Reconceptualizing pedagogy as middle school students apprentice as paleoanthropologists
Beall, Seri Chapman
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My study (1) investigated the views and abilities that emerged when 7th grade students apprenticed as paleoanthropologists using 3-D, extinct, hominin skull replicas, (2) explored how my conceptions of the teaching and learning of human evolution changed as I engaged in teacher research, and (3) produced recommendations for an improved, empirically based, human evolution curriculum after an analysis of student and teacher data. Teacher research framed my study, as the data emerged from the organic setting of my 7th grade life science classroom, emancipating both teacher and student voices with the intention of influencing other concerned practitioners and policy makers. The prolonged and privileged access to my research setting provided flexibility in implementing a comprehensive, three-week curriculum intervention, rendering a rich data set toward trustworthy and viable findings. The curriculum design concept of backwards design drove all teaching and learning toward capstone events—students approximating the work of expert paleoanthropologists to recreate hominin life histories and phylogenies. Two scaffolding units (one developing normative views of the Nature of Science, and one developing skills in the art of observing extant mammalian skulls to infer life histories) provided frameworks for subsequent inquiries during the human evolution unit. This study provided important insights as the first study to empirically measure outcomes of a human evolution curriculum with middle school students, and through the lens of teacher research.