Scholarly article on topic 'Civic Education for Sustainable Development'

Civic Education for Sustainable Development Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Academic research paper on topic "Civic Education for Sustainable Development"

Discourse and Communication for Sustainable Education, vol. 1, 2010

DOI: 10.2478/dcse-2013-0001

SUSTAINING SELF-REGULATED STUDENTS'

LEARNING THROUGH INQUIRY-DRIVEN MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE INSTRUCTION

Helen Gerretson

University of South Florida, USA

Dzintra Ilisko

Daugavpils University, Latvia

Carol Fortino

University of Colorado, USA

Abstract

The term sustainability is often only applied to environmental and community issues. Yet to redefine education, the term can also be applied to creating an atmosphere in the classroom that promotes independent skills and attitudes that can sustain the need for lifelong learning. It is a given that teachers are under pressure to cover mandated curriculum standards so that students meet learning expectations. However, students are concerned about having relevant experiences that bridge the classroom and the real world. One way to promote these connections is to create a sustainable classroom community through the teaching of self-regulated learning (SRL) skills. We present research data that describe practical self-regulated learning strategies for students and documents outcomes and impacts related to teacher professional development. The research was carried out in Latvia using the global curricular topic - patterns in nature. University professors, pre-service and in-service teachers attended an initial workshop where they were introduced to several mathematical and scientific inquiry-driven instructional strategies. A number of classroom K-12 teachers volunteered to allow their observations and reflections to be collected, translated and analysed throughout the academic year. Many of those teachers posited that their students were hesitant to monitor their own learning, rationalizing that it was due to their student's undeveloped metacognitive abilities. To assist the teachers, the researchers created a hierarchical guide, entitled Learning Evaluation Guide for Understanding Progress (LEG-UP) to go with SRL. The guide monitors the levels of sustained motivation and inquiry-driven activities by their students in science and mathematics. This paper addresses: 1) background for the research and the workshop of Patterns in Nature; 2) methodology of the research; 3) understanding self regulated learning; 4) development of the LEG-UP Guide; 5) data analysis and recommendations.

Key words: sustainability, self-regulated learning, inquiry-based teaching, science, mathematics

Background for the research and workshop: Patterns in nature

The Latvia and USA collaboration reported in this paper was premised on a previous collegial effort among two USA university professors, in cooperation with several Daugavpils University faculty members, who organized a series of one-day teacher professional development workshops for mathematics and science teachers. The main objective of this continued international study in the following year was to better understand global similarities of how the professional development of mathematics and science teacher educators can be redefined in light of increased pedagogical knowledge and inquiry-driven instruction strategies. University administrators, college professors, pre-service and in-service teachers attended the environmental workshops. In addition, it was important to track the extent to which participants sustained the use of the new strategies over the academic year. Therefore, classroom teachers volunteered to be part of the research.

The initial workshop focused on the universal theme - patterns in nature (Cobern, Gibson, & Underwood, 1999). Workshop topics addressed Nature's scientific patterns as seen in seashells, animals and plants, as well as mathematical patterns of minimal surfaces of bubbles, Fibonacci numbers and the Golden Ratio. These topics advanced the Latvian National Standards for Basics of Technology and Science (2006) which require primary schools to provide opportunities for acquiring the basic knowledge about regularities of mathematics and natural sciences and the understanding of the wholeness of nature, encompassing Mathematics, Nature studies, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography and Instructional technology.

The researchers posited that students' natural curiosity and imagination about nature can be stimulated on the way to the classroom when Mother Nature's sense of beauty is found in rich colour patterns and repeated shapes, such as honeycombs with their regular hexagons, patterns on shells and leaves and ripple patterns in sand. However, once in school, teachers often ostracize such connections about Nature by teaching definitive science concepts and/or abstract mathematical procedures. Neither formulas in mathematics nor scientific principles and facts can reveal the extreme diversity and similarities found in the artefacts of nature. To address this disconnection between school-based instruction and a real world context, teachers can use Nature's patterns as starting points to engage students in critical thinking and decision-making using the theory of self-regulated learning.

Methodology of the research

Methodology

To put the theory of teaching about SRL into the context of activities associated with the Patterns in Nature workshop, two major qualitative questions were posed for research:

1. To what extent does a one-day, intensive workshop, using a translator from Latvian to English, result in point-in-time outcomes that evidence changes in inquiry-based, context-driven strategies for classroom teachers of mathematics and science in a host country?

2. To what extent does a year-long follow-up provide evidence of long-term impacts on teacher practice and beliefs regarding an inquiry approach to teaching and an awareness of the teacher's own self-regulated learning, as well as their students' abilities for SRL?

Participants

Workshops were held at the Daugavpils University campus, the Daugavpils State Gymnasium and university outreach towns of Dobele, Madona and Rezekne. The attendees of the workshops were classroom teachers working with kindergarten to undergraduate students. All attendees of the workshops completed the survey. Workshop volunteers participated in the academic year interviews.

Procedure

A survey was distributed to the teachers at the beginning of the workshop that they filled in during the course of the workshop. The survey solicited information about which activities were similar to those they already used, which activities were new and how those would fit into their mandated curriculum. At the end of the daylong workshops, volunteers were solicited to participate in the long-term study during the academic school year and informed that they would be interviewed about their use of the Patterns of Nature workshop materials and instructional strategies of SRL, especially in reference to integration into their normal teaching schedule. Out of one hundred and twenty three workshop research participants, thirty volunteered for the long-term study. Of those thirty volunteers, twenty-five were interviewed on three occasions. In addition to quantitative data from the surveys, qualitative responses were collected using the interview questions:

1. How do you evaluate what you have learned at the workshop after using the activities in your classroom?

2. What are your reflections about advantages for learners and yourself for incorporating new methodologies in your teaching practice?

Understanding self-regulated learning (SRL)

The audience was introduced to the theory of self-regulated learning (Paris & Winograd, 2001) as a way to motivate learners to become independent and self-directed. SRL promotes the aim of education as a life-long endeavour as students are taught skills for taking more personal interest in their learning subjects than are in the mandated curriculum and to extend that motivation for learning more about various investigations in mathematics and science. Teachers were encouraged to use this method as a way to create a sustainable classroom community of self-regulated learners.

Research on students' regulation of their learning activities was initiated by social cognitive theorist Bandura (1986) who stated that students themselves can activate and sustain cognition and can direct their own learning. By filtering, analysing, recognizing and transforming information, learners create new information. According to Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons (1989), self-regulated learners are intrinsically motivated, able to select strategically, can structure environments that optimize their learning processes. SRL cannot be perceived as a list of steps to follow or certain strategies to apply. It can be viewed as a complex set of dynamic actions, such as setting up appropriate goals chosen by the individual learner, time and resource management, setting priorities, overcoming obstacles and persisting to task completion, reviewing one's learning, reviewing the approach or a strategy and even starting anew (Butler & Winne, 1995). The complexity of the interconnectivity of various aspects of SRL does not allow assessing separately each of the components listed below.

• Motivation - that which assists learners to monitor one's learning.

• Epistemic beliefs - that which learners believe about the nature of learning.

• Metacognition - that which provides learners with the knowledge to chose the appropriate learning strategies.

• Prior-knowledge - that which the student brings to the classroom.

SRL represents the highest form of cognitive engagement and is epitomized by the task appropriate use of information acquisition and transformation skills, as well as metacognitive processes. Corno and Mandinach (1983) define SRL as an effort to deepen and manipulate the associative network in a particular area and to monitor and improve this process. Boekaerts (1997) also defines SRL as a complex, interactive process involving motivational, as well as cognitive aspects, which can be seen as consisting of levels of goals, strategies and is domain specific. Furthermore, Boekaerts (1999) provides a very clear picture of the regulatory mechanisms involved in SRL and points to three systems which are involved in SRL: the regulation of the self (choice of goals and resources), the regulation of the learning processes (use of metacognitive knowledge and skills to direct one's learning) and the regulation of information processing modes. As the literature suggests, self-regulated learning is influenced by environmental (the aggregate of cultural and social conditions surrounding an individual) and personal (the compilation of an individual character, conduct and motives) factors (Bandura, 1986).

It is understood that classroom teachers in many countries are under pressure to assure instruction has covered curriculum standards so that students show proficiency on summative assessments. With mandated curricula standards in place, learners are required to know and be able to demonstrate workmanship skills, such as setting goals, seeking help, evaluating one's own performance, using available resources, in addition to revising and correcting work. However, global changes in social structures and work activities reflect the need to evaluate teaching pedagogy, thereby making self-directed learning an unavoidable issue for teachers. Educators can refine their teaching by presenting interesting problems for investigation, not only in the immediate lesson, but also with extensions that can be carried out by students because of their own sustained interest. Students may then become self-motivated to know their own possibilities and limitations in order to control and adjust their learning process for the task's objectives.

For teachers who have learned strategies of SRL and have attempted to incorporate it into their classroom instruction, the main difficulties they reflect on are letting the learners set their own learning goals. This becomes not only a time and classroom management issue, but also one of relinquishing traditional teacher control. Most teachers have been accustomed to setting the learning goals, sequencing their curriculum materials in a linear manner and leading their students through lessons in a lock-step manner (Ilisko, 2007; Salite & Pipere, 2006). With implementation of inquiry-driven instruction, classroom management becomes more complicated when students have a choice of how to investigate the topic and the teacher takes on the role of guiding the learners and helping them to organize their knowledge. However, contextually based lessons present opportunities for teachers to support students' self-regulation and consider all the components of self-regulated learning in action.

The impetus to focus on contextualized learning was brought about by the researchers pondering whether mathematics teachers ever review science facts and if science teachers ever explain the background mathematics that might intrigue students to further investigate topics taught in class. The same kind of concern is expressed in teaching of scientific and mathematical principles (Camazine, 1993). One example from the Patterns

in Nature workshop that both teachers of science and mathematics can use with their mandated curriculum is the nautilus, one of the oldest living fossils. Students taking the course "Integrated Science" may learn that the nautilus has a shell composed of two layers separated into chambers. As the nautilus matures, its body moves forward, sealing the chamber behind it. In a mathematics course, students can look at a cross-sectional view of the Nautilus shell associated with a plethora of geometric patterns that link to numerical sequences and series. Mathematics teachers can point out that nature uses structural patterns that function most efficiently and that these patterns can have a predictive ability. At the primary level, students can review facts about the nautilus followed by a simple mathematics activity to create a logarithmic spiral that is drawn on graph paper using a compass. If we called the pattern of arcs a Golden Spiral instead of a logarithmic spiral, perhaps the biological and artistic connotation would inspire students to consider mathematics as a study of patterns, relationships and change as opposed to defining mathematics as formulae and procedures.

In a self-regulated learning environment, more advanced students can come to understand that the logarithmic spiral of the Nautilus shell is an example of the mathematical formula for the plane curve. This pattern is a good example of the parametric

equations x(^) = a cos(^)etfcota and x(^) = a sin(^)etfcota where a is an arbitrary

constant and ¿?is a constant angle made between the radial vector to any point on the curve and the tangent line at that point. Using the example of the nautilus in both mathematics and science can lead to inquiry at higher levels if students choose to investigate mathematical patterns in another setting. The curve of the bighorn sheep, the proportional drawing of the human body by Leonardo da Vinci, or the idea of quotients of consecutive

Fibonacci numbers associated with the spiral that approach the fixed value (1 +V5) / 2, termed the Golden Ratio, are exceptional topics for further study. These examples illustrate how new notions of self-regulated learning can be practically implemented and can change educators' perceptions about teaching and students' perceptions of learning.

Development of the LEG-UP guide: A response to teachers' needs

During the course of the interviews with teachers throughout the academic year, an additional need became apparent. As the teachers struggled with reforming their instruction, we understood our responsibility to respond to the need for a structure to assist implementation. Consequently, a rubric was developed to guide students through levels of self-regulated learning and make them aware of the meta-cognitive stages possible. The Learning Evaluation Guide for Understanding Progress (LEG-UP) rubric is based on the workshop activities presented to the teachers and a modified instrument to evaluate Stages of Concerns (Hall & Hord, 1987; Guskey, 2000). The LEG-UP rubric (Table 1) shows a grid where the individual student may attempt more involved experiments that are based on an initial teacher directed activity. During the classroom inquiry investigation, students can be involved on three levels from lowest to highest meta-cognitive engagement.

Table 1. Learner's evaluation guide for understanding progress (LEG-UP) rubric

Context

Activities according to the level of concern with respect to self-regulation

Explaining where bubbles are found in Bubbles nature; blowing clusters

of 1-5 bubbles and drawing the number of possible patterns.

Blowing bubbles under a plastic cover, drawing and measuring the angles of approximately 120o.

Blow a cylinder-shaped bubble. Understand the formula for volume of a cylinder V=r2 p h

Understanding the advantage of minimal surfaces in biology, such as cell vacuoles. Make soap films on wire forms that are similar in structure. Evaluation of bubble patterns using polyhedrons and other geometric shapes.

2 - Personal 1 - Information 0 - Awareness

4 - Consequences 3 - Management

6 - Refocusing 5 - Collaboration

Additionally, students are given descriptors of the levels (Table 2) to assist comprehension. Level 0 is normally what teachers would expect from students who pay attention in class, while Level 1 is gained when students are engaged in the activity and remember the main mathematics and science concepts. Level 2 is when students become interested enough to seek some relevance of the activity to their own lives outside of school. If students choose, with the teacher's permission, to proceed on their own time, there are suggestions in the middle column of the table to extend the activity. At this stage, they can show skills of Level 3. As they investigate further, perhaps by computer search, they may find Level 4, essentially the purpose for which the science or mathematics concepts are used in the real world setting. For those who are genuinely intrigued by the classroom activity and pursue it further, the last column on the chart suggests sophisticated extensions of knowledge. At this point, the students may want to join other students in Level 5 activity, doing further research or experimentation. Finally, these students may reach a meta-cognitive leap where they are attaining Level 6, questioning and transferring the information they have learned through self-motivation to a similar problem in a different area.

Table 2. Descriptors of levels of concern with respect to self-regulation

Stage Level Descriptor

Refocusing 6 I will take this information and make changes or adaptations to

it to make it more useful in a different situation.

Collaboration 5 My team can use this information to understand where and how

to apply this knowledge.

When I understand this topic well, I can use it in other

Consequences 4 situations.

Management 3 I like the process of learning about the topic and can use the

information for this class.

I am interested in the topic and learning more about it could be

Personal 2 fun and useful.

I want to learn more details about the topic - what is it, how it

Information 1 works.

Awareness 0 I know about this topic, but I am not concerned about learning

much more.

Data analysis and recommendations

Results from the workshop's survey

Researchers are aware that one-day workshops can only give evidence about point-in time outcomes. Teacher information about previous use of inquiry techniques that support their required curricula can only be inferred from information expressed by the participants within their evaluations. Knowing this, the research questions posed were: "How do you evaluate what you have learned at the workshop after using the activities in your classroom?" and "What are your reflections about advantages for learners and yourself for incorporating new methodologies in your teaching practice?"

At the conclusion of the workshop, the teacher participants were asked to reflect back on the activities that they had just experienced. The relevancy of the new science and mathematics activities presented during the workshop indicate an untapped awareness with respect to the teacher observations. A high school teacher commented that:

The seminar helped me to reflect on my teaching more. It gave me an opportunity to engage in self-reflection. Seminars made me think that I need to be more thoughtful and reflective about my teaching and my students [and] ... how I can help myself and my students to become more autonomous, strategic and motivated in their learning and me in my teaching. I have been familiarized with how to use a series of cognitive strategies that help students control and direct their own learning. After the seminar I allowed children to make the same smaller choices in regards to topics.

In comparison, a primary school teacher reflected that

New methodologies I have learned at the seminar have helped students to connect what they have learned to real-life contexts, situations. I have learned how to use the surroundings and nature as a resource for learning. I have learned how to integrate two or three subjects, such as Math and Nature studies. I have learned that to manage learning, teachers can find useful materials, which are not very expensive and available.

University faculty member contributed these thoughts:

I have implemented the idea of making connections between math and biology. The new curriculum requires integration between subjects. This was an excellent way to connect math and patterns in nature. I use the idea of connecting math with patterns in nature.

I liked finding mathematical patterns like spirals, meadows, branching and explosion in nature. I can use that in my biology lessons because it is interesting and also because it is a good example of integration which is required by the curriculum.

Through participant responses, it is evident that the facilitators of the seminar/workshops gave practical strategies, using inexpensive or natural materials that integrated mathematics and science, as well as pictorial slides for other examples. The Latvian educators were

receptive to the pedagogical modelling of cognitive strategies and curricular topics that students could extend on their own for deeper self-regulated explorations.

Analysis of the understanding of self-regulated learning

Because redefining teacher education often starts at the university level, it is a unique feature for this international collaborative research effort that several Daugavpils University Education and Management Faculty attended the Patterns in Nature workshops. The Education faculty included mathematics, biology and pedagogy professors that teach pre-service education students; they offered their unique reflections about the advantages of self-regulated learning in respect to themselves and the strategies for incorporating new methodologies in their own teaching practices. They noted that

Self-regulated learning helps learners gradually become agents of their own behaviour. At the beginning stage of implementing new methods, there were many behaviour problems because students perceived the new type of teaching as a play, because they are not used to such kind of learning. They did not consider it seriously at all. Only gradually, they slowly understood the essence of such learning. However, not all students are ready to study this way. After the use of self-regulated strategies, I have discovered that students simply do not follow the plan of action, they adapt to changing conditions.

Similar to the classroom teachers they train, the faculty are moving from a teacher-directed model to a student-centred pedagogy. The faculty also noted the pros and cons of the new teaching techniques.

One of the advantages of self-regulated teaching is in providing learners some control over their learning. Learners acquire how to learn, know their possibilities, limitations, control, regulate their own learning process in order to adjust themselves to the task objectives, to optimize their performance. Before in my teaching I had been giving fewer chances to students to monitor their learning; therefore, they lacked appropriate metacognitive abilities. I taught them how to plan, control and direct their mental processes towards the achievement of personal goals, but still students are used to the teacher directed teaching style and at the beginning felt uncomfortable.

Continued research throughout the academic year

Due to the diligence of the Latvian colleague, twenty-five of the thirty workshop participants participated in the academic year research, and they were able to help answer two further research questions:

• Did you notice any difference after implementing new strategies with your students?

• What are the gains of self-regulated teaching and learning?

The teachers integrated the activities from the Patterns in Nature workshop into their mandated curriculum and they introduced self-regulated learning to their students when feasible. As with the evaluation of one-day workshops, outcomes were determined through follow-up interviews about the workshop lessons taught with consideration of their students' responses. More important, were the impacts, that is, the longer-term effects,

such as the participants' intentions to improve or to make potential changes in their teaching. These impacts embody shifts in teacher's beliefs, attitudes and actions for teaching and learning mathematics and science over several years. Would they continue to implement the new inquiry strategies and encourage their students in the principals of self-regulated learning over time? The causal link between the outcomes and impacts regarding the effects of professional development and teacher change could only be evaluated over time through repeated contacts with the participants. Therefore, the Latvian colleague collected data through a repeated questionnaire/interview throughout the academic school year. The professor contacted the 30 participants from twelve schools to solicit answers to the research questions.

Results from the year-long interviews

During the academic year, the researchers had a chance to follow up on how teachers were modelling and promoting self-regulated learning for their students using the activities learned in the workshop and aided by the rubric provided to them. Teachers who lived in Daugavpils were available for face-to-face interviews; other participants agreed to telephone interviews. Asked about their willingness to incorporate new methods learned during the workshop into their teaching practice, twenty teachers said that they planned to do so at the beginning of a school year and by six months later they had indeed integrated at least one new activity. In addition, the teachers believe that they had achieved gains by implementing SRL. Twenty of the thirty teachers mentioned that students participate more in class discussions and eighteen mentioned more collaboration with peers. More than half of the interviewees observed higher students' interest in finishing tasks. Half of the teachers reported that students learn to be less helpless in monitoring their progress, most showing more persistence in completing their tasks. Ten respondents noted that SRL helps students monitor their own progress, with a few of the interviewees noting that students learned to appropriately modify their actions to suit changes during a task.

The teachers who participated in the academic year research were asked their opinions of the various activities from the workshop and to explain to the researcher when and how the activities fit into their own mandated curricula. Data from the surveys and responses from academic year interviews were analysed using a Grounded Theory approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) in that written and oral interview data were coded for key ideas, grouped into reasonable categories and, from further refinement, crystallized into major constructs. The categories included: teacher responses about SRL, teaching styles, learning styles, motivation, skills for learning, speed of learning, depth of knowledge, self evaluation, appropriateness and barriers to SRL.

Teachers' definitions of self-regulated learning

Because teachers were asked to link the practical activities about patterns in nature to the theory of self-regulated learning, it was important to understand what self-regulated learning meant to the teachers as both a language translation and a conceptual term. The majority of the teacher participants understand the term as giving individual students or small groups the opportunity of having some control over their own learning, across contexts, relationships and situations as exemplified by the following statement:

I have learned that a student can learn to self-motivate, to better one's possibilities

and limitations while working, can learn to control and regulate the learning

process in order to adjust to the task objectives and to the context, but unfortunately the dominant mode of linear teaching in Latvia does not allow teachers to try these new pedagogical strategies.

This linear thinking is associated with a history of teacher-centred instruction. One of the problems that teachers identified was the inability of learners to monitor their own learning because of a lack of appropriate meta-cognitive ability. Recipient learners did not make use of meta-cognitive strategies or engage in high level of acquisition of knowledge.

• Teaching styles. Some teachers responded that SRL allows them to choose methods of work while they assume the role of the teacher as a facilitator. Others said that it depends on teacher decisions of whether or not to implement self-regulated learning pedagogy, in addition to considering how motivated and creative the teachers were who tried. One respondent noted that SRL reminded him/her of the system of Valdorf school where children of different ages choose their own activities.

• Learning styles. Responses indicated that SRL is a student-centred approach that occurs when each student can develop their own learning style and their preferences are respected giving a better result. It was noted several times that students can choose to learn what they want according to their individual abilities and needs.

• Motivation. SRL gives a child higher motivation to acquire material. One respondent stated, "It's the best way of reaching high results, as it fosters students' motivation to learn." Teachers stressed the need for responsibility for one's own action as one learns self-development and to determine priorities for what is and what is not important for them. Teachers admitted to themselves that much of what they have taught to students seems of little relevance to their students.

• Skills and speed of learning. Teachers understood that students may be motivated to learn beyond the teacher's lesson, but that students would need to spend more time to acquire skills they might lack. This idea of skill is coupled with the speed of learning since often a classroom lesson might bore one student and go too fast for another. As one teacher stated, "SRL is a chance for the student to choose his/her own speed of learning, as well as approaches to learning." Learning to set priorities can go beyond the classroom as one respondent noted, "It's a good way to learn to plan one's time and action plan, which is highly demanded in our society." Another teacher pointed out that SRL means setting one's own time to work, study and, importantly, to rest.

• Depth of knowledge and self-evaluation. The depth of knowledge pursued by individual students seems to be part of self-evaluation. One participant noted, "Nowadays, when we have lots of sources of information available, students need to learn to study autonomously in finding appropriate sources." In addition to evaluating what is important for oneself and what is not, SRL can help students set their goal, become more independent, learn self-control, take responsibility for what they are doing, become actively involved in planning and evaluate their own learning process. All of these skills of self-evaluation can help a "student to understand the significance of learning, be able to evaluate personal progress, be able to evaluate personal skills".

• Appropriateness. There were diverse opinions on whether SRL is possible in Latvian schools while another said, "Self regulated learning can be used for out of

school learning activities successfully, but not during the classes." One teacher thought once or twice a week while another thought, "Self-regulated learning can be practiced once a month, not more." Some thought the idea is possible in Latvia in elementary schools while others disagree, saying, "I think it is possible only in adulthood when the person has reached some level of maturity, when a person understands what he/she wants."

• Barriers to using SRL. The barriers to making SRL resonate internationally, as some teachers pointed out, is that "it is difficult to do where I work because state standards require us to teach a lot, no time for such a luxury. ...in preschools, it is not possible since teaching needs to be teacher-directed till the child comprehends what he/she needs". According to some teachers who are accustomed to direct instruction in their classes, it is difficult to apply inquiry-driven instruction strategies. It was difficult for these teachers to change their role from the one who gives instructions to the one who is present to answer questions, guide learners and help them organize their knowledge. These teachers faced difficulties related to the inability of learners to monitor their own learning because of a lack of appropriate meta-cognitive ability. For example, many teachers said that although students found an activity, such as bubble, for instance, enjoyable, it resulted in a lot of noise. Many teachers also felt the reasoning required by the activity was too complicated; learners are not used to this type of learning. Others said that they cannot offer these activities often, because they must cover the curriculum.

Discussion of the results

From the sub-themes above, several major concepts that emerged using Grounded Theory methodology have been distilled from the research data of the one-day workshops and the academic year participation. Firstly, the practice of implementing self-regulated activities is very fragmentary in both primary and secondary schools in Latvia. There are a few attempts being made to implement self-regulated learning activities. Teachers admit that their students have not reached the highest levels of thinking, such as synthesis, and they believe that SRL would be an effective way to help them learn those critical thinking skills in mathematics and science. However, the changes will take place very slowly, because teachers have had a long history of teaching in a linear way and there are time and curricular constraints. Secondly, subject integration in Latvian practice is quite a new idea. Therefore, combining ideas of scientific patterns in nature with the mathematical formulas that underpin them is a new approach to integrated courses for many teachers. They are struggling daily with administrative duties and have less energy for creativity and experimentation. They are afraid that they will not be able to cover curriculum demands; therefore, they try out self-regulated activities about patterns only seldom and, most likely, during project week. They worry that at the end of the semester their students' academic knowledge will be lower than when the students learn in a traditional classroom management style. Thirdly, teachers mentioned as a positive advantage that students were more engaged when they were doing inquiry-driven, contextually relevant activities. However, they pointed to drastic demands for testing by local, national and European Union standards, which does not allow much time for learning through interesting and self-regulated activities. The teachers enjoyed implementing the activities, but at the same time, felt guilty that that it would appear that they were wasting time instead of teaching the standards required by the curriculum.

Lastly, at a global level, the researchers posit that teachers have similar perceptions no matter in which country they teach. Although the following is specific to describing the workshop participants in Latvia, we believe that the description rings true in the USA as well. With regards to the younger teachers who participated at the seminar and the pre-service teachers, as university students, the difference is that they are more energetic and enthusiastic about implementing new ideas related to self-regulated learning. This may change since they have had little or no classroom teaching experience. Additionally, younger practitioners are more open to experimenting with the many teaching methods they are currently learning. They have not come across rigid administrative requirements. Experienced teachers, on the other hand, may understand curriculum demands as a need for telling and imposing knowledge therefore, being less willing to devote time for inquiry activities that allow students to continue to study a topic in greater depth.

The research data indicate that some teachers consider that the new methods will cause fragmentation of their curriculum timeframe and result in discipline problems because students do not have much experience working in non-traditional classroom settings. Consequently, in this case, these teachers may be viewed as a product of their earlier training and this may be considered as an obstacle to accepting new pedagogies. However, experienced teachers, who have good classroom management, are less inhibited about trying the new educational approaches presented at the workshop. This can be seen as an advantage, especially if they become role models or mentors for novice teachers. These experienced teachers have tried out new methods and found them effective. In summary, the research data reveal the majority of teachers theoretically understood that the workshop strategies for teaching about patterns in nature using SRL were valuable. For those teachers who participated in the year-long study and actually used the activities in their classrooms when and where they fit in with the specific curriculum needs, their new educational approach can be regarded as successful.

Conclusions and recommendations

This international collegial research collaboration, based on similar teaching standards for teachers in the USA and teachers in Latvia, demonstrated some new strategies and models of teaching, while honouring the best educational pedagogy pertinent for an individual country. The challenges Latvian teachers face are not unique to the Baltic area and we have found counterpart challenges in the USA, as well as in some parts of Asia. To meet the requirements of citizenship and curriculum standards globally, learning in schools must become more authentic, more useful and more contextualized for students. Previous standards and the way textbooks present the curricula do not help students acquire the knowledge and skills that are essential for life outside schools and in the workplace. Little time has been spent in teaching our charges strategies of self-regulated learning and situating them in a variety of meaningful contexts beyond the school academics.

Three major findings with further recommendations emerged during this research. Firstly, several of the Education and Management faculty of the University of Daugavpils attended the presentations to further their own professional development and enrichment. In addition, they were willing to be part of the year-long interview process. Further research could address the outcomes and impacts of professional development for faculty of education personnel that work with teacher preparation and in-service training. Additionally, the research could track the long-term effects of professional development as it cascades from the faculty who attended the original workshop to their university students

and when those students, in turn, become classroom teachers. Another question for research concerns the tracking of philosophical changes for university personnel who teach future teachers. Do they value collaborative international work? Because of the workshops, did they themselves change with regards to their beliefs and teaching methodology? Do they believe in using self-regulated learning at the university level? Do they think it is important for their university students to use these strategies when they move into the real world of teaching? Some of the comments made during this study show that university faculty understand the pedagogy of SRL, know its possibilities and limitations and are willing to give up some control so that students may regulate their own learning process in order to adjust themselves to task objectives. The university professors understand that learning how to learn requires not just new strategies, but knowledge of strategies that can optimize the performance of their students for when they become future teachers. How can university faculty professional development regarding self-regulated learning enhance the pre-service training program so that university students learn not simply how to make and follow a plan of action, but to adapt their plans to changing conditions? All these questions were spawned from this study as areas for further research.

Secondly, it is important in qualitative research that the researchers be responsive to the needs of the participants. That is, teacher education researchers must reflect on the enactment of the research intervention. In this case, the researcher needed to generate a learning evaluation instrument that would guide the teachers and students through levels of self-regulated learning and make them aware of the meta-cognitive stages that were developing. Some teacher participants informally reviewed the ensuing Learning Evaluation Guide for Understanding Progress (LEG-UP) rubric. However, the need became apparent late into the study and therefore the guide requires further validation.

Thirdly, the qualitative comments from teachers involved in the year-long study show that they did use and adapt activities from the initial Patterns in Nature workshops. They also came to value SRL. However, teachers globally understand that moving from traditional teaching to allowing students full engagement in inquiry-based learning that goes beyond introduction can be time-consuming for teachers and students. This is a concern, but has attendant rewards. Comparable research results can be found in similar approaches, such as problem-based learning (Kwan & So, 2008). In the current atmosphere of international students' assessment, the full use of self-regulated learning, while an idealistic goal, may be a strategy to work towards slowly in order to make students move beyond competent technologists that traditional schools normally foster. Instead, we aim to engender the love of science and mathematics in students so that they will be willing to overcome tradition and move towards SRL to think through problems and solutions on their own with the facilitation and guidance of teachers who use inquiry-based science and mathematics. This is one approach recommended for sustainability in teaching and learning.

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Correspondence:

Helen P. Gerretson, PhD, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA.

Email: hpg@coedu.usf.edu