgound knowledge. My friends and colleagues, PhD students, master students, highschool teachers. They might then engage their networks in conversations.
The main message I am trying to convey is that you can enjoy the exploration of oceanic processes in your everyday life.
In order to find a trigger in peoples everyday lives that we can use to connect to oceanography, I make use of the fact that most people have a go-to drink they like to order, and that in many of those drinks, there is a lot of oceanography to be discovered! So I am eliciting positive emotions when people think of their favourite beverages, raise curiosity by saying that those drinks can tell them something about their research interest, and then hopefully hold that curiosity in order to transfer it onto the hint of a related hands-on experiment with the drink they have in front of them (if not in that moment, than at least often) and a little bit of scientific input. The input is kept very general. It is not meant to give an overview, rather to show connections between the drink and the real world, and to give people key search terms if they wanted to investigate the topic further.
In previous versions (and before I tried whether the text would actually fit in the available space!), I provided a lot more input on the experiments that I am envisioning people would do with those drinks; on how and what to observe, and how to relate it to the ocean. But I ended up with a fairly minimal version: It does provide ideas about what experiments to do (or so I tell myself), but there is definitely a lot of room for open inquiry!
I find it difficult to imagine measuring the impact of such a gimmick like the “fortune teller”, so here is where I would like to ask for your help. I want to share the “fortune teller” via my blog and social media for #WorldOceanDay on Tuesday. With it, I want to share a link to a short questionnaire (all answers are optional). I am planning to ask the questions below, and I would love your feedback and suggestions for how to do it better in order to understand the impact of the “fortune teller”! :)
Did you build the “fortune teller” or are planning on doing so within the next 24 hours? (y/n)
Did you show the build version to someone or share the pdf with someone? (y/n)
Did you already look at drinks through this new “lens” or are you planning to do so within the next 24 hours? (y/n)
Are you now curious to look at other drinks than your favourite one through this new “lens”? (y/n)
How else did you or are you intending to use the “fortune teller”? (open)
Did you read through all the text? (y/n)
What advice do you have for me to make the “fortune teller” more useful? (open)
Where did you first encounter the “fortune teller”? (multiple choice: via Mirjam (blog, social media), social media in general, email, in the office, … open: other)
Who are you? (open: age; identify as oceanographer; if not open: what else; student/early career/mid career/…)
May I contact you to talk to you about the “fortune teller” in a little more detail? (open: contact details)
What do you think? I would love to hear from you! :)
(And since you are still reading, thank you for your interest and here is a link to a printable pdf. I would obviously love your feedback on that one, too! But please don’t share widely before Tuesday)
My new Twitter friend Kirsty, my old GFI-friend Kjersti and I have been discussing teaching in laboratories. Kirsty recommended an article (well, she did recommend many, but one that I’ve read and since been thinking about) by Buck et al. (2008) on “Characterizing the level of inquiry in the undergraduate laboratory”.
In the article, they present a rubric that I found intriguing: It consists of six different phases of laboratory work, and then assigns 5 levels ranging from a “confirmation” experiment to “authentic inquiry”, depending on whether or not instruction is giving for the different phases. The “confirmation” level, for example, prescribes everything: The problem or question, the theoretical background, which procedures or experimental designs to use, how the results are to be analysed, how the results are to be communicated, and what the conclusions of the experiment should be. For an open inquiry, only the question and theory are provided, and for authentic inquiry, all choices are left to the student.
The rubric is intended as a tool to classify existing experiments rather than designing new ones or modifying existing, but because that’s my favourite way to think things through, I tried plugging my favourite “melting ice cubes” experiment into the rubric. Had I thought about it a little longer before doing that, I might have noticed that I would only be copying fewer and fewer cells from the left going to the right, but even though it sounds like a silly thing to do in retrospect, it was actually still helpful to go through the exercise.
It also made me realize the implications of Kirsty’s heads-up regarding the rubric: “it assumes independence at early stages cannot be provided without independence at later stages”. Which is obviously a big limitation; one can think of many other ways to use experiments where things like how results are communicated, or even the conclusion, are provided, while earlier steps are left open for the student to decide. Also providing guidance on how to analyse results without prescribing the experimental design might be really interesting! So while I was super excited at first to use this rubric to povide an overview over all the different ways labs can possibly be structured, it is clearly not comprehensive. And a better idea than making a comprehensive rubric would probably be to really think about why instruction for any of phases should or should not be provided. A little less cook-book, a little more thought here, too! But still a helpful framework to spark thoughts and conversations.
Also, my way of going from one level to the next by simply withholding instruction and information is not the best way to go about (even though I think it works ok in this case). As the “melting ice cubes” experiment shows unexpected results, it usually organically leads into open inquiry as people tend to start asking “what would happen if…?” questions, which I then encourage them to pursue (but this usually only happens in a second step, after they have already run the experiment “my way” first). This relates well to “secret objectives” (Bartlett and Dunnett, 2019), where a discrepancy appears between what students expect based on previous information and what they then observe in reality (for example in the “melting ice cube” case, students expect to observe one process and find out that another one dominates), and where many jumping-off points exist for further investigation, e.g. the condensation pattern on the cups, or the variation of parameters (what if the ice was forced to the bottom of the cup? what’s the influence of the exact temperatures or the water depth, …?).
Introducing an element of surprise might generally be a good idea to spark interest and inquiry. Huber & Moore (2001) suggest using “discrepant events” (their example is dropping raisins in carbonated drinks, where they first sink to the bottom and then raise as gas bubbles attach to them, only to sink again when the bubbles break upon reaching the surface) to initiate discussions. They then suggest following up the observation of the discrepant event with a “can you think of a way to …?” question (i.e. make the raisin raise faster to the surface). The “can you think of a way to…?” question is followed by brainstorming of many different ideas. Later, students are asked “can you find a way to make it happen?”, which then means that they pick one of their ideas and design and conduct an experiment. Huber & Moore (2001) then suggest a last step, in which students are asked to do a graphical representation or of their results or some other product, and “defend” it to their peers.
In contrast to how I run my favourite “melting ice cubes” experiment when I am instructing it in real time, I am using a lot of confirmation experiences, for example in my advent calendar “24 days of #KitchenOceanography”. How could they be re-imagined to lead to more investigation and less cook-book-style confirmation, especially when presented on a blog or social media? Ha, you would like to know, wouldn’t you? I’ve started working on that, but it’s not December yet, you will have to wait a little! :)
I’m also quite intrigued by the “product” that students are asked to produce after their experimentation, and by what would make a good type of product to ask for. In the recent iEarth teaching conversations, Torgny has been speaking of “tangible traces of learning” (in quotation marks which makes me think there is definitely more behind that term than I realize, but so far my brief literature search has been unsuccessful). But maybe that’s why I like blogging so much, because it makes me read articles all the way to the end, think a little more deeply about them, and put the thought into semi-cohesive words, thus giving me tangible proof of learning (that I can even google later to remind me what I thought at some point)? Then, maybe everybody should be allowed to find their own kind of product to produce, depending on what works best for them. On the other hand, for the iEarth teaching conversations, I really like the format of one page of text, maximum, because I really have to focus and edit it (not so much space for rambling on as on my blog, but a substantially higher time investment… ;-)). Also I think giving some kind of guidance is helpful, both to avoid students getting spoilt for choice, and to make sure they focus their time and energy on things that are helping the learning outcomes. Cutting videos for example might be a great skill to develop, but it might not be the one you want to develop in your course. Or maybe you do, or maybe the motivational effects of letting them choose are more important, in which case that’s great, too! One thing that we’ve done recently is to ask students to write blog or social media posts instead of classical lab reports and that worked out really well and seems to have motivated them a lot (check out Johanna Knauf’s brilliant comic!!!).
Kirsty also mentioned a second point regarding the Buck et al. (2008) rubric to keep in mind: it is just about what is provided by the teacher, not about the students’ role in all this. That’s an easy trap to fall into, and one that I don’t have any smart ideas about right now. And I am looking forward to discussing more thoughts on this, Kirsty :)
In any case, the rubric made me think about inquiry in labs in a new way, and that’s always a good thing! :)
Bartlett, P. A. and K. Dunnett (2019). Secret objectives: promoting inquiry and tackling preconceptions in teaching laboratories. arXiv:1905.07267v1 [physics.ed-ph]
Buck, L. B., Bretz, S. L., & Towns, M. H. (2008). Characterizing the level of inquiry in the undergraduate laboratory. Journal of college science teaching, 38(1), 52-58.
Huber, R.A., and C.J. Moore. 2001. A model for extending hands-on science to be inquiry based. School Science and Mathematics 101 (1): 32–41.
Here are some recent #WaveWatching pics from my Instagram @fascinocean_kiel. Enjoy! :)
Isn’t it fascinating how some parts of the river reflect the sun and look much brighter, while others are darker, reflecting the trees? From those reflections we can see what the water surface must be like: fairly flat in the darker parts, with waves, i.e. sloping parts, in the bright Vs. In this case, it’s a coincidence that we see Vs: for wakes, we would have a ship or an animal at the V’s tip, and the V being the outer edge of a wake. In this case, there are obstacles on either side of the river, each disturbing the flow and forming a backwater wedge downstream. And then at some point, those wedges from either side of the river meet in the middle, forming the V. The dark area inside the V is the area where where water is flowing fairly rapidly in the river. On the V, where we see the waves and thus rhe different reflection, the flow changes and becomes turbulent under the influence of the backwater wedges. It calms down again, the surface gets flatter, i.e. darker, and the rinse & repeat for the next V!
Nice waves from a dog jumping into the lake! The owner was very confused why I whipped out my phone when the dog jumped in, but then didn’t point it at the dog
Pretty garden pond! Would you have guessed that its surface area is less than 1m2?
Can you see where the surface area is exposed to the wind and the roughness is therefore high, and where it is sheltered and there are waves propagating in from the higher-wind areas, but no new waves being generated?
Recently, as part of the CHESS/iEarth Summer School, Kikki Kleiven lead a workshop on geoscience teaching. She gave a great overview over how to approach teaching and presented many engaging methods (like, for example, concept cartoons and role plays), but two things especially sparked my interest, so that I read up on them a little more: “wonder questions” and misconceptions in geosciences.
The first topic that prompted a little literature search were “wonder questions”, and I found a recent article by Lindstrøm (2021) on the topic that describes the three ways in which “wonder questions” are a powerful pedagogical tool:
they support and stimulate student learning: When students are asked to come up with “wonder questions”, they need to consider what they just learned and how it fits (or doesn’t fit) with what they already knew before. They need to think new thoughts and actively look for connections, both helping them learn.
they models scientists’ behavior: Asking good questions is a skill that needs practice!
they can be a powerful motivator for students and teachers alike: As a teacher, it’s great to see what questions students come up with and it helps tailor the teaching to what’s really relevant to the students. Seeing their questions taken up in teaching, on the other hand, is giving students agency and makes them feel heard.
Lindstrøm distinguishes four types of wonder questions that she typically encounters, and which are useful in different ways:
Questions where students rephrase a concept and want confirmation that they understood something correctly are helping them make sure they are on the right track, but also confirm it to the teacher. Those questions can also be used in future teaching to paraphrase the material in the students’ own words.
Questions that are very close to course content and bring in real-world examples are great to make sure the examples used in (future) classes are actually relevant to students’ lives.
Questions that go beyond the course content are also useful to clarify what is going to be taught in this specific course and what other courses will build on it. They can also open up doors for future (student) research projects.
Questions that reveal misconceptions are great because we can only address misconceptions if we know about them in the first place.
Which brings us to the next topic Kikki inspired me to revisit:
Kikki mentioned the article “A compilation and review of over 500 geoscience misconceptions” by Francek (2013). I’m familiar with misconceptions in physics (especially the ones related to hydrostatics and rotating systems & Coriolis force that I’ve worked with), and within iEarth there has been a lot of talk about how students don’t understand geological time (which I don’t have a good grasp of, either). But reading the “500” in the title was enough to make me want to check out the article to get an idea of what other misconceptions might be relevant for my own teaching. And it turns out there are plenty to choose from!
Many of the misconceptions that are particularly relevant for my own interests were originally collected by Kent Kirkby (2008) as “easier to address” misconceptions, for example on science, ocean systems, glaciers, climate:
“Upwelling occurs as deeper water layers warm and rise ([…] tied to students’ knowledge of how air masses are affected by temperature).”
“Upwelling occurs as deeper water layers lose their salinity and rise (students like symmetry!).”
“Glacial ice moves backwards during glacial ‘retreats’ (like everything that retreats in real life)”
“Glacial ice is stationary during times when front is neither advancing or retreating.”
“Earth’s climate is controlled primarily by the atmosphere circulation, rather than ocean circulation (real life experiences as a terrestrial animal, TV weather reports)”
Reading through that list is really interesting and a good reminder that there are a lot of things that we take for granted but that are really not as obvious as we have might come to believe over the years. And the misconceptions are only “easy to address” (and one way of addressing them is through “elicit, confront, resolve“) when we are aware of them in the first place.
Francek, M. (2013). A compilation and review of over 500 geoscience misconceptions. International Journal of Science Education, 35(1), 31-64.
Lindstrøm, C. (2021). The pedagogical power of Wonder Questions. The Physics Teacher, 59(4), 275-277.
“Transformative experiences” (Pugh et al., 2010) are those experiences that change the way a person looks at the world, so that they henceforth voluntarily engage in a new-to-them practice of sensemaking on this new topic, and perceive it as valuable. There are methods to facilitate transformative experiences for teaching purposes (Pugh et al., 2010), and discovering this felt like the theoretical framework I had been looking for for #WaveWatching just fell into my lap. But then Torgny asked the question in the title above. For many academics, seeing the world through new eyes, being asked questions they haven’t asked themselves before, discovering gaps in their argumentations, surrendering to a situation (Pugh 2011), engaging in sensemaking (Odden and Russ, 2019), being part of a community of practice (Wenger, 2011) is fun. Not in all contexts and on all topics, of course, but at least in many contexts. But can we assume it’s the same for students?
In order to feel that you want to take on a challenge in which you don’t know whether or not you’ll succeed, a crucial condition is that you believe that your intelligence and your skills can be developed (Dweck, 2015). A growth mindset can be cultivated by the kind of feedback we give students (Dweck, 2015). The scaffolding (Wood et al., 1976) we provide, and the opportunities for creating artefacts as tangible proof of learning* can support this. But how do we get students to engage in the first place?
One approach, the success of which I have anecdotal evidence for, could be to use surprising gimmicks like a DIY fortune teller or a paper clip to be shaped into a spinning top to raise intrigue, if not for the topic itself right away, then for something that will later be related to the topic, hoping that the engagement with the object can be transferred to the topic.
Another approach, which also aligns with my personal experience, might be to let students experience the relevance of a situation vicariously, infecting students with the teacher’s enthusiasm for a topic (Hodgson, 2005). However, Torgny raised the point that sometimes the (overly?) enthusiastic teacher themselves could become the subject of student fascination, thus diverting attention from the topic they wanted the students to engage with.
A third way might be to point out alignment of tasks with the students’ own goals & identities. Growth mindset interventions can increase domain-specific desire to learn (Burette et al., 2020), identity interventions increase the likelihood of engagement, for example targeting physics identity (Wulff et al., 2018). Goal-setting intervention can improve academic performance (Morisano et al., 2010).
I want to relate these three ideas to feelings of competence, relatedness and autonomy, which are the three basic requirements for intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2017), but I am sadly out of space. But I think that self-determination theory is a useful lens to keep in mind when developing teaching.
Burnette, J. L., Hoyt, C. L., Russell, V. M., Lawson, B., Dweck, C. S., & Finkel, E. (2020). A growth mind-set intervention improves interest but not academic performance in the field of computer science. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 11(1), 107-116.
Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the growth mindset. Education Week, 35(5), 20-24.
Hodgson, V. 2005. Lectures and the experience or relevance. In Experience of learning: Implications for teaching and studying in higher education, F. Marton, D. Hounsell, and N. Entwistle, vol. 3, 159–71. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Assessment
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*Very nice example by Kjersti: Presenting students (or fathers-in-laws) with a few simple ideas about rotating fluid dynamics enables them to combine the ideas to draw a schematic of the Hadley cell circulation. Which is a lot more engaging and satisfying that being presented with a schematic and someone talking you through it. If you are willing to surrender to the experience in the first place…