In recent posts, I’ve discussed the history of the Footprints Puzzle which was prompted by an article (Tracking the Footprints Puzzle) in the Journal Science Education by Ault and Dodick, and explored the relationship between approaching science as a process approach, or as a conceptual or content viewpoint.
In this post I am finishing my examination of the Footprints Puzzle by showing how the it can be used as a powerful pedagogical tool, a tool that has its roots in the origins of modern science. Your probably saying, “give me a break.” Try and hear me out.
On November 28, 1660, a group of 12 men in London who were in the audience to hear lecture by Christopher Wren, held a meeting at Gresham College and created a society to explore and promote knowledge. They later became (the next year) the Royal Society, and today it is known as the Royal Society of London (the actual beginnings preceded this meeting to circa 1645). What is significant here is that the group decided to meet regularly to discuss various topics, and with time grew to be the most important organization in science. The Royal Society is the subject of Bill Bryson’s edited book, Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery & the Genius of the Royal Society. An important point to make here is that science began as discussion (of ideas, inventions, experiments), and as science educators, it is important to help our students not only realize this, but to experience discussion in our classrooms. Discussion led to the publication of proceedings, and now, the Royal Society published seven journals.
Although the research points to the notion that students need to discuss ideas in science, actual classroom behavior of students shows that small-group discussion is not the mainstay of teaching. Indeed, Iris Weiss, and colleagues report that the lecture/textbook methodology dominates school science, and in a major study it was reported that only 10% of class time was spent in small-group, non-laboratory types of activities. Very little time is spent in science class in which students are discussing science among themselves.
Science teachers, however, have recognized the need for student talk and discussion, and many have changed the landscape of the classroom by becoming experts at using the tools associated with collaborative and cooperative learning. For many years I had the opportunity to conduct science seminars on cooperative learning and worked with nearly 20,000 teachers through the Bureau of Education and Research. One of the science experiences that I used to give teachers specific models and examples of how to implement cooperative learning in their own classes was The Footprints Puzzle. You can find complete details in the book Science as Inquiry of how I used the dinosaur activity to teach the pedagogical elements of cooperative learning, but within the context of teaching science.
Cooperative learning, as presented in my seminar, was viewed as crucial to student inquiry, and exploration. The Footprints Puzzle, presented in the context of geology, fossils, and geologic time, provided an interesting problem that teachers could use to help students understand some fundamental aspects of working together on a team. Team work type of research is a common approach to research in science, and as I mentioned earlier in this post, the Royal Society began as a team of 12 London intellectuals who were interested in furthering the understanding of knowledge.