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Using students' prior knowledge/experience as a foundation for a specific activity

Developed by: Jennifer Husman, Mary Anne Holmes, Merry Wilson, Jim McDougall, Nicole LaDue, Annia Fayon
Developed at the 2008 workshop, The Role of Metacognition in Teaching Geoscience.

For population: Science-phobic population

Description of the tactic:
The main point of the tactic is getting the science phobic student to explore. An experiment or situation is set up that allows the students to make assumptions, ask questions, test questions, modify assumptions, and form interpretations. Students further communicate 'findings' with peers and modify interpretations based on communications. The bottom line - the activity facilitates an understanding of the scientific method with a foundation in prior knowledge.

How and why this tactic is particularly useful for the given population:
Phobia is an emotional response to a particular situation and for the science phobic student, this means the student know and is certain he/she will fail at science. The challenge here is that students think 'scientists are born and not made'. This presents a challenge as the phobia goes to the students' very own identity. To help students overcome this phobia, activities need to be designed such that a student has a very high probability of success. Using students' prior knowledge will give them the confidence necessary to succeed. This tactic makes the unknown know.

Example of how the population would use this tactic:
The activity should engage students in observations.

Thing in the box: Each student is given a box containing an object and is then asked to figure out what is in the box. Students are prompted to consider type materials, size, weight, shape, and number of objects. After the first round of interpretations, students combine knowledge to refine predictions. At the conclusion, students give their reasoning for what they think is in the box, but the answer is never given. There is an explicit comparison between the process students experience and the scientific process. By not providing a final answer, students are left with a sense of ambiguity that often comes with scientific inquiry.

Natural disasters: Students are asked to shout out types natural disasters that are likely to cause harm, damage, or even death. Students are then given a map of the US and are asked to pick the 'safest' place to live. In small group discussions, students are asked to support their decision, and then negotiate with peers to arrive at a consensus. Arguing their position requires that students provide their definitions of 'safe' and 'disaster'. Each group presents their decisions with clear statements of why a particular place was chosen. In the end, this activity is compared with the scientific method in that decisions are based on both prior knowledge and acquired knowledge from their peers.

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