As I’ve mentioned before, MTSU is a UTeach replication site, named MTeach. Among many things, MTeach offers two one-credit courses called “Step 1” and “Step 2”, where students get to dip their toes in the water of math and science teaching. In “step 1”, student pairs get to make several observations and co-teach several inquiry lessons in a local school as they are learning about inquiry teaching. What is nice is that they get to do so with the same teacher and classroom throughout the semester.
In “Step 1”, teachers choose from a list of maybe 30-40 possible lessons that the student pair will have to learn and then tweak to fit their class. Each pair gets several opportunities to practice teach their lessons and get feedback before going off to the school. With over a hundred students in MTeach, their are many students to help. In the past week, I’ve had a chance to talk to several step1 and step 2 students about their lessons.
Their lessons are structured using 5E’s: Engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate. So far, my concern with the 5E’s is they seem (for students) to have little to do with student thinking and learning, so they easily get interpreted as “Get students’ attention with something cool”, “Get students to do something”, “Tell them what they should have learned”, “Have them practice what you told them”, “Give them a quiz”.
Here are what my steps might be:
(1) Inquire: Do something that will help you find the boundaries between what your students know and what they don’t know.
(2) Perplex: Usher students to that boundary in a way that engages both their ideas and curiosity
(3) Explore: Provide a structure for students to explore that boundary in a way relevant to your learning goal
(4) Listen: Listen and watch what your students do; structure an opportunity for students to share and discuss what they’ve found
(5) Connect: Help students make connections between their ideas and the formal concepts they are making contact with
(6) Solidify: Help students permanently stake out this new territory through elaboration, practice, extension, reflection, etc.
IPELCS is not as snazzy as the 5E’s, but at least it is about things we know are important, including formative assessment, prior knowledge, zones of proximal development, epistemic agency and authorship in the classroom, disciplinary ways of understanding, scaffolding, and meta-cognition.
Dont’ get me wrong. I am absolutely certain that any attempts to teach “IPELCS” would be reinterpreted by many students as “give them a pre-quiz”, “show them an exciting demo”, “let them play with the demo”, “tell them what they demo is about”, and “give them a practice worksheet”. I’m not suggesting that we go out and teach students IPELCS, because, ultimately, the problem with trying to teach anything like IPELCS or the 5E’s comes from not following its own advice. The issue of how to best engage students’ ideas about inquiry teaching and to usher them to the boundary of their own understanding is not a simple one.