A recent special issue of the journal Human Development explored how people go about maintaining and negotiating among multiple belief systems as to how the world works. The articles were directly relevant to an ongoing subject of discussion about Possible Worlds: What does it mean to “overcome” or “displace” a scientific misconception or naïve theory? What, exactly, do we want studens—and adults, for that matter—to achieve in this domain?
There are many ways to talk about this, because when we talk about “misconceptions” we have to tackle a complicated question. As educators, what connections do we want students to establish among what they understand, what they experience, and how they speak? Many science teachers have taken on the notion that students must not only “know about science” but be able to “think like” or “talk like” scientists. This, it would seem, has something to do with not only “knowing” something is true but being able to do something more holistic—to apprehend, to perceive the world from a scientific perspective, and to be able to use scientific language not only properly, but actively. This last point is certainly a critical one in the Common Core Standards for literacy, which explicitly describe the content areas as disciplines—not bodies of information, but perspectives on the world that shape knowledge through language.
We need to hold onto this perspective when we think about “correcting” or “displacing” students’ misconceptions or naïve theories. Maybe the classic scientific misconceptions—those topics that are so difficult for any of us to understand in a scientifically accurate way—give us, and our students, a special opportunity to see clearly that we are able to hold onto multiple ways of understanding a single phenomenon. Even as we work to help students build scientifically accurate conceptions of what clouds are, what electricity is, or how photosynthesis works, we may also need to remind ourselves that our other conceptions—our naïve theories—have their own value, too, and do not need to be extinguished, just put in their place.
The work at hand is about recognizing that we bring different lenses to the same phenomena at different times—and, critically, that those different lenses have different empirical claims to truth, but may all do useful work for us. We do need to be able to think like scientists, and to talk about scientific knowledge. But that doesn’t mean we have to abandon other ways of experiencing the world.
This article was posted to the ASCD newsletter. It mentions photosynthesis as a big idea kids should be learning about, instead of the facts that teacher focus on.
Florida students miss big science concepts
More than half of Florida students scored below grade level in the sciences at least in part because they misunderstand fundamental scientific concepts like photosynthesis, according to a new analysis released by the Florida Department of Education. “Teachers should provide a broader focus on scientific concepts and process in a ‘big picture’ sense,” wrote the task force assembled by the state to review the science scores.
I was thinking that it might be useful for us to share a common vocabulary about game mechanics, so that we examine games through a lens (not the only lens, by any means…) of “How do the specific things that you do in a game lend themselves to learning and play outcomes?” With that end in mind, I have attached a few things that I’ve found interesting and useful:
In Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman define a game (after reviewing a bunch of different definitions;) as, “…a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” We can argue over the specific elements (such as the bit about conflict), but it’s the “system” piece that I think is most interesting.
Salen and Zimmerman suggest that the goal of successful game design is meaningful play, which they describe in two ways: descriptive and evaluative.
“Meaningful play in a game emerges from the relationship between player action and system outcome; it is the process by which a player takes action within the designed system of a game and the system responds to the action. The meaning of an action in a game resides in the relationship between action and outcome.”
This seems a fancy way of saying that games must provide feedback on inputs, so that players can figure out what they’re doing and how they succeed. This definition seems limiting to me in that the actions and outcomes, besides having discernible (i.e., meaningful) associations within the game, also have personal meaning to the player in spaces beyond the game. But designers can’t “control” for those as easily as they can when building algorithms to determine outcomes. Jim Gee talks about the feedback that games provide in order to help players learn, but it’s rare (in my experience) that games provide the feedback, space, and scaffolding that allow for critical reflection (“What did I do wrong, What did I right, Why did I think I should do it that way?”). Of course, I don’t think many commercial games are looking for that kind of reflection. Continue Reading