For one reason or another (likely to be discussed in a future post), I have been working on an essay that attempts to address cross-cultural aspects of viewing and valuing the land and reviews the potential implications for learning geoscience through integrating "geomythology" (a less than perfect term) into the process.
Coincidentally, in the course of seemingly endless research and reading, I came a across a fascinating geoscience education story on sand. In 2014, the American National Association of Geoscience Teachers published two fascinating issues on the theme of "Teaching Geoscience in the Context of Culture and Place," full of provocative discussion and ideas. In the second issue, one particular paper caught my attention: "Where Are You From? Writing Toward Science Literacy by Connecting Culture, Person, and Place," written by Kanesa Duncan Seraphin from the Curriculum Research & Development Group and the Center for Marine Science Education, University of Hawai'i. As she writes in her abstract:
The ways in which people view the world, and by extension the ways in which they learn, are shaped by cultural context. As educators striving to build scientific literacy among our students, it is critical to bridge the gaps among disparate cultures, traditional ways of knowing, and Western science. Understanding the value of traditional knowledge and welcoming the discourse and novel viewpoints associated with cultural and place-based practices is the first step in opening the door of scientific literacy not only for indigenous students but also for students struggling to find personal relevance in science.
She discusses the disconnects in today's world between science and culture that can "distract students from effectively learning" and goes on to discuss "Activities that connect sense of place and person provide opportunities for students to learn about and integrate the human element of science with scientific research and discovery." Her focus is on personal writing that
helps students take ownership of their learning and facilitates students’ learning awareness. Writing provides a space for students to connect with their culture and their thoughts—to think about what they know and believe, thereby promoting metacognition and purposeful knowledge generation. Writing also promotes scientific literacy by improving synthesis skills through the construction of a written record.
Among the examples she discusses is a wonderful example of the results of place-based learning by high school teachers taken first to the beach and then to the lab to pursue experimental enquiry through personal connections. The original exercises are described here, in what is, in itself, an excellent and valuable report well-worth reading). However, it's what Seraphin includes as feedback from the students that I found particularly intriguing. In their writings, the students were encouraged to record what they "used to believe" about sand and subsequently recognised as misconceptions following the learning process. Here they are:
See why I found this so fascinating? As Seraphin comments:
This type of feedback is an important information-gathering step for teachers and an important learning step for students. It also reflects the ability of writing to engage students in the learning process by providing the space and freedom for learners to express what they think (or used to think) without fear of failure.
and in her conclusions
The working hypothesis is that enhancing place and personal connections in science teaching will improve students’ self-efficacy and attachment to science learning, thereby leading to increased retention in science courses, higher test scores, better grades, and higher-quality student work. Writing often and with cultural, and place-based, relevance is therefore recommended as a thinking tool to personally and contextually connect the past, present, and future aspects of teaching and learning.
"Hear, hear" is all I can say.