skip to main content

Title: Embracing a culture of talk: STEM teachers’ engagement in small-group discussions about photovoltaics
Abstract Background

Small-group discussions are well established as an effective pedagogical tool to promote student learning in STEM classrooms. However, there are a variety of factors that influence how and to what extent K-12 teachers use small-group discussions in their classrooms, including both their own STEM content knowledge and their perceived ability to facilitate discussions. We designed the present study to specifically target these two factors in the context of photovoltaics, an interdisciplinary field at the intersection of all STEM disciplines with potential to yield widespread benefits related to the use of solar technologies as a sustainable, renewable energy source. Teachers engaged in a series of small-group discussions based on photovoltaic source material (e.g., scientific articles) to build both their STEM content knowledge and capability with discussions, promoting their potential to design and deliver STEM instruction in their own classrooms using small-group discussion.


Overall, teachers productively engaged in rich STEM talk as they spent most of the time in the discussion asking authentic questions about photovoltaic topics in alignment with a variety of science and engineering disciplinary core ideas, responding to the questions with rich, elaborative talk, and taking on ownership of the discussions. Teachers also evidenced increases in their photovoltaic knowledge and their perceived capability to facilitate discussions. Finally, most teachers’ end-of-program lesson plans included the use of small-group discussions, and a subsample of teachers who completed a follow-up interview one year after the summer program reported greater enactment of discussion in their STEM classrooms.


Our manuscript forwards an important contribution that draws from a practice-based approach to professional development in a way that not only better prepares teachers on what to teach (i.e., through enhanced PV content knowledge), but it also supports their ability to implement this instruction into their classrooms more effectively (i.e., though the use of small-group discussion). As such, this manuscript illustrates an innovative pedagogical approach for potential use in supporting teacher education and informs ways to enable teachers to build enhanced curricula for their STEM students.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Springer Science + Business Media
Date Published:
Journal Name:
International Journal of STEM Education
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Background

    STEM instructors who leverage student thinking can positively influence student outcomes and build their own teaching expertise. Leveraging student thinking involves using the substance of student thinking to inform instruction. The ways in which instructors leverage student thinking in undergraduate STEM contexts, and what enables them to do so effectively, remains largely unexplored. We investigated how undergraduate STEM faculty leverage student thinking in their teaching, focusing on faculty who engage students in work during class.


    From analyzing interviews and video of a class lesson for eight undergraduate STEM instructors, we identified a group of instructors who exhibited high levels of leveraging student thinking (high-leveragers) and a group of instructors who exhibited low levels of leveraging student thinking (low-leveragers). High-leveragers behaved as if student thinking was central to their instruction. We saw this in how they accessed student thinking, worked to interpret it, and responded in the moment and after class. High-leveragers spent about twice as much class time getting access to detailed information about student thinking compared to low-leveragers. High-leveragers then altered instructional plans from lesson to lesson and during a lesson based on their interpretation of student thinking. Critically, high-leveragers also drew on much more extensive knowledge of student thinking, a component of pedagogical content knowledge, than did low-leveragers. High-leveragers used knowledge of student thinking to create access to more substantive student thinking, shape real-time interpretations, and inform how and when to respond. In contrast, low-leveragers accessed student thinking less frequently, interpreted student thinking superficially or not at all, and never discussed adjusting the content or problems for the following lesson.


    This study revealed that not all undergraduate STEM instructors who actively engage students in work during class are also leveraging student thinking. In other words, not all student-centered instruction is student-thinking-centered instruction. We discuss possible explanations for why some STEM instructors are leveraging student thinking and others are not. In order to realize the benefits of student-centered instruction for undergraduates, we may need to support undergraduate STEM instructors in learning how to learn from their teaching experiences by leveraging student thinking.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract Background

    To increase teachers’ capacity to implement high-quality instructional materials with fidelity in their classrooms through a video-based professional learning cycle, the Analyzing Instruction in Mathematics Using the Teaching for Robust Understanding framework (AIM–TRU) research–practice partnership was formed. Drawing upon the design-based research paradigm, AIM–TRU created the initial design for the professional learning cycle and wanted to engage in continued iterative redesign as the year progressed. This necessitated a method, common among those who adjust their designs when applying them in context, by which to document and justify changes made over time to our model. The research contained in this article used qualitative methods to articulate and test the design underlying our professional learning cycle by advancing conjecture mapping, a device by which the embodiments of the design are made transparent to be analyzed in practice.


    The initial design conjectures and activity structures teachers engaged in through our model of professional learning were refined to address three themes that emerged. Firstly, it was found that the ways participants engaged with the mathematics of the lesson were underwhelming, in large part, because our own definition of what rich talk around mathematics should entail was lacking in details such as the mathematical objects in the lesson, the presence of multiple solution pathways, or the various representations that students could use. Second, talk structures did not always allow for equitable exchanges among all teachers. Finally, activity structures did not encourage teachers to delve deeply into the mathematics so they could perceive the lesson as a coherent piece of their own classroom curriculum. Our design conjectures and activity structures were revised over the course of the year.


    Our use of conjecture mapping allowed us to address the concern with research–practice partnerships that they should develop and utilize tools that make the systemic inquiry they engage in transparent, allowing for other researchers, practitioners, and stakeholders to see the complete design process and make use of the findings for their local context. Implications for this process as a tool for those who pilot and scale professional development are raised and addressed.

    more » « less
  3. In this proposal, we will share some initial findings about how teacher and student engagement in cogenerative dialogues influenced the development of the Culturally Relevant Pedagogical Guidelines for Computational Thinking and Computer Science (CRPG-CSCT). The CRPG-CSCT’s purpose is to provide computer science teachers with tools to enhance their instruction by accurately reflecting students’ diverse cultural resources in the classroom. Additionally, the CRPG-CSCT will provide guidance to non-computer science teachers on how to facilitate the integration of computational thinking skills to a broad spectrum of classes in the arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences, and mathematics. Our initial findings shared here are part of a larger NSF-funded research project (Award No. 2122367) which aims to better understand the barriers to entry and challenges for success faced by underrepresented secondary school students in computer science, through direct engagement with the students themselves. Throughout the 2022-23 academic year, the researchers have been working with a small team of secondary school teachers, students, and instructional designers, as well as university faculty in computer science, secondary education, and sociology to develop the CRPG-CSCT. The CRPG-CSCT is rooted in the tenets of culturally relevant pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995) and borrows from Muhammad’s (2020) work in Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy. The CRPG-CCT is being developed over six day-long workshops held throughout the academic year. At the time of this submission, five of the six workshops had been completed. Each workshop utilized cogenerative dialogues (cogens) as the primary tool for organizing and sustaining participants’ engagement. Through cogens, participants more deeply learn about students’ cultural capital and the value of utilizing that capital within the classroom (Roth, Lawless, & Tobin, 2000). The success of cogens relies on following specific protocols (Emdin, 2016), such as listening attentively, ensuring there are equal opportunities for all participants to share, and affirming the experiences of other participants. The goal of a cogen is to reach a collective decision, based on the dialogue, that will positively impact students by explicitly addressing barriers to their engagement in the classroom. During each workshop, one member of the research team and one undergraduate research assistant observed the interactions among cogen participants and documented these in the form of ethnographic field notes. Another undergraduate research assistant took detailed notes during the workshop to record the content of small and large group discussions, presentations, and questions/responses throughout the workshops. A grounded theory approach was used to analyze the field notes. Additionally, at the conclusion of each workshop, participants completed a Cogen Feedback Survey (CFS) to gather additional information. The CFS were analyzed through open thematic coding, memos, and code frequencies. Our preliminary results demonstrate high levels of engagement from teacher and student participants during the workshops. Students identified that the cogen structure allowed them to participate comfortably, openly, and honestly. Further, students described feeling valued and heard. Students’ ideas and experiences were frequently affirmed, which served as an important step toward dismantling traditional teacher-student boundaries that might otherwise prevent them from sharing freely. Another result from the use of cogens was the shared experience of participants comprehending views from the other group’s perspective in the classroom. Students appreciated the opportunity to learn from teachers about their struggles in keeping students engaged. Teachers appreciated the opportunity to better understand students’ schooling experiences and how these may affirm or deny aspects of their identity. Finally, all participants shared meaningful suggestions and strategies for future workshops and for the collective betterment of the group. Initial findings shared here are important for several reasons. First, our findings suggest that cogens are an effective approach for fostering participants’ commitment to creating the conditions for students’ success in the classroom. Within the context of the workshops, cogens provided teachers, students, and faculty with opportunities to engage in authentic conversations for addressing the recruitment and retention problems in computer science for underrepresented students. These conversations often resulted in the development of tangible pedagogical approaches, examples, metaphors, and other strategies to directly address the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in computer science. Finally, while we are still developing the CRPG-CSCT, cogens provided us with the opportunity to ensure the voices of teachers and students are well represented in and central to the document. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract  
    more » « less
  5. Abstract  
    more » « less