Here at Discovery Place, we are obnoxiously passionate about inspiring and empowering people in all walks of life to appreciate and even love science. This passion stems not only from the geeky gene inside our DNA, it also comes from a perception that science can and has changed the world for the better.
Science is about the human desire to understand the mechanisms of the world around us. Those ambitions do not exclude the parts of our world that typically fall under the social sciences umbrella. In fact, the social context of science is an extremely important ingredient that ultimately makes or breaks the scientific endeavor. Sharing your answers with others who are also working on a problem is not only not cheating (forgive the double negative), its a critical step in the process. Elimination of the social nature of science would greatly impede its progress.
In much the same way, learning is inherently a process dependent on interacting with others who have different viewpoints or different information than you. It is through this dissonance that the learner constructs knowledge (known formally as Social Constructivism).
The classroom is a natural setting in which to facilitate social learning. In a seminal study that appeared in the American Educational Research Journal in 2002, Alberto Rodriguez and Chad Berryman outline four elements that are essential to pedagogy that inspires and empowers learners. These elements are:
Dialogic Conversation- Deep dialog concerning who is doing the talking and an examination of what they say within specific contexts. It is a challenge to the interests, values, and beliefs of students and teachers.
Authentic Activity- Student and teachers deliberately study and act upon topics which are relevant and connected to their everyday lives.
Metacognition- Students must control their own learning and decisions must be made as a result determining what might be helpful to themselves.
Reflexivity- Exploration of how our ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic status in conjunction with our beliefs and values affect what we believe and what is worth learning.
If the purpose of education is to ultimately inspire and empower our students and make this world a better place, then it would be irresponsible for us to ignore Rodriguezs suggestions. Here at Discovery Place, our Education team has spent considerable amount of time digesting the four elements above, deciphering ways to integrate them into our programs, and assessing the impact. While its incredibly naïve for any educator to consider that there is one magic key or formula that works for everyone, our mission and our passion propel us to consider the potential of Rodriguezs proposal. It may be one (of many) ingredients that get us closer to the world that we, alongside our students, are all working towards.