Interview by Lucinda Presley
The Collaborative’s Research Thought Leaders help provide the strong foundation upon which the Collaborative’s work rests. Each Thought Leader is nationally and internationally recognized in his/her own field and brings an extensive depth of experience and expertise. They also are adept at working across disciplines.
A Thought Leader and their work are featured in each Collaborative newsletter. In this issue, we visit with Hubert Dyasi, Ph.D., whose research in the teaching and learning of science, including the inquiry process, helps inform the work of the Collaborative. Hubert—now retired—was a professor of science education at the City College, City University of New York (CUNY). He is widely known for his teaching of science in pre-college education in the United States and Africa (see the “Curiosity Leads to Science Education Centers across Africa” article elsewhere in this newsletter)
Tell us about your work in helping develop the inquiry process in science education.
Hubert: In our initial work in Africa, my colleagues at MIT, at the Education Development Center in Massachusetts, and in Africa saw that African elementary school students were curious about the science of phenomena of nature. But they were being taught science as a set of isolated facts and knowledge. The students could answer the science questions correctly but couldn’t connect their answers to real-world phenomena. We sought to address that curiosity in science and connect it to the real world. However, there were no materials to guide the teachers in addressing this. Teachers were used to teaching through memorization. Also, there were no existing examples of how to implement inquiry-based science learning on a broad scale.
So, we first trained teachers, immersing them in this process before they worked with their students. To make this program more broadly available, we then developed teacher guides, using familiar materials for the teachers to use in helping their students explore the world around them from a scientific point of view. We made these guides interesting and exciting. We made lots of videos to accompany those guides. We also worked with pre-service teachers to help them be able to use inquiry in their classrooms. We then convinced African countries that this was of great benefit to their students and developed a network of science centers in those countries that could help implement this program. I was Executive Director of that program, Science Education Program in Africa, for 8 years, and it is still thriving today.
How did your position at CUNY impact your work?
Hubert: From my experiences in Africa, I continued to want to transform what the teachers were doing in the classroom. I wanted to work in places where there was a real need. I saw that in New York, there were teachers with the same needs as the teachers in Africa. I knew that the teachers had to first experience inquiry for themselves. This would reduce their fear of teaching science. So, I looked upon the New York City School Districts as education centers like in Africa, so I worked through those centers to research and share the work. I used naturalistic research where, instead of having controlled experiences, we documented whether what we were seeing in the classrooms was approaching the criteria we had set up as good practices. The teachers had to document their observations, also. We had to be very clear about what we were looking for in good classroom inquiry practice and in student learning. So, a great deal of the research was qualitative. We did, however, get quantitative data from the number of quality experiences for the students and the volume of experiences the students experienced. We found that a continuous approach was more important than the number of experiences the students had. We also had success implementing this across disciplines at City College.
What have you discovered in your research and in your other work that points to the importance of the Collaborative?
Hubert: The most important link is the approach to teaching and learning, focusing on the interaction between the teacher and the student and among students, themselves. There also is the shared importance of representation, whether it’s in science or through the arts. In science, this representation is often visual – such as through pictures, charts, and diagrams; it is also mathematical, showing quantitative relations and patterns. Another element not stressed in science is imagination. That’s how scientists can move from data to generalizations to modeling. Visualization and imagination are important in helping students “see” science ideas, such as “seeing” perpetual motion by visualizing the path of a baseball that has been hit where there is no gravitational or other external force.
How do you see the Thought Leaders and the Collaborative benefitting from their work together?
Hubert: The Collaborative is helping move the science field forward through the teaching of science. It is promoting the abilities of being curious and questioning about a phenomenon, paying close attention to the details of the phenomenon and how it changes, then identifying patterns. The Collaborative is promoting these abilities through promoting visual observation that includes meaning. This leads to an understanding of patterns and the creation of mental models of our world, which is what science does.
My work with the Collaborative also is helping me make connections around what I know. It has broadened my view of the connectedness among the arts and science fields, which is very important to me. Also, the Collaborative is developing an understanding of what good teaching practice is at the arts, science, humanities intersections. It is providing rubrics to help teachers develop those practices. As in inquiry, the Collaborative is developing abilities that involve thought processes, such as the abilities to ask questions, to plan, to observe, and to infer.
This, like inquiry, is taking the learning experience beyond the mechanical “skills” that don’t involve thinking into the realm of deeply processing information. This has been the intent of inquiry all along.