Hey education researchers! Here’s how to get teachers involved.

I have an idea for how education researchers and teachers could connect better in order to really see what principles that researchers are positing really translate robustly to the classroom. The short version is that students or researchers who want to study a learning principle could embed their experiment in one of the lessons from Dan’s summer “Makeover Mondays” series, in which Dan remakes boring problems/tasks from textbooks into more inspiring lessons.

These makeovers often raise theoretical questions for me, such as how much to ask students to discover for themselves, and when to schedule the “drill practice” (e.g., in bits and pieces during an investigation, or after it?). A good example would be the task called Shipping Routes, in which students apply/discover least common multiples to predict the first time two ferries with different round-trip times will be in phase with each other. Dan’s makeover involves sending students to this simulator to look for patterns in the scenario.

Testing learning principles in the context of these lessons seems to offer a few advantages:

  • If learning sciences researchers want to connect with the teacher community, they have to connect either before or after they do a study. Connecting afterwards means doing the study first, and then trying to get teachers interested in it. This has all sorts of pitfalls. You have to describe the debate your study informs, and people can accuse you of mischaracterizing their position or get sucked down a black whole of semantic arguments. You have to describe whether you think the results are broadly or narrowly applicable, but that part may not be heard. Etc.
  • Connecting before means getting teachers interested in the study before doing it. With this approach, you don’t have to worry as much about recreating the debate before situating your results in it. You can just describe your experiment and empirical results, and the discussion community will do that framing for you and translating from theory into practice for you. That’s what I’m suggesting here.
  • Many of the redesigned lessons often involve some kind of software interaction that could be used to log student behavior. And the lessons are commercial-quality, but you don’t have copyright issues because they’re usually licensed Creative Commons.
  • The final products of the lessons bubble up through Twitter, blogs, etc. from a community teachers. All of those teachers would be very interested in reading an article about a lesson they’ve tweeted about and given serious thought to (or plan to teach!).
  • Dan’s blog is read and commented on by opinion leaders among math teachers, such as Grant Wiggins (the co-creater of Understanding by Design) and Michael Serra (author of the Discovering Geometry textbook series that’s very popular). So it’s a robust conversation.

So what do you think, MTBoS? Is this a good idea?