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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
the teachers changed their understanding of concepts, such as constructivism, and learned new teaching methods, such as collaborative group work, many of their fundamental beliefs about their students and about the purpose of high school physics did not change. For example, while the new curriculum focused on content organized around big ideas as a way to engender deep conceptual understanding of physics, the teachers believed that the purpose of their courses was to provide their students with an overview of all physics because their students would never take another physics course (Feldman and Kropf, 1997).
Several professional development projects for teachers use subject matter as the primary vehicle for learning; teachers learn how to teach a subject by focusing on their own experiences as learners. Examples include SummerMath (Schifter and Fosnot, 1993), the Bay Area and National Writing Project (Bay Area Writing Project, 1979; Freedman, 1985a, b), and the Chicago Teachers Academy for Mathematics and Science (Stake and Migotsky, 1995). In SummerMath, teachers solve mathematics problems together or actually participate in authoring texts. Teachers also write cases about their children’s mathematics learning; this engages their own subject-matter knowledge—or lack thereof—which leads them to struggle with their own mathematics learning (Schifter and Fosnot, 1993).
In Project SEED (Science for Early Education Development), elementary school teachers in Pasadena were provided with opportunities to learn about science content and pedagogy by working with the curriculum kits that they would be using in the classroom. Teachers were introduced to content by experienced mentor teachers and scientists, who worked with them as they used the kits (Marsh and Sevilla, 1991).
It can be difficult for teachers to undertake the task of rethinking their subject matter. Learning involves making oneself vulnerable and taking risks, and this is not how teachers often see their role. Particularly in areas like mathematics and science, elementary teachers often lack confidence, and they worry about admitting that they don’t know or understand for fear of colleagues’ and administrators’ reactions (see, e.g., Heaton, 1992; Ball and Rundquist, 1993; Peterson and Barnes, 1996; Lampert, 1998). In addition, teachers generally are accustomed to feeling efficacious—to knowing that they can affect students’ learning—and they are accustomed to being in control. When they encourage students to actively explore issues and generate questions, it is almost inevitable that they will encounter questions that they cannot answer—and this can be threatening. Helping teachers become comfortable with the role of learner is very important. Providing them with access to subject-matter expertise is also extremely important. New developments in technology (see Chapter 9) provide avenues for helping teachers and their students gain wider access to expertise.