University Scientists and Mathematicians Talk About The `Others' Discipline:
An Examination of the Role of Discourse Among Professors Involved in A Collaborative Mathematics/Science Teacher Preparation

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J.Randy McGinnis, University of Maryland at College Park

Tad Watanabe, Towson State University

Paper prepared for the regional meeting of the National Science Teachers Association, Baltimore, Maryland, November 16--18, 1995.

The preparation of this material was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (Cooperative Agreement No. DUE 9255745)


The notion of 'collaboration' has become an important idea in the field of education. A number of recent studies have investigated the classroom culture with an underlying assumption that learning/teaching is a collaborative effort involving teachers and students (e.g., Cobb, Wood, Yackel, & McNeal, 1992). This development is consistent with the basic premises of the social constructivist perspective of learning/teaching, which has become widely accepted.

Because teacher development is also a process of learning/teaching, and because being a teacher involves a wide range of knowledge (Shulman, 1987), 'collaboration' is crucial. A number of recent reform documents (e.g., AAAS, 1994; NCTM, 1991) call for collaborations among universities/colleges/community colleges, K-12 schools, business, and government agencies in preparing future teachers. Since 1993, the National Science Foundation has awarded several highly funded grants to the projects which aim to reform teacher education programs under the program, Collaborative for Excellence in Teacher Preparation.


In this case study, a discourse analysis is performed on conversations among inter-
institutions university mathematicians and scientists participating in reforming content classes for teacher candidates in the Maryland Collaborative for Teacher Preparation (MCTP) an NSF funded project. Discourse as used in this study is defined as the dynamic interplay of dialogue between individuals that includes the use of rules developed by certain rules of people (Gee, 1990). The focus on discourse in this study is the result of recent theoretical views that stress the importance of the environment in which members of a community communicate (Greeno, 1991; Rogoff, 1990). Conversations or `talk' is recognized as a particularly revealing resource in analyzing social interactions for patterns that can promote sense making of a community (Lemke, 1990; McCarthy, 1994). Talking' is a communicative event in which the conversants collaborate in constructing a social text and an academic text simultaneously (Green, Weade, & Graham, 1988). The social text is the agreed upon rules and purposes for the social interactions. The academic text is the content of the discussion.

In this study, content expertise and an interest in reforming content classes for teacher candidates defined membership in either the science teacher preparation speech community or the mathematics teacher preparation speech community. Sharing ideas on the integration of mathematics and science in MCTP undergraduate content classes served as the purpose of the social text. The content of the discussion varied in the two speech communities but one consensus theme emerged: a recognized need to go beyond the connections of each content and to gain insight into the nature of the `others' discipline expertise by direct collaboration with an expert in the others content. "The new vision of the teaching of science and mathematics "(mathematician, conversation 6/10/95) required this. The experience of searching for this assistance among the usual members of the content speech community proved to be deficient in supplying the depth of understanding of the others' content which they felt should distinguish a truly integrated mathematics/science content class. Spurred on by this realization as a result of a newly formed inter-institutional dialogue, pioneers in the separate speech communities boldly made plans to create an intra-institutional dialogue with other pioneers from the other content speech community. A critical implication of this study is the role of dialogue in both inter- and intra-institutional to promote collaboration between mathematics and science content professors involved in teacher preparation.


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