Middle School Teachers at Springfield College This Week Learn to Bust Scientific MisconceptionsAugust 5, 2009
SPRINGFIELD, Mass., Aug. 5, 2009 – Elephant cells must be bigger than monkey cells. Wrong, all animal cells are about the same size. Foxes in the arctic developed fluffy tails within a few generations to keep them warm. Wrong, it took millions of years.
Scientific misconceptions like these are the targets of Greater Springfield middle school teachers at Springfield College this week. They are learning how to identify students’ false beliefs about the life sciences, and master teaching techniques to correct them. The objective is to equip teachers to better prepare local students to succeed on Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).
Titled “The World Is Flat,” this year’s program was developed by Springfield College Professor of Biology and Education Robert A. Barkman through a $161,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Grants will support similar courses next year on the physical sciences and in 2011 on earth sciences.
Barkman launched the program for middle school teachers this year after presenting similar programs to elementary school teachers during the past four years. These programs were supported by Massachusetts Board of Higher Education grants. Initial testing shows that students of the participating elementary school teachers subsequently retained correct information.
Barkman was inspired to create the program after viewing the film “Private Universe,” which revealed that misconceptions about science are rampant, even among some of the best educated people in the world. Harvard students asked about the causes of the seasons mostly had wrong ideas.
“There are eight different learning styles, and the teacher’s challenge is to reach all of them. Misconceptions can arise when lessons miss some learning styles,” Barkman said. Visual/spatial learners are picture smart, and verbal/linguistic learners respond to words, Barkman said. Mathematical/logical learners see numerical patterns, and kinesiological learners use body expression and movement. There are also interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical/rhythmical, and naturalist learners.
Middle school teachers in the program will test lessons on misconceptions identified by the Springfield Public Schools. In Springfield College’s Schoo-Bemis Science Center this Wednesday afternoon, they will extract DNA from strawberries and display it on glass rods. Thursday morning, they will examine their own genetic traits to illustrate that the most frequent traits are not necessarily the most dominant. Thursday afternoon, they will examine human skulls in a study of evolution.
Barkman said that six Springfield College faculty members conducting the program with him are committed to keeping the participating teachers “off their seat and on their feet.” Field trips, campus scavenger hunts, and observing cancer cells are some of the activities which they will also be able to do with their own students.