Reflections on reading the transcript of David Hestenes’ Lectures

by Cindy Hunt, Decatur, AL.

 (Cindy was a young teacher when she took Leadership Modeling Workshops in 1995-97 at ASU. She heard David Hestenes give his day-long interactive lecture in summer 1997; and she read the transcript in 2001 and wrote her insightful reflections. As of 2013, she has widened her practice to include English language learners and she has become a state leader.)


Hestenes Lecture:  Part 1 -  Expertise, and Teaching FCI Significance

I remember this lecture.  I remember feeling very confused and inadequate as a teacher.  Rereading the lecture notes and reflecting over the last three years, the evolution in my teaching is evident.


Someone once told me that teaching was the easiest job in the world, if you committed to doing only a halfway decent job.  Since being introduced to modeling, I can see so many instances in teaching where “the method” is truly only “madness”.  The idea of “deliberate practice” is so necessary.  As teachers, we must be sure that our plan is deliberately written to focus on the concept and eliminate distraction.


In open class discussion, I once posed three questions:  “What are the characteristics of ‘good students’?”  “How do you know when you have ‘learned’?”  “What kind of student are you?”  To each question, students tied success in math to their answer.  Somehow, students have been led to believe that the concepts of math and science are understandable by a few “smart people”.  They are pleasantly surprised to find that the concepts of science are accessible.


When I give the FCI initially, scores are LOW!  Until this year, student scores had always improved by ≥3 questions.  Even students who struggled with the concepts had improved post-test scores!


Most students are able to develop distinguishable concepts of velocity and acceleration as rates of change.  I find that as we progress through the models, model identification lags.  I suspect there may be a “fatigue factor”.



Hestenes Lecture:  Part 2 - Preconceptions

Most teachers would agree that the piecemeal approach has a short-term, answering effect.  True learning - true understanding -  is the result of changed views.  The effect is life-changing.


When students truly understand the little car-big truck problem, the transfer to other situations is inevitable.  Teachers recognize that “doing” is important, but I believe that the purpose of having students “do” experiments eludes most.


Teachers are puzzled by student inability to answer correctly after instruction.  Worksheets are written, lab work performed, homework checked and corrected, yet students’ understanding remains unchanged or non-existent.  I believe most of the work most teachers assign does not result in learning by students.  I believe this to be true K-12+.  I believe most teachers would agree.  However, most would assign blame of failure on the student, rather than evaluate the pedagogy.


Tools - they are the name of the game.  Common methods fail because the tools are wrong for the task.  Additionally, learning takes time, a long time.  We try to require students to become experts, even though asked to use the wrong tools.  The trouble is two-fold: tools and time.


Focusing on the three main misconceptions narrows the scope.  Planning tasks carefully streamlines the process and requires fewer resources.  Given proper tasks, students can develop individual solutions



Hestenes Lecture:  Part 3 - Discourse

Managing the discourse is key to modeling success.  I saw a cartoon on the difference between how dogs and cats hear their master:




Often, I feel that students come to us with these impressions of how teaching is done.  Teachers must break this model.


To students, learning comes from the teacher.  Teachers believe students are vessels or sponges to be filled with knowledge.  The reality is that students must be active to interact with the knowledge.  Teachers must set them up.


After confronting their personal model, students must break their model.  Teachers must provide a suitable alternative, or replacement model.  Discourse is the tool of persuasion.  Teachers must use their expertise to direct the discourse.


Careful direction of discourse must be part of the plan.  Teachers must anticipate misconceptions in preparation for discourse.  Whiteboards can be used to address worksheets, tests, labs . . .  We must focus student attention on the idea that reflection on the ‘wrong’ answer and the reasons for selection can lead to learning.  We cannot allow them to rest comfortably with our concepts.  We must lead them and teach them to develop their concept--with justification.



Hestenes Lecture:  Part 4 - Cognitive Foundations

Metaphors have been used by students to understand the world.  Modeling requires teachers to develop the metaphor as part of model; connecting the metaphor to patterns in real world so that models may be developed.


Teachers must keep major beliefs in mind, always.  Efforts to drive the students to confront their naive beliefs must be made daily.  Opportunities to develop, investigate and analyze patternistic situations.


We must recognize that students’ thoughts about what is heard strikes their metaphors and analogies.  Through modeling, teachers set out to tie everyone’s metaphors to the same realities, (i.e., labs).  Then, discourse can occur.


Teaching students to focus on sameness is key in model development.  We must provide students with tools to determine the scope of a model.  Seeing the limits of a model leads to further development.  Students must be able to evaluate models to determine their usefulness in situations.


I concur with the idea that “The cognitive processes that we use to understand science involve constructing models and comparing structures”.  Recognizing structure is important in understanding physics.



Hestenes Lecture: Part 5 - What Do We Teach?

Students remark that with modeling, they must think to actually learn.  Representing observations requires thinking.  Modeling requires receiving information, forming a mental model and expressing it in a number of ways.  Students learn to translate internal representations into external representations.


Inventing meaning is what all teaching seeks to accomplish.  So many traditional activities disallow given opportunities to develop analogies.  A teacher’s job then becomes a facilitator in agreement.  As analogies are drawn, teachers must ensure that the correct external representations arise.  Modeling provides a structure in which teaching and learning can occur.


Use of tools, such as computers, can be used to further commonality of representation.  Additionally, time can be used more effectively for analysis of meaning and clarifying expression.


Once students are armed with conceptual models, as well as model developing tools, they can successfully play the ‘science game’.  Models can be built for any patternistic phenomena encountered.


Revisiting the definition of a model and the four inherent components brings order to lesson planning.  Just as modeling drives students back to clear expression, including the four components in lesson plans drives teachers back to the ideas of reform teaching.


Recognition of schema in modeling causes students to focus on the “action”.  Systems of schema must be identified by teachers!