Dr. Maria Lawrence, Rhode Island College, connects to the theme of this year’s April 10th Statewide Meeting: Reflecting on Our Investment in Higher Education. In consultation with John Dewey, Dr. Lawrence examines engagement scholarship and service-learning in the context of her experience as an Associate Professor of Elementary Education.
“Engagement Education: What Would Dewey Say?”
“What would Dewey say about the current status of service learning (SL) and engagement scholarship in education? I have no idea, but if I had to guess, this quote comes to mind: “Everything depends on the quality of the experience which is had” (Dewey, 1938, p.27). John Dewey was one of the most prominent figures during the progressive education movement who directly influenced the trajectory of education in the United States, laying the foundation for experiential learning theory. Dewey and his work relate to what I do.
I teach elementary education science methods in a field-based course. The co-curricular SL dynamic is the practicum placement. A requirement of my science education practicum is for teacher candidates to measure the impact of their SL experience on the learners they instruct. This makes the SL in my course consistent with established characteristics of “recommended [SL] practices’ as described in Celio, Durlak, and Dymnicki (2011, p.3) who researched four of the eight K–12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice (National Youth Leadership Council, 2011) as part of a meta-analysis about SL. These four recommended practices are: “(a) linking programs to academic and program curriculum or objectives, (b) incorporating youth voice, (c) involving community partners, and (d) providing opportunities for reflection” (Celio, Durlak, and Dymnicki, 2011, p.3).
This semester, teacher candidates in my science methods course have taken on the task of helping elementary school students with their science fair projects. From the perspective of A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012), the teacher candidates are providing explicit instruction in the practices of science and engineering. The SL practicum experience encourages the development of students’ life-long capacities for doing science and science literacy, such as “Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering); Developing and using models; Planning and carrying out investigations; Analyzing and interpreting data; Using mathematics and computational thinking; Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering); Engaging in argument from evidence; Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information” (NRC, 2012, p.42). By involving elementary school students in these practices, the teacher candidates are able to actively engage in helping students voice their interests about the world around them through the questions they ask to research.
Recently, I changed my practicum to give heightened attention to SL while also introducing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (Achieve, Inc., 2013). I sought a pedagogical approach that makes traditional homework the focus of in-classroom activity during the practicum. Teaching Science Fair as curriculum is a flipped, project-based pedagogical approach to teaching the nature of science to elementary school students. It acknowledges the opportunity for respectful reciprocity.
There are significant benefits to approaching science fair as project-based learning. Science fairs that focus on the science and engineering practices debunk “the science method” myth. Teacher candidates and elementary school students reflect on diverse ways of doing science together. And while most people consider science fairs to be competitions, they need not be. Science fairs can become a celebratory exhibition in a learning community, making fairs inclusive of all levels of abilities and interests, consequently promoting equity. In fact, science fairs in the age of NGSS should be renamed as Science and Engineering Fairs. Often, science fair projects are done at home with varying degrees of guidance. In my flipped methods model, practicum students are able to help bridge school and home interests. The teacher candidates model the science practices and encourage elementary school students to communicate about their projects in class. The Elementary school students can complete parts of their research in school if they need help or more adult support and guidance.
In elementary school grades, it is possible to advance the flip with engagement videos, adult or learner demonstrations, or the use of computer simulations. By designing a science curriculum focused on practices, the teacher candidates are introduced to diverse pedagogical approaches that broaden their perceptions of an inquiry pedagogy.
Reflecting on instruction is critical, and I ask my teacher candidates to reflect on student engagement and evidence of learning, which is shared and discussed with classroom teachers. SL improves the self-confidence of all learners (elementary and college) by being tied to academic curriculum, requiring reflection on action, and being self-directed and active in the teaching and learning process.
This sounds so idyllic in written form. I cannot say with confidence this exploration of SL in a practicum course will align with my expectations and vision. But the willingness to risk making new knowledge is an important outgrowth of the SL experience. SL at its very core is about human relationships. For me, the essential nature of the SL relationship is meeting with school administrators and teachers to identify what is desired as an outcome of the partnership, and building on this mutual understanding and professional relationship, to evaluate what is successful, and what can be improved to achieve the desired outcomes of both partners.
While I still have no idea what Dewey would say about SL today in education, or even my discipline-based model (Hefferman, n.d.) of SL, I hope he would view these modest efforts as attending to “the quality of the experience which is had” by all involved.”
Achieve, Inc. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards. Achieve, Inc. on behalf of the twenty-six states and partners that collaborated on the NGSS.
Celio, C.I., Durlak, J., Dymnicki, A. (2011). A Meta-analysis of the Impact of Service-Learning on Students. Journal of Experiential Education, Volume 34(2), pp.164-181. Retrieved from, http://www.stjohns.edu/sites/default/files/documents/adminoffices/asl-meta-analysis-effects-asl-students.pdf
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. Kappa Delta Pi Lecture Series, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Hefferman, (n.d.). Approaches to Community engagement. Campus Compact Fundamental of Service-Learning Course Construction.
National Academy of Sciences. (2012). A framework for k-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13165