Martha Deich

Martha Deich


The title of speech for school:

Unstucking the Stuck: Promoting Conceptual Understanding Among “Challenged” Middle-School Science Students

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I am applying to the ISCAR Summer School for PhD Students in Kajaani, Finland. My name is Martha Deich, but everybody calls me Molly. I am female, and a first-year student in the Ed.D. program at the University of California at Santa Cruz. My doctoral supervisors are Gordon Wells and Doris Ash, who are both known for their work in cultural-historical-activity theory (CHAT). My work at UCSC is funded through a UC Regents Fellowship; beyond that, my work is funded by my teaching salary. Because I am in my first year of study, my doctoral work is still in an exploratory, question-generating phase while I complete my required coursework in social, cultural, and historical contexts of education, as well as methods courses and statistics. I have a particular interest in sociocultural constructivist educational theory as it applies to my work as an educator of young adolescents.

I am a classroom teacher: I teach 11- and 12-year-olds earth science, ecology, and evolution in a California public school. My classroom is filled with children who pour through the door every day with enthusiasm and seemingly endless happy anticipation. Science to a child this age appears to be a wonderful part of the day, where he or she is free to ask questions, dream up answers, watch things happen, cause other things to happen, and through myriad experiences, observations, and discussions, start to make sense of the physical and biological phenomena that make up their world. Ascertaining the intellectual and academic progress of my struggling students is quite challenging, since these children often do not perform well on typical classroom assessments.

What I want to find out is this: how can I measure the understanding of classically labeled low-achievers in ways that allow me to guide them in building on their knowledge to create new knowledge? In other words, how can I know what they know? This study is driven by my interest in understanding how classically labeled low-achievers work with others (peers, teachers) in the classroom to make sense of science, and how the use of gesture, dialogue, drawing, and other modes of expression are involved in the construction of science knowledge.

Your program has particular interest to me because of the theoretical and methodological focus realted to the work of Vygotsky and Leontiev, who are providing much of the framework for my own philosophical and theoretical orientation. The program’s focus on the contents of schooling and the role of communication and dialogue in forming meaning in the co-construction of knowledge are especially interesting to me, and will certainly inform my research questions, methodologies, and analysis. This institute will be my first international meeting, and I look forward to bringing an American public-school perspective to the discussion.