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Symbolic Interactionism in Chemistry Education Research. Dawn Del Carlo University of Northern Iowa 19 th BCCE, Purdue University Aug 2, 2006. Brief History and Schools of Thought. Grounded in elements of the sociological theories of George Herbert Mead (Chicago, 1863-1931).

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Symbolic interactionism in chemistry education research l.jpg

Symbolic Interactionism in Chemistry Education Research

Dawn Del Carlo

University of Northern Iowa

19th BCCE, Purdue University

Aug 2, 2006


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Brief History and Schools of Thought

  • Grounded in elements of the sociological theories of George Herbert Mead (Chicago, 1863-1931).

  • Student of Mead, Herbert Blumer, coined the phrase “symbolic Interaction”.

  • Focus here will be on Mead’s Chicago School of thought but others exist:

    • Manford Kuhn, Old Iowa School

    • Carl Couch, New Iowa School

    • Sheldon Stryker, Indiana School


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Goals of Symbolic Interactionism

  • Main goal is to understand how people act based on the definitions and meanings they hold of the world around them.

  • Three premises:

    • Humans act toward objects on the basis of the meanings these objects have for them.

    • Meanings evolve from social interaction.

    • Meanings are established and modified through an interpretive process


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Assumptions

  • Ontological (Assumptions about reality)

    • Reality is socially constructed and constantly changing (interpretivism)

    • An individual’s reality is based on what is found to be “useful” (pragmatism)

  • Behavioral

    • Somewhat behavioristic in nature but not based on instinct

    • Behavior instead results from an interpreted meaning which is then further constructed through the social interaction of that behavior.


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Methods Appropriate to Symbolic Interaction

  • Participant Observation

    • Critical to documenting the observed behavior within the social interaction

    • Challenge is to become part of the group enough to understand it as a “native” but yet also be able to step back and describe to others.

  • Interviews and Collected Artifacts

    • Used to supplement the observations and uncover the underlying meanings behind the observed behaviors.


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Data Analysis

  • Grounded Theory/Inductive Analysis

    • Use collected data as starting point for the generation of theory

    • Preliminary data dictate the direction of future data collection so must be analyzed as it is collected

    • Not used to pin-point what to observe, only to suggest in which direction to look


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Criticisms

  • Social Construction of Meaning

    • Little attention paid to psychological phenomema inherent to the individual

    • Treats human emotion, desire, and motives as socially constructed entities (much to Freud and Jung’s dismay)

  • Lack of Generalizability and Bias

    • Socially constructed meanings are contextualized within the specific social event, which is never identically repeated

    • Participant observers may influence interactions to reflect a particular bias and consequently generate different theories


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Potential Educational Benefits of SI Research

  • Classroom climate and culture

  • Pre- and In-Service teacher education programs

  • Culture of science and scientific research


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Selected Examples of Research using SI

  • Pre-Service Preparation

    • Student Teaching Experience (Abell & Roth, 1992; 1994; Southerland & Gess-Newsome, 1999)

      • Focus on pre-service teachers’ understandings and knowledge and how those manifested themselves as behaviors in the classroom during their student teaching

    • Teaching Methods Course (McGinnis & Pearsall, 1998)

      • Examined how outcomes of a methods course were affected by the presence of a male instructor in a class with a predominantly female enrollment.


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Selected Examples of Research using SI

  • In-Service Teacher Practices

    • Focus on connections between teachers’ understandings of science content, pedagogy and pedagogical content and their resultant classroom practices.

      • Beginning teachers (Simmons et. al., 1999; McGinnis et. al. 2004)

      • Specific characteristics of teaching with regard to perceptions of “caring” (Van Sickle & Spector, 1996), sense of professional “self” (Helms, 1998), and experience in literacy (Dillon, et. al., 1994).

    • Curricular reform practices (Gohn 2004)

      • Focus on teacher-teacher interactions within the group


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Selected Examples of Research using SI

  • Student Perspectives of Culture

    • Science Classroom (Smardon, 2004)

      • “street” vs. chemistry classroom code of conduct

    • Science Ed. School-wide (Hyde-Gess-Newsome, 1999)

      • Experiences of female SME majors who persisted in their majors

    • Science as an institution

      • Student perceptions of the “culture” of science with regard to socio-scientific dilemmas (Zeidler, 2002)

      • Compare classroom laboratory with “real” labs (Del Carlo & Bodner, 2004)


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Final Words on Symbolic Interactionism

  • Consider it an exploratory framework

  • Does not offer easy answers or solutions to “fixing” a problem

  • Offers a broad, but not generalizable, understanding of a social context and its existing meanings

  • Once the phenomena are understood, other studies can be used to make appropriate changes in the social meanings and consequently the observed behavior


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Acknowledgements

  • George Bodner

  • MaryKay Orgill

  • Theresa Winge

  • MaryBeth Stalp