# USING WRITING TO HELP STUDENTS CONSTRUCT AN UNDERSTANDING OF SCIENTIFIC AND MATHEMATICAL CONCEPTS Presented by Diane Miller CBAS Teaching & Learning Seminar.

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USING WRITING TO HELP STUDENTS CONSTRUCT AN UNDERSTANDING OF SCIENTIFIC AND MATHEMATICAL CONCEPTS Presented by Diane Miller CBAS Teaching & Learning Seminar

The objective of writing across the curriculum is to improve the quality of writing.

The objective of writing to learn is to focus the student’s thinking toward a better understanding of the subject matter.

Students who use writing to learn often become better writers. Students who use writing in content classes often construct a better understanding of the subject matter.

Using writing to help students construct an understanding of scientific and mathematical concepts is a “win-win” practice for both students and instructors.

Research tells us that Writing in our classes can: Enhance learning Help to diagnose misconceptions Assess accumulated knowledge Assess attitudes Promote teacher- student interaction

Accumulated Knowledge Reflected in Writing What is the meaning of acid?

In Bacon’s day the word acid meant only sour-tasking; then it came to mean a sour tasting substance; then, a substance which reddens litmus; then, a compound that dissociates in aqueous solution to produce hydrogen ions; then, a compound or ion that can give protons to other substances; and most recently, a molecule or ion that can combine with another by forming a covalent bond with two electrons of the other. (Bazerman, 1994, pg. 164)

Types of Writing Journal writing *brainstorming with oneself *thinking in writing *ideas written down without evaluation

Journal Entry What is a linear programming problem? “I still don’t know! It has something to do with solving a system of equations to find the maximum or minimum value. It’s used for things such as maximizing profits and minimizing costs. The object is to find the highest and lowest solutions. I forgot about the constraints!” (Borasi & Rose, 1989, pg. 355)

One teacher’s reflections on his students’ journal entries Three students recorded the same fact from a lesson; one merely stated the fact, one gave an example of how the fact might be used, and the third entered into a discussion of how the fact is related to other facts and how its status is questioned.

Further analysis The first student simply recounted what happened in class; The second student labeled the content in order to gain mastery; and, The third entered into a dialogue with himself about the interaction between a number of ideas.

Computerized journaling – learning logs (Audet, Hickman, Dobrynina, 1996, JRST) Conducted a case study in an advanced physics class. They found that learning logs - provided students an opportunity to share thoughts & observations, defend viewpoints, and negotiate consensus about their thinking; provided a vehicle for making knowledge public; provided an atmosphere for valuing and exploring the conceptual understanding of others; and, were a means for conducting an ongoing dialogue between instructor and students.

Types of Writing Expository Writing Asking students to explain, in writing, their thinking about a non-routine problem, mathematical investigation, or scientific experiment.

Research findings Studies dating back to Bell & Bell (1985) have shown that writing can be an effective and practical tool for teaching mathematical problem solving. For students who have difficulty in solving a problem, writing is an opportunity to record the procedures used and the point at which confusion began.

Wang (1996) expounds on the use of expository writing in university chemistry labs to enhance students’ comprehension of concepts, improve communication between students and instructor, and also as an assessment instrument. “Describe what you see in detail...” “Write a 50 to 100 word paragraph to explain...”

Impromptu Writing Prompts (A type of expository writing) Simply worded statements or questions directing students’ thoughts to the explanation of a single concept, skill or generalization. (Respond to prompt)

What can be learned by reading students’ responses to impromptu writing prompts? (Discuss example)

What can be learned about students’ understanding of a subject from reading their responses to impromptu writing prompts? A teacher’s assessment of an individual student’s understanding of a subject can be enhanced by the knowledge gained from the student’s written responses. Instructors, both experienced and inexperienced, can get a clearer picture much sooner of how students are thinking by reading students’ responses.

How are instructional practices influenced as a result of reading students’ writings? Immediate changes in instructional practices can be made in response to students’ feedback through writing. Long-term improvement in classroom management and instructional practices may be induced in response to the new insights gained about students, about learning, and about teaching.

Changes in instructional practices Reteaching immediately; Delaying an exam because a lack of understanding was reflected in students’ writings; Designing and scheduling a review based upon what was learned from students’ writings; Using writing prompts during a lesson, rather than at the beginning, to ascertain if students are understanding what is being presented.

How are student-teacher interaction patterns influenced by regular classroom writings? A more caring, non-threatening classroom atmosphere conducive to students’ asking questions and acknowledging the teacher’s commitment to continuous improvement, may be created by the mutual trust built through writing experiences.

Does Writing About Science & Mathematics Improve Learning About Science & Mathematics? (Rillero, et al., 1995, conference paper) “Writing promotes conceptual development. Before students write, they must first organize and develop their thoughts. Composing consists of joining concepts into relationships (Van Nostrand, 1979). By writing, an individual becomes aware of connections between concepts. Thus, writing is an important tool in the constructivist classroom.”

Does Writing About Science Improve Learning About Science? (Moore, 1993, JCST) Yes, but only if students receive guided instruction about how to write-to-learn. “Unguided writing about a subject does not appreciably improve students’ writing skills or their understanding of the subject (Linden and Whimbey, 1990).” (pg. 214)

Writing to Learn is Beneficial But Students must first learn to write!

“Much evidence indicates that the ability to write effectively is one of the most important skills for a successful career in any profession, especially science.”(Moore, 1993, JCST, pg. 216)

Biotechnology companies rank “communication skills” (including writing) as the second-most important skill in prospective employees. These skills rank only slightly behind “relevant work experience” and rank far ahead of other factors such as chemistry background, personal recommendations, degree from a recognized program, broad biological background, GPA, and highly focused biological expertise (Davis, Korschgen, and Saigo, 1989)

The Neglected “R”: The Need for a Writing Revolution (2003) (Statements from The Executive Summary) Higher education should address the special roles it has to play in improving writing. Writing should be assigned across the curriculum. Writing opportunities should be provided to every student, from the earliest years through secondary school and into college. University faculty in all disciplines should have access to professional development opportunities to help them improve student writing.

Writing: A Ticket to Work... Or a Ticket Out (2004) Writing is a “threshold skill” for both employment and promotion, particularly for salaried employees. Two-thirds of salaried employees in large American companies have some writing responsibility. More than half of all responding companies report that salaried employees “frequently” or “almost always” produce technical reports, formal reports, and memos and correspondence. Because of e-mail, more employees have to write more often. It appears that remedying deficiencies in writing may cost American firms as much as \$3.1 billion annually.

MTSU GENERAL EDUCATION PILOT College Base (Basic Academic College Examination) Writing Avg. Fall 2000273 Spring 2001303 Fall 2001285 Spring 2002287 Fall 2002275 Spring 2003293 Fall 2003280 Spring 2004288 Score Range40-560

MTSU GENERAL EDUCATION PILOT College Base (Basic Academic College Examination Writing Range100-130 Summer 2000117.60 Fall 2000117.10 Spring 2001117.60 Summer 2001117.20 Fall 2001115.59 Spring 2002115.93 Summer 2002115.80 Fall 2002115.46 Spring 2003115.86 Summer 2003115.43 Fall 2003116.00 Spring 2004115.95

Help students become better writers by asking them to write-to-learn!

Types of Writing Transactional writing is meant to be read by an audience. Examples include laboratory reports, research papers, and manuscripts for publication.

Effective Writing Tips Put the reason for writing up front Use short words Use concise sentences Write in the active voice Avoid jargon Don’t begin sentences with “it is,” or “there are.” Use proper spelling and grammar Demand high standards

Additional Tips Eliminate unnecessary prepositions Example: The cells respond to foreign proteins by rapidly dividing and starting to produce antibodies reactive to the protein groups that induced their production.

In the presence of foreign proteins, the cells divide rapidly and produce antibodies against those proteins.

Avoid weak verbs Example: The fidelity of DNA replication is dependent on the fact that DNA is a double- stranded polymer held together by weak chemical interactions between the nucleotides on opposite DNA strands.

The fidelity of DNA replication depends on DNA being a double-stranded polymer held together by weak chemical interactions between the nucleotides on opposite DNA strands.

Do not overuse the passive voice Passive: Little is known of the nutritional requirements of these animals. Active: We know little about the nutritional requirements of these animals. Passive: The results were interpreted as indicative of... Active: The results indicated...

Resources Writing in the Sciences: Exploring Conventions of Scientific Discourse by Penrose & Katz (1998) A Short Guide to Writing About Biology by Pechenick (2004)

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