Last month, I took a course in narrative economics from Robert Shiller of Yale University in which he explained the importance of interdisciplinary connections in education.
Shiller quoted the 19th century philosopher of science William Huo, who said, “The departmentalization of American universities…deprived institutions of teamwork and intellectual integration. The remedy lies in a more intimate correlation of all departments. Drawing conclusions (and combining methods) from disparate areas can also energize primary and secondary education levels.
When I interviewed Maria Kolovou three years ago, she was using an interdisciplinary approach to schooling that drew on dramatic arts and science to address how students really learn. Like his doctorate. (in teaching and learning, with a specialization in STEM education) on the subject ends this summer, I was eager to know what developments she has since discovered on this subject. Kolovou’s answers follow each question below.
What updates do you have on science teaching methods through theatre?
My work is part of a pedagogy called “theatre in education”, which some also call procedural theatre. The Integrative Dramatic Inquiry (IDI) model I developed is based on the cornerstones of process theater, but is specifically designed for science education. This helps to create ‘as if’ worlds in which students take on the roles of scientists or other experts and engage in dramatic and scientific explorations.
Can you give us an example?
For example, students can go on Darwin’s journey as his assistants, or they can work as historians trying to solve the “mystery” of how Newton developed his theories. Conventions used in the theater, such as the use of props as signs, help establish the dramatic setting. Other dramatic conventions help drive the narrative forward.
As a result, students engage fully – that is, with their body, their emotions, their thinking, their belief system, their whole selves – with the historical events of scientific investigations, and throughout this travel, they also engage with relevant scientific concepts and practices. . Above all, they encounter ethical dilemmas, conflicts and humanistic aspects of scientific practice.
I love that you incorporate the story as well. It reminds me of two books full of dramatic science stories: The structure of scientific revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn in 1962 and, more recently, The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean. I notice that you also integrate the emotions of the students.
Many scholars argue that in education we should consider students as a whole. We cannot separate thought and feeling, cognition and affect. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang has worked extensively to explain in neurobiological terms why students’ emotional experiences impact their learning and why emotions matter, and valuing emotions in education is also important. Dramatization helps to move in this direction. And it does it in a “safe” way. Students can explore different perspectives by playing the role of different characters, but this is an ‘as if’ world.
Can you give us another example?
In one of my projects, students were following Watson and Crick’s steps to discovering the structure of DNA. As the drama unfolded, they discovered that Watson and Crick had used an x-ray photo of a scientist who hadn’t given them permission, and I’m talking about Rosalind Franklin. I know you know this story. At one point, students wrote journal entries in character Rosaline, describing her reaction when she heard the news. Their answers were so precise, like they were really empathetic, the questions they asked, the feelings they revealed.
Incorporating emotion will make these stories more memorable. When I visited my local pharmacy (a well-established chain) recently, I was shocked to see artwork on the wall commemorating the discovery of DNA, attributing it to – and only – Watson and Crick. While it is well established that they used Franklin’s photos and data without his consent.
Memory for history is biased, and incorporating emotions and exercises like this can combat this problem. How easily can teachers without theatrical training establish these “as if” worlds in the classroom?
My studies help me design and develop these programs, but applying the programs is not as difficult or daunting as it may seem. I have worked with teachers in professional development programs when I was working as a science teacher in Greece, and I was surprised at how willing the teachers are to move from being a lecturer to a more playful one.
I have noticed the same with my interactions with teachers here in the United States. Now, I’m not saying it’s an easy business. It needs step-by-step guidance, time, and experimentation in environments that aren’t so constrained by standardized testing or other constraints. For example, I have worked with teachers in STEAM electives at colleges here in the United States. However, I see the potential for more. I see teachers, or some teachers, craving to try something new.
The best teachers regularly use storytelling, as do scientists when sharing their discoveries. Are you somehow merging science and dramatic storytelling?
I like the way you say it, the use of the term “dramatic storytelling”. In fact, many times in the past, scientists have communicated what science means to them by using storytelling to engage the imagination of their audience. Look at Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jane Goodall and Carl Sagan for examples. And notice how, in these cases, the science becomes personal.
Note the “what science meant to them” aspect. We all know how powerful stories are. When science is told through stories, especially through human stories, people can place facts, names, and events, in an order, a timeline, that suddenly makes sense.
In conclusion, what have you learned from your research so far?
Theater as a medium has tremendous motivating power for students. My first published work focused on how students increased their intrinsic motivation through the IDI model. My subsequent projects all focused on seeing how students use their creativity and collaborative creativity when working on theater-related projects and how their science learning is supported.
The results seem impressive for how diligently students investigate science topics when hooked by a dramatic narrative. We also see how willingly students unleash their creative skills, how quickly they progress, what wonderful ideas they reveal, and the connections they make to their real lives.
#Teaching #science #theater