We asked Claire Alison Guzinski, a returning VISTA elementary school (ESI) teacher, to tell us a story about how her VISTA training has impacted her class and this is what she told us.
One of the first labs that we conducted this year with my 7th grade life science classes was our cell theory lab. In this lab the students were being introduced to two concepts: the three tenants of cell theory and the seven tenants of the nature of science (NOS). Each student was responsible for duplicating the discoveries of Anton Van Leewenhoek, Matthias Schlieden and Theodor Schwann.
Once the students finished all three labs they were charged with deciding and defending the two of the seven NOS tenants (e.g. "science is a social activity" or "scientific ideas are subject to change") that played the biggest role in each scientist’s discovery. As a class we heard arguments for each tenant and why it was important to the creation of cell theory. After each argument the floor was opened up for counter arguments. It was a more structured, debate-style discourse, and with 35 students involved, this structure helped to guide the discussion within our time frame.
At this point in time, it was about the 5th week into the school year and out of the 35 students, 29 were boys and only 5 were native English speakers. Since the class had so many boys, the girls were reluctant to speak, especially one sweet Nepali girl.
For about 10 minutes I heard argument after argument from my more verbal students, but not much from my girls and not much from my quieter students. I listened to an argument about why science demands imagination and then turned to my very quiet Nepali girl to ask her what she thought. She stared at the poster with the seven NOS statements for about two minutes and then took out her dictionary.
While she was contemplating, I emphasized to the class our “respect others' time to think” rule and quieted the boys, many of whom were eager to answer immediately. My Nepali student looked up from her dictionary and asked what it meant to say “subject to change”. After a few minutes of discussion we worked out another way to say the sentence. I say "we" because I helped define the word subject and repeated a few statements to make sure that the class understood what was being said.
Once we had a shared meaning I turned back to the girl and repeated the question. She refuted each argument that we had heard so far with unique and interesting counterpoints. She talked for 90 seconds and when she finished she was beet red. A boy jumped in with a rebuttal and she turned even deeper red. When the boy finished another girl in the class repeated the quiet girl’s argument and added a bit of her own. Another boy countered and then the 3rd girl spoke and argued the same point as the other two.
I realize that this is a long story but the part of it that is most important to me is that the girls in the class had finally found their voice. They had been so overpowered by the boys that before then they had not had a chance to speak (or had not been asked). At the end of class I watched as they left and four or so of the other students complimented the Nepali girl on her opinion as they walked out the door.
I think one of the greatest things about the type of problem-based, inquiry driven learning that VISTA teaches is the emphasis on open dialogue to discuss the nature of science, students' thoughts and findings, and so much more. It's great to see everyone become eager to participate!
Click here for teacher training materials, including a poster on the nature of science.