Mentoring Science Teachers

Perhaps one of the most important roles that science teachers play, apart from helping their students become excited about and learn science, is being a mentor to an apprentice or beginning teacher.   My own experience in the mentoring process was as a beginning teacher at Weston High School where I was mentored by Irv Marsden, physics teacher and department head.  Although there was not a formal mentoring process at Weston High, Irv took me under his wing, and created an environment of support and encouragement, and shared his knowledge of science teaching in a way that was open and humanistic.  He was a master-teacher who embraced an inquiry approach to teaching and learning.  He also was a curriculum leader, and played a role  in the development of PSSC Physics and Project Physics, which were developed nearby at MIT and Harvard University, respectively.  As I look back on my career as a teacher and professor, the mentoring that I received from Irv Marsden set me on a course as teacher that led to an inquiry and humanistic approach.

As a professor at Georgia State University, working with mentor teachers with our novice science teachers in various programs over the years engaged us in a process of developing professional relationships with science teachers in the State of Georgia. Anecdotally, we learned that mentors were a crucial link in our science teacher preparation programs, and indeed, we recruited many of our mentors from our graduate science education programs at the Masters, Specialist, and Doctoral programs.  We also were involved alternative science and mathematics teacher education programs (TRIPS (A Research-Practice Program developed by Lovely H. Billups), Alternative Teacher Preparation Program in Foreign Language, Mathematics & Science, and TEEMS), some situated at GSU, and others within the public schools (Atlanta City, and DeKalb County).  In each of these cases, it was the mentor teachers and their schools that played a central role in working with our novice science teachers.  For example, the Atlanta Public Schools believed so strongly in the TRIPS program that they released each of the mentor teachers from one of their assigned courses so that they could devote specific time for mentoring their assigned novice teacher.  In the Alternative Teacher Preparation program, that was funded by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, mentor teachers received special training to work with the novice science teachers in our programs.

Mentoring science teachers was the research topic of a paper published in the November Issue of Science Education.  Authored by Michael Dias, professor at Kennesaw State University (GA), and colleagues at the University of Georgia and Appalachian State University, these researchers set out to understand the cultural tools used by science teachers when learning to mentor and how tool use may lead to the construction of new understandings about mentoring.  Entitled Teacher thinking associated with science-specific mentor preparation, the research team investigated the tools used by mentors trained specifically to work with novice science teachers, as such:

The context of the study was a federally funded, science-specific mentor preparation program. The purpose of the program was to develop a cadre of secondary science teachers (grades 7–12), which hereafter is referred to as science mentors in training (SMIT), with the mentoring skills and understandings needed to support the professional learning of novice science teachers.  This was accomplished through sustained contact with project leaders that included science teacher educators from three recruiting regions of one state located in the southeastern United States.

The researchers describe their training program for mentors, and indicate that there were three cadre groups of mentors who were enrolled in a 50 hr course focusing on the mentoring of science teachers.  During the course of their mentoring experience, mentors were involved in various activities to help them construct knowledge of mentoring including interviews with the researchers, group discussions, cases written by the mentors to generate an environment of reflection, Electronic Bulletin Board posts and online discussions.  The results of these activities provided the sources of data used by the researchers to analyze the interviews, group discussions, cases, and electronic bulletin board postings.  The researchers describe their method as follows:

The transcribed interviews, group discussion documents, electronic bulletin board postings, and cases were analyzed using Strauss and Corbin’s (1998) three stages of data analysis. Two members of the research team independently examined the data to generate codes. At points through the analysis, the two brought codes and data from which the codes were constructed to each other as well as to other members of the research team for examination and revision.

Data were collected across the summer and two academic semesters for each of 3 years. We also collected four different types of data, including transcripts of interviews, group discussion documents, electronic bulletin board postings, and cases, which allowed for triangulation of data and interpretations. In addition, we used standardized, nonidiosyncratic terminology and presented our findings in such a manner that they “can be appropriately traced back through analysis steps to original data…” (Guba & Lincoln, 1982, p.61)

The researchers found that mentors used a variety of tools in the mentoring process including the discourse of science teaching (for example, mentors used their past teaching experiences to offer advice), dilemmas of teaching (including personal, classroom & school), and images (framing mentor thinking about mentoring such as wanting to make the experience successful for the novice teacher).

The study sheds light on the construction of knowledge about mentoring as exhibited by these cadre groups of mentor teachers.  Although the researchers concluded that the mentor training program was successful in that it contributed to the use of some tool use by mentors.  The researchers informed us that there is much to learn about mentoring, and much to know about helping mentor teachers reach beyond the traditional role of mentor teacher.  In this regard, they said:

Nevertheless, tool use by the SMIT mediated their thinking in ways that led them to focus on the immediate needs of novice science teachers and not on their long-term growth as science teaching professionals. In this regard, the mentor preparation program did not necessarily contribute to the SMIT learning to think about mentoring in ways considered most desirable. The tools used by the SMIT to mediate their thinking about science teacher mentoring do not overtly reflect notions of “reform-minded mentoring” described by Wang and Odell (2002) and Feiman-Nemser’s (1998) “educative mentoring.”

What are your experiences with mentoring?  Do you have some reports to share with us?
Koballa, T., Kittleson, J., Bradbury, L., & Dias, M. (2010). Teacher thinking associated with science-specific mentor preparation Science Education, 94 (6), 1072-1091 DOI: 10.1002/sce.20400

Why the film, “Waiting for Superman” demonizes public education

Over the past month, I’ve written several posts about the film Waiting for Superman, and wanted to return to it today, and point you to the Bridging Differences Weblog by Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier, and their criticism not only of this film, but how the forces behind the film, and the standards and test culture have resorted to the demonization of public schools, and misleading the public about the “success” of charter schools.

Here is how Diane Ravitch begin her recent post entitled Demonizing Public Education:

I reviewed “Waiting for ‘Superman'” for The New York Review of Books. I thought the movie was very slick, very professional, and very propagandistic. It is one-sided and very contemptuous of public education. Notably, the film portrayed not a single successful regular public school, and its heroic institutions were all charter schools.

The public is being told that charter schools are more successful than public schools, and that some of the charter’s produce “amazing results.”  Some do, but so do public schools.  What is going on here is an effort to attack public schools, and to weaken the confidence that we have in our public schools.  Some analyses point to fund managers and foundations behind the movement because of the public funds that are available for charter and for-profit schools.

In the website Not Waiting for Superman, you can find out how conservative Republicans and techno-Democratic billionaires have bonded to foster educational reform based upon misinformation and the desire to control education.  Here is the introduction for a piece written about this:

This article, written expressly for, explores the money behind the movie, its promoters, and those who will benefit from the movie. As author Barbara Miner writes, “In education, as in so many other aspects of society, money is being used to squeeze out democracy.” After examining the role of hedge funds, foundations and other players, she asks, “Should the American people put their faith in a white billionaires boys’ club to lead the revolution on behalf of poor people of color?”

I recommend you scroll through the Bridging Differences website to find out more about educational reform.  You might also take a look at the Not Waiting for Superman site.

Water on the Moon

NASA has reported that if astronauts heated lunar soil, it would yield water that could be purified and used for drinking, or separated into Oxygen and Hydrogen and used for rocket fuel.

NASA scientists, of  Project LCROSS, have reported that there is water in one of the moon’s craters, and that there is more water in this crater than there is in the Sahara Desert.  The water, in the form of ice crystals, makes up about 5 – 8% of the crater’s mixture.  According to NASA, 8 wheelbarrows of soil could yield 10 to 13 gallons of water.

This was an unexpected result, as many have thought that the moon was barren of water.  Although there are no plans to go back to the moon, this discovery certainly certainly throws new light on NASA’s previous plan to go back to the moon, and use it as a staging ground for missions to Mars.  According to NASA, the water on moon could be used be broken apart into Hydrogen and Oxygen and used as rocket fuel.

In an article in the New York Times, the moon exploration was set in motion as follows:

Lcross and the lunar orbiter are part of NASA’s Constellation program, started five years ago by the Bush administration to send astronauts back to the Moon. Arguing that it is too expensive and that the United States has already been there, President Obama has pushed for its cancellation. A compromise on the space agency’s future, passed by Congress and signed into law by Mr. Obama last week, sets aside Moon ambitions for now, at least for the return of human explorers.

Science at the White House: An Oxymoron?

Science at the White House.  This is not a contradiction in terms.  This is not an oxymoron.  For the first time, the President of the United States brought to the White House award winning science projects, much like bringing the championship football or baseball team to take pictures with the President.  Yet, this event was much different.  The winning science fair projects were set up in the State Dining room, and the President, as well all of the invited guests spent more than hour perusing the science projects, and in the case of the President, talking with the students about their projects.

Here is a video of the President’s talk to the science project winners, and the guests at this important event.

Progressive science teaching would acknowledge this event as significant, but would also use the event as a reminder that the direction that education is heading today will not result in an educational environment that will see student innovation, creativity, and problem solving as the centerpiece of educational reform. Instead, even when President Obama agrees that the kind of research that these students are doing is fundamental to the long term prosperity of the country, and indeed the world, we don’t see schools embracing this innovative temper. Bubble testing, and page after page of standards written in behavioral terminology by grade level compromises creative and innovative teaching and learning.

President Obama involving himself with one of the student science projects at he first ever White House Science event, October 18, 2010.

Science education ought be be humanistic, and ought to challenge students to be problem solvers, and willing to take risks with their thinking. We should be encouraging students to reach the outer limits of their abilities and knowledge, rather than boxing them into a set of standards, written, assessed, and funded by a very small group of corporations and for-profit organizations that have a vested interest in the “standards” movement.

We ought to use the Science at the White House event to ask serious questions about how we can move education away from a path that claims that one set of goals and objectives is good enough for every child. There ought to be a way for students to be involved more directly in their own pathway, and for schools to facilitate this process.

Geology of Chile

Chile is a very long but narrow country located in one of the most active tectonic regions of the earth. As seen in the map below, Chile is close to or part of four tectonic plates: the Antarctic Plate, the Nazca Plate, the Scotia Plate and the South American Plate. The eastern edge of the Nazca Plate is a convergent boundary in which crustal rock is moving under the South American Plate and the Andes Mountains, forming the Peru-Chile Trench. The subduction (movement of rock under the South American Plate) of the Nazca plate under southern Chile has a history of producing massive earthquakes including the largest ever recorded on earth, the moment magnitude 9.5 1960 Valdivia earthquake.  The Chile earthquakes of March 11, 2010,  occurred in the region of the plate boundary between the Nazca and South America plates and was caused by normal faulting within the subducting Nazca plate or the overriding South America plate.

The Earth's Crustal Plates: Chile is influences by four Crustal Plates as seen in the map.

Three major geological features describe the geological structure of Chile: The Andes, The Chilean Central Valley, and the Chilean Coastal Range, mountains that run along the coast parallel to the Andes.

The map highlights the Chile Coastal Mountains, while to the east is located the Central Valley, and further east, the Andes.

A good article to read about the geology of Chile can be found here.

The San Jose Mine disaster in which 33 miners were rescued after being more than two-thousand feet beneath beneath a mountain of igneous rock has highlighted the mining industry in Chile.  Joaquin Cortés, PhD, a visiting assistant professor of geology at the University at Buffalo, a Chilean native and former staff member of the Chilean Geological Survey (Sernageomin), in an interview with UB Newscenter, said that the mine disaster will impact mining in Chile and globally, forever.  He also comments on the mining industry in Chile pointing out how advanced it is technologically, but still in need of stricter safety enforcement.

Here is a video of his interview which you can read here.