Thursday, June 23, 2005

An email I can't send - but I can post

The setup: S an/d I were asked to be the -ology content teachers for a two-week workshop for middle school and high school teachers on the ology and ology of western Oregon. The idea is that the workshop will both improve the teachers' content knowledge and improve their science teaching skills. This means that our content is supposed to be structured on "inquiry-based learning." Sounds great, right? That and I'll get paid >$2000 for 8 days of contact time. There are two PIs, a science educator and a scientist. The two PIs seem to have their own (acknowledged) communication issues. The day-to-day activities are being coordinated by a science education graduation student, who is wonderful.

The problem: When S and I were recruited we were told that our job was to deliver content, but we were never told what content we were supposed to deliver. Our early meetings had lots of dialog like this:

PI: "As you've seen in the schedule, you'll be doing the ________ activity in Day 2"
Us: "What schedule? We haven't seen one. What sort of ______ activity?"

As we've gotten closer to the workshop (it's next week), most of those issues have been resolved. It turns out that they had a general framework in mind, but not the implementation. So it fell to us to develop lesson plans within that framework, targeted to meet broad objectives in the state science benchmarks for grades 7-12. That leaves a lot of wiggle room for how to actually meet those objectives, even within a framework of inquiry learning. Keep in mind, that we have no training in 1) curriculum development or 2) inquiry learning. When we've brought that up, it's been summarized as "treat the students as a blank slate. in inquiry learning the idea is to let them explore a subject, form their own questions, and then give them the content" That's it.

So S and I have been working remarkably hard (forsaking our other committments) to develop curriculum for this workshop. I've spent the 6 days working full time on this (never mind I'm not getting paid). As I finished a piece of curriculum I would send it the science education grad student and get feedback from her.

On Monday, I got ambushed by the scientist PI (who got ambused by the ed PI) about why I hadn't been showing them the content that I was developing. So I figured, "OK, you didn't ask for it, but here you go" and I sent off what I'd developed.

Crisis: Yesterday around noon, I sent off the last piece of material for day 2 (of 4 days we need to finish by this evening). The science ed PI emailed back an hour or two later with some comments on the material and a request as to why I had scheduled the activities in a particular order and how I thought that such-and-such a piece was meeting the objectives. Never mind that I hadn't made the schedule, and that the piece in question is one that was suggested to me originally and was used last year. So, being a good professional, I wrote a calm email back (to all involved parties) and defended the status quo. I pointed out that, furthermore, I didn't have time to make major changes now, or the rest of the days wouldn't get finished.

The first round of reprecussions: At 5 yesterday, I got an email back from the science PI saying "Superb answer. Stick to your guns!" At 5:30, I got an email back from the education PI saying "I don't think you would really need to change anything if we rearranged the order of things." I disagree, because I need to teach the teachers how to read the graphs before I ask them to spend 2 hours interpreting them, but I decided it wasn't worth replying. And I went home for the day and came in this morning enthused about moving onto day 3.

The second round of reprecussions: At 9:30 this morning, I got another email from the education PI, saying that I had no basis for using the phrase "blank slate" because nobody came in as a blank slate. Recall, that the phrase was borrowed the education people in the first place. She concluded by bluntly stating that the schedule would be rearranged whether I liked it or not.

Next Steps: Science PI says "good job stick to your guns" while education PI tells me I'm fucking up. How am I supposed to take that? Especially in the context of not getting paid for the curriculum development in the first place, and this being the last day I can work on this stuff. It's taking all my ability to be a grownup not to send back a really nasty email to the education PI. But I know I'll say something in a way that I regret, even if the sentiment is genuine. And, frankly, I don't have the energy to continue the discussion. After all, I've still got two days of curriculum to finish and only 6 hours to do it in.

I'll keep you posted on any future developments.

No comments: