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Research in Science Learning

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Research in Science Learning

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Dr. Stewart is interested in working with students from any science, mathematics, or psychology major interested in questions about how students learn. You do not have to be an education major, but this work is particularly well-suited for students interested in K-12 or college teaching.

Communities of Practice
Evidence for the positive impact of learning in community both for students and for professionals is emerging at an increasing rate. People have always engaged in social learning, but its treatment as a theoretical framework for learning is a more recent phenomenon that has been developed by Etienne Wenger and others. Wenger starts with the assumption that “engagement in social practice is the fundamental process by which we learn and so become who we are.” (Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Etienne Wenger, Cambridge, 1998.) The Stewart group is using the theoretical framework developed by Wenger and others to study the impact of an existing community of practice, IONiC, on faculty professional practice. In other words, we are addressing the question “Can participation in a community of practice improve a faculty member’s teaching and scholarship?”

Interdisciplinary Learning in Science
Currently, the Stewart group is interested in the question of how students develop their abilities to address real, complex, science-rich problems. Many important societal issues such as climate change are deeply rooted in science and technology. It is important that students, as our future leaders, understand the science behind these problems. But more importantly, students must develop an understanding of the production and nature of scientific knowledge (how do we know what we know?) so they can be critical consumers of emerging science knowledge.

One approach to these questions in the Stewart group involves the development and testing of case studies that address important science questions. The case studies are interdisciplinary and investigative. Investigative means that the students participating in the case study must develop their own research question to pursue. In other words, they "make" new science knowledge, and thus in a hands-on fashion, learn something about the production of science knowledge.

Climate Change and Science Learning
In order to be able to use science knowledge to address complex, societal issues, students must be able to integrate knowledge from many different disciplines with their own beliefs and values. This integration process typically involves making creative cognitive, affective, and social "moves." In my general education class on abrupt climate change, I am studying the integrative and creative moves that students make. On-going data analysis involves both quantitative survey data and qualitative student writing samples.

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