An arts-based narrative inquiry into co-planning and teaching elementary science using the visual arts
Calkin, Jamie B.
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Educational researchers are frequently called upon as “experts” to improve instruction in school-university partnerships. With new methodologies and more hands-on approaches, researchers are able to co-teach with classroom teachers. At the same time that classroom teachers are asked to collaborate and teach in new and meaningful ways, they are under increasing pressure to improve students’ test scores. This study took place in the context of a fifth grade classroom in one such university-school partnership, in which a university researcher collaborated with a classroom teacher to explore what happened when they developed and implemented arts-based science units. The research focused on teacher-learning as they co-planned and co-taught three units which centered on the use of drawing and painting to teach science. As a culminating activity following instructional units on oceanography and landforms, student and researcher artwork was displayed in an exhibition at a nearby university. An opening reception allowed students to share their work with parents, teachers, and university partners. Using arts-based narrative methods, data collected included daily audiotaped conversational interviews and teaching interactions; sketch, dialog, and audio journals; student and researcher artwork; digital photos; and archival data. Specific findings were drawn from narrative analysis (writing stories) and analysis of narratives (coding texts and generating tensions) to construct schematic narrative templates. The findings are presented as teacher cases and touchstone narratives which incorporate tensions such as “less is more,” the connections and disconnects in teaching science using art, and shifting roles as we searched for the best ways to teach students. Three schematic narrative templates which comprise the second part of the findings were constructed through a theoretical lens which compared Dewey with Vygotsky while applying ‘art experiences’ to science education. The templates are underlying claims and tensions that explain much about the way the specific narratives were told and the research experienced. They include differing views of science, contrasting researcher epistemologies (consistent with Vygotsky’s and Dewey’s), and collaborating and co-teaching successfully within the context of these differences. Conclusions are drawn from educational literature and implications are described for university researchers, science teacher educators and elementary science teachers.