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PER Conference 2008 Invited Sessions

A variety of diversity: Facing higher education's educational challenges

Eric Dey, University of Michigan

First among the many important challenges facing American higher education is the need to improve the effectiveness of our educational programs. Public concern has heightened the sense of urgency for colleges and universities to make progress on improving and measuring educational outcomes, which is made more challenging by the varieties of diversity facing us. Students are more diverse than ever, both in terms of their personal characteristics but also in terms of their abilities, preparation, and expectations.

In order to make sense of the increasing varieties of diversity affecting our postsecondary educational efforts this session will draw upon research from a range of local and national efforts in these areas. One example is ongoing research at the University of Michigan that explores the educational implications of implementing a web-based lecture capture system in large lecture courses. Student use of and reactions to such systems is important, as is the potential to influence course performance for students in general, but also for underrepresented and at-risk student subpopulations. In addition to helping bring our current landscape into focus, the session will identify effective practices as well as continuing challenges to improving educational practice for undergraduate students.

What is Nepantla and How Might it Help Educational Researchers Conceptualize Knowledge for Teaching?

Rochelle Gutiérrez, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

This presentation draws on Latina/Latino studies to offer education a potential framework for reconceptualizing "knowledge" and for engaging teacher candidates in a process that acknowledges the complex identities of students and the power relations they negotiate while in school. Specifically, I use Gloria Anzaldúa's notion of Nepantla--a liminal space that facilitates transformation. In this presentation, I will describe aspects of a model of teacher education I have developed and offer examples of how teacher candidates move through states of what AnzaldĂșa would call ignorance/distancing versus knowledge/connection with others. Finally, I suggest that our work of preparing teachers must help them not only recognize a state of Nepantla (to see and participate in multiple realities) but also come to expect the uneasiness with being in that space, while celebrating its potential to birth new identities and create new (forbidden) knowledges.

Inequities in Physics Access and Enrollment in Urban High Schools

Angela M. Kelly, Lehman College

Despite reports to the contrary, the availability of physics as a course for secondary students is not equitably distributed throughout the U.S. While some schools provide physics access for all, a more common scenario is limited availability to select students. This is particularly true in urban districts, where this study examined access to and availability of high school physics. New York City's secondary schools were surveyed to determine where physics was offered and how many students were enrolled. Statistics were performed to compare differences between physics and non-physics schools. Additionally, organizational factors were examined that relate to physics availability, such as the magnet school configuration, the AP Physics and conceptual physics options, and science curricular sequence. Overall, it was determined that physics availability is limited in NYC schools, a serious inequity that disproportionately affects students of color and poor children. Strategies for improving access and enrollment will be discussed.

A race-identity perspective on mathematics learning and participation

Danny B. Martin, University of Illinois - Chicago

I discuss how race and identity have emerged as primary considerations in my research and teaching. This program spans twenty years and has focused on mathematics learning and participation among African American adults and adolescents in school and non-school contexts. While mainstream mathematics education research has conceptualized learning and participation as cognitive and cultural activities, my work pushes these perspectives to consider mathematics learning and participation as racialized forms of experience; that is, as activities structured by the larger relations and discourses of race that exist in the broader society. For many African American learners, African American identity has served as a marker for degradation in mainstream research and policy contexts. Meanwhile, the concept of race has remained under theorized. One consequence is a widely accepted, yet uncontested, racial hierarchy of mathematical ability that constructs African American learners as mathematically illiterate relative to other learners. My work challenges these constructions.

Impact of chemistry teachers' knowledge and practices on student achievement

Kathryn Scantlebury, University of Delaware

Professional development programs promoting inquiry-based teaching are challenged with providing teachers content knowledge and using pedagogical approaches that model standards based instruction. Inquiry practices are also important for undergraduate students. This talk focuses on the evaluation of an extensive professional development program for chemistry teachers that included chemistry content tests for students and the teachers and the impact of undergraduate research experiences on college students' attitudes towards chemistry. Baseline results for the students showed that there were no gender differences on the achievement test but white students scored significantly higher than non-white students. However, parent/adult involvement with chemistry homework and projects, was a significant negative predictors of 11th grade students' test chemistry achievement score. This talk will focus on students' achievement and attitude results for teachers who are mid-way through the program provide evidence that on-going, sustained professional development in content and pedagogy is critical for improving students' science achievement.

Fostering science learning in diverse urban settings

Kenneth Tobin, Graduate Center of the City, University of New York

A common approach to the teaching of science is to create learning communities around sameness. In such circumstances students who differ from the mainstream are disadvantaged and often are regarded as learning disabled. This paper presents research on the uses of cogenerative dialogue to afford the creation of learning communities in which difference is respected and regarded as a resource for advancing learning of the collective as well as individuals within the collective. I describe what we learned from a five-year longitudinal authentic ethnography in which cogenerative dialogues were used in high schools in the Bronx Borough of New York City to create productive learning environments in which student achievement increased equitably for categories defined by ethnicity, class and native language. The route toward higher achievement was paved by expanded roles for science teachers and students. The ways in which these roles were enacted are described in the paper.