Imagine two balloons connected by a tube clamped shut in the middle. One balloon is three-quarters inflated, the other only a quarter. What will happen when you remove the clamp?
If you’re like 99 percent of us, you answered that the larger balloon will deflate and the smaller balloon will inflate until the two balloons are equal in size. In fact, just the opposite happens, something most people find difficult to envision.
“Of course everybody knows this balloon must have more pressure because it’s bigger, and bigger is stronger so it’s going to inflate the smaller balloon,” School of Education Professor Thomas O’Brien says. “Everybody knows that. But it’s not true.”
That’s a discrepant event. Teachers, like all leaders, challenge untested “common sense” that can lead to inaccurate predictions and unanticipated outcomes.
Over the past 18 months, O’Brien authored a three-book series that teaches science educators and curriculum developers to use discrepant events as visual participatory analogies for key principles of cognitive learning theory. Effective teachers and other educational leaders take into account how the brain actively constructs understanding. “Knowledge,” he says, “cannot be simply transmitted by teachers who ‘have more’ and passively received by learners who ‘have less.’”
This year, Binghamton’s Educational Leadership Certificate of Advanced Studies program awarded O’Brien a grant to present his ideas on research-informed teaching at the National Science Teachers Association conference, which is attended by 15,000 science teachers and teacher-educators.
“The Gaffney Foundation travel award allowed me to present at one of the premier science education leadership and professional development conferences,” he says. “As teacher-educators, we must ‘walk the talk’ as we seek to disseminate best practices. My conference presentations and science education and educational leadership courses at Binghamton model my books’ focus on inquiry-based, constructivist teaching and learning.”