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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom
CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENTS THAT SUPPORT LEARNING WITH UNDERSTANDING
We have found that much of what students learn in genetics and evolutionary biology units grounded in model-based inquiry depends on their active and thoughtful participation in the classroom community.33 To learn about the process of modeling and about discipline-specific patterns of argumentation, students must be critically aware of the elements that influence their own knowledge generation and justification. The MUSE curricula are designed to facilitate this type of student thinking through explicit discussion of students’ expectations for engaging in argumentation, the design of student tasks, and the use of various tools for interacting with and representing abstract concepts.
By the end of our courses, students are able to reason in sophisticated ways about inheritance patterns and about evolutionary phenomena. Realizing that goal, we believe, is due in large measure to careful attention to the core disciplinary knowledge, as well as persistent attention to students’ preconceptions and the supports required for effective conceptual change. The instructional activities we have described highlight a classroom environment that is knowledge-centered in putting both the core concepts and scientific approaches to generating and justifying those concepts at the center of instruction.
The classrooms are also learner-centered in several respects. The curriculum was designed to address existing conceptions that we had observed were creating problems for students as they tried to master new material. We also identified weaknesses in students’ knowledge base—such as their understanding of models and their ability to draw inferences and develop arguments—and designed activities to strengthen those competencies. The use of frequent dialogue in our courses allows an attentive teacher to continuously monitor students’ developing thinking.
We have attempted to embed formative and authentic assessments throughout our courses. Assessment of student understanding needs to be undertaken with an eye to the various types of prior knowledge described above (misconceptions of science concepts, ideas about what science is,