Friday, June 3, 2011

Flow into the Rainbow

I've been having conversations with a graduate student here about student engagement. In particular, we've been discussing the concept of flow. Flow is a psychological construct that is meant to capture the feeling of being fully immersed, focused, and engaged in what one is doing.

There are many aspects to flow, but some that stand out for me are the following:
  • loss of self-consciousness
  • high levels of concentration
  • intrinsically rewarding
  • absorption into the activity
  • distorted sense of time
This graduate student is interested in investigating how it is that college physics students experience flow (in various instructional environments), and what that might have to do with learning, persistence, and attitudes toward science.

This past semester, students enrolled in my seminar on "science teaching and learning" seemed to have had one collective flow experience that has really stuck with (many of) them, and consequently, it has stuck with me. It was a discussion around the question, "Is every color in the rainbow?" If you are curious, this activity has a facilitators guide written by Leslie Atkins and Irene Salter over at SGSI.

Certainly, from my perspective the lesson seemed very fun and engaging. But it was also engaging enough that, apparently, several random groups of people walking by the classroom stopped to watch for some period of time. Of course, we were so engaged in our own discussion that we didn't notice, but in the following days, several faculty in the department commented about it or asked what that class was about. The students in my class also spontaneously wrote about it in their weekly reflections; brought it up in the course feedback; and talked about it in exit interviews at the end of the semester (with a 3rd person).

That same day, after the Rainbow discussion, we had a discussion about what makes for a good science conversation. And this is what they came up with:
  • having relevant everyday experiences to draw on
  • having a diversity of opinions and people
  • having a culture of trust (already established)
  • having fun and laughing
  • being challenged
  • making progress, getting somewhere
  • feeling like part of a group but also an individual
  • listening and sharing, not just waiting to talk
It is certainly a very interesting list. I love that they have included having fun and even laughing as important to a good science discussion. Apparently, the balance between "being challenged" and "making progress" has a lot to do with flow, at least according to what I've read. It's also interesting to think about how much they valued each other: "feeling like part of a group", "having a culture of trust", "listening and sharing", "having a diversity of opinions and people". It makes me think that they were not just immersed into the activity, but they were immersed into each other, because each of them were so integral to the activity. Lastly, the idea that "everyday experience" makes for a good science discussion would make many of colleagues smile.

I'm interested to know what everyone thinks their students would say to the question, "What makes for a good science conversation?"

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