I don’t know.
One the one hand, it would seem that teachers (and really I am talking about grade school level and maybe middle school) need to be good an managing students. What should a teacher have to help students? I think the first big question is “what is going to happen in the classroom?” Let me take two extremes:
- Lecture-traditional. Basically just your normal lecture.
- Something else – for example stuff that high school physics/math/computer science teacher Shawn does.
Although I really don’t know the answer, I am going to lean towards – teachers need some content expertise.
So, I had a workshop for middle school science teachers. This was some time ago. The basic idea was to help them increase their physical science content understanding. At the end of the workshop, we tried to help the teachers do new stuff in the classroom (that was related to the workshop content). I don’t think the workshop (only 3 weeks long) really made them content experts. What happened? It was quite interesting the questions the teachers brought up when trying to implement things similar to what we did in class.
Here is the deal. Since they were not experts (please don’t think I mean to say they were poor teachers) in that content, they weren’t sure what aspects of an activity could be modified. Any little thing that deviated from our description was put into question. Even brands of soap to be used and stuff like that. Oh, sure sometimes the brand of soap matters (I can’t even remember the activity – but I know it had soap), but in this case they just needed soap.
When you are not a content expert, you have no idea what aspects are important and which are not.
One of the things I do in my physics for elementary education majors course is to give them the opportunity to try out an activity with some actual real-life kids. The goal is for them to take one of the activities and objectives that they worked on in class and help some kids.
In the class for the college students, they looked at force and motion. One of the key things was to see that when there is a force on an object, it changes speed. The primary way they build this idea is to use computers with motion detectors and carts on tracks. When you give a cart a “tap” with your hand, the speed of the cart changes. This is very easy to see on a speed-time graph. The college students also use some simulators that essentially do the same thing.
I have had several students try something similar by doing this:
“I will help students understand that a force makes things speed up. I will give them some soccer balls and let them kick them. When they do they will see that a force makes the balls speed up.”
This can still be a useful activity for the soon-to-be teacher. Hopefully, the college student will try this and talk to the kids. After the experiment I would suspect that the kids will have different ideas than what was intended. Why? When you kick a ball, it is really quick. The ball does indeed speed up, but how could you determine this without something else. Also, soccer balls kicked on grass will quickly slow down and stop. Students may use this to build on the idea that forces make things move. Without a force, it will stop.
If you are not a content expert in this area, it may be difficult to see where this could cause a problem – or to even know at the end that there is a problem.
Take a look at Shawn’s blog – Think Thank Thunk. Look at the stuff he does in class. He is clearly a content expert. Yes, I know. When you look back at what he did, or if you look at Dan Meyer’s stuff – they both have this “let the students figure it out” attitude. Which I think is great. And looking at a particular activity, it seems like anyone can do it. But I think not. This is like saying anyone can walk the length of a 2 x 4 board. But, what if that 2 x 4 board is 40 feet above the ground?
walking a two by 4 across two buildings
- don’t know the answer
- don’t know what is important in an experiment