Hi, Catherine and All,
Yes, I love Private Universe, and despite agreeing with much of what Catherine writes below, I would almost always choose to use it. One distinction that may be important here is that I think Private Universe is particularly appropriate for Communicating Ocean Sciences K-12, perhaps, arguably, more appropriate than for COSIA.
Catherine’s point about students tending to focus on the ”bad teacher” is an important one, and I have mixed feelings about it. I’ve used the video more with inservice teachers than with college students, but enough to know that the college students are more likely to default into teacher-bashing. This is never a good thing. However, with some fancy facilitation, I think it’s really important, especially in COS K-12, to have students think about the impact of teaching. In the video, the teacher is actually pretty good, uses models and ”hands-on”, and clearly cares deeply about her students and her practice. But she makes some subtle moves that she is mostly unaware of that actually create barriers to learning. Not a bad thing for students to see before they go into a classroom. Then to Catherine’s point about the need for models of good instruction and the best part of the video being the interview with Heather when the interviewer pushes her to grapple with her own understandings…I think THAT is precisely the model of good instruction that we want to highlight for our students. The interviewer is a more effective teacher than the teacher. The interviewer is asking and probing, kindly demanding explanations, never telling or explaining himself, and never congratulating a ”right answer” or demeaning a ”wrong” one. That is the model for constructivist, inquiry-based instruction we want to point out. When we saw Phil Sadler (and Heather!) speak at NSTA on the 20th Anniversary of the film, he spoke at length about how hard it is to do a good interview, and that in fact, he teaches interviewing skills to his pre-service teachers because it is the heart of good teaching and the most difficult teaching skill to acquire. Heather told us 20 years later that the only thing she remembers from that inconsequential interview that made her a cult hero, is that it was the first time in her education that she didn’t know when she had reached the right answer, which forced her to focus on understanding for herself rather than ”pleasing the teacher.”
The most troubling part of using the video for me, and this is usually more of a problem with teachers than with college students, is that it often raises teachers’ anxiety about students leaving their class with ”misconceptions.” We have struggled with many groups of teachers who have concluded that they must spend more time correcting students’ misconceptions, that the film proves that they don’t have time for all those messy discussions, they just have to tell students the right answers more often to ensure that they get it. Some teachers have even told us that the discussions and meaning making is the source of the misconceptions, that the more you let students think, the more screwed up they get and the more they teach each other wrong ideas. It takes some extended discussion to come back around to the notion that students have these ideas (their private universes) in their heads anyway, and the only issue is, do you, the teacher, want to know about them or pretend they don’t exist? I think it’s critical to be confronted with evidence that students don’t always learn what their teachers teach! On all of our surveys of college students at the beginning of the COS course, the most notable finding (to me, anyway) is that our students think that the best way for someone to understand a complex concept is to be provided with a clear explanation of that concept. Oh, if it were so easy!
Anyway, despite any of the intellectual subtleties of the pros and cons of using the video, despite how well or poorly it highlights more current research, etc., the real reason I like the video is because it never fails to provoke a superb class discussion, and beyond even that, Heather is MY cult hero. I love watching her think.
Now, I also want to say, that when I watch Catherine Halversen teach the moon balls/phases of the moon activity, I see no reason to show the video. She is so skilled, that every student in the class becomes Heather, and being Heather is better than watching her. Save the minutes.
So, my conclusion: I lean more toward using Private Universe in COS K-12 than in COSIA, and if I use it, I make sure to provide plenty of time for discussion after the video to make sure we can explore some of the more challenging directions that it can take a group. If I don’t have the time to use it in that thoughtful, reflective way, I don’t think it’s a problem not to use it.
Thanks for the opportunity to hash through this. As usual, when you come to Lawrence Hall of Science, no answers are forthcoming!