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Science Instructors Share Ideas and Approaches at Conference

Upper and Middle School educators Jim Barnaby, Heather Foucault-Camm, and Beth Whipple were presenters at the recent LLI ATLANTIC Conference, held on February 15 and 16 in at the National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C. The topic of their talk, Making Effective Arguments with the CER Framework, instructed teachers on the implementation of the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) Framework in their science classrooms.
Additionally, Foucault-Camm led an ethics/philosophy workshop entitled Can We Benefit from Progress Born Free of Conscience.Their presentations were accepted because they matched LLI ATLANTIC’s submission guidelines as posted on their website: "Active learning workshops follow LLI's mission of promoting student-centered learning by reducing the amount of lecture and creating hands-on learning that creates artifacts for classrooms, not just ideas to research later."

Barnaby, Foucault-Camm, and Whipple’s presentation on the use of the CER Framework, which was developed by Katherine L. McNeill, Boston College and Joseph S. Krajcik, Michigan State University, demonstrated how this can be used to help students effectively structure arguments they make in response to activity or assigned task. Using the flame test lab as a platform, the team illustrated that the CLAIM is an answer to a question and the teacher only provides the questions and the materials needed to try and answer it; EVIDENCE is the data collected in the lab, along with background knowledge, reading, testing, and analysis.; and finally, REASONING is the logical connection between the evidence and the claim. Barnaby explained: “It is our job to define all parts of the question first, and then get out of the way of our students. Investigation skills are enhanced, as the students are not simply following a “cookbook” lab. CER provides an increase in student learning.”

Whipple added: “I teach fifth and sixth graders who have wonderful ideas and really exciting questions about why things work or how things work. They love to give their explanations for why they got certain results of an experiment. Where they run into challenges is being able to clearly communicate the ‘why’ and the ‘how'—especially in writing. Organizing their thoughts and staying on topic are challenging for many students. CER gives students a clear and simple format for communicating their argument-driven inquiry in a lab report or really any type of writing. CER has a direct link to improved writing for research papers, as it helps students organize their ideas, support them with details, and provide connections.”

Sanford’s beautiful campus is a wonderful resource for some the successful CER Framework lessons provided by the faculty. For example, eighth graders complete activities answering such questions as “Can you walk faster than an ant?”, which sends students to the Quad to observe ants and collect data that will require the use of mathematical proportions to analyze. Sixth graders can be found in Chapel Valley working to determine “Is Sanford’s stream clean?” Eleventh graders, most sporting relatively new driver’s licenses, use algebra as they collect and calculate data to examine a driving scenario with a driver distracted by a text message as they work to answer the question “What are the possible outcomes of texting while driving?”

Barnaby noted that educators who attended their presentation worked hard to be active learners. He continued: “Attendees now have an app to rate their satisfaction with the various workshops, and we consistently earned 5 out of 5 stars, which is wonderful affirmation for our preparation and our ideas. The entire conference was a very good professional experience; I am looking forward to implementing the new ideas I learned at the workshops I was able to attend.”

Shifting from the very practical to the philosophical, Foucault-Camm’s workshop at the conference combined her passion for science and the place that ethics must hold in the field. She shared: “The general perception of science is that it is limitless. The question is, should it be? One of the greatest challenges for impactful 21st century education in the sciences should be how to empower young people to realize that limitations on human autonomy are necessary. Sometimes, the ability to choose pales in comparison to the virtue of choosing well. The primary focus of my workshop was to provide an examination of how the application of scientific ethics, in a student-centered environment, can ensure that the next generation of young scientists are equipped to handle the diverse area of possible scenarios that may redefine many aspects of the human experience in the very near future.”

Foucault-Camm’s sphere of influence has broadened, as she was just invited by the University of Notre Dame to be a speaker at their summer seminar series which will focus on examining the relationship between morality, philosophy and science. During the week-long conference, Foucault-Camm will function as a curriculum design expert and will also deliver a plenary lecture. She noted: “I am very excited about this opportunity and quite honored to have been asked to serve in this capacity. These are important discussions in the world of science, and I look forward to being a part of them.”

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