Plenary Speaker Profile (2013)
Robert H. Tai
Associate Professor of Science Education, Curry School of Education
University of Virginia
Finding FOCIS: A Framework for Examining Your Lessons and Learning Activities

Despite all the time and rhetoric emphasizing higher tests scores, as educators, we understand that the most important thing we can do for our students is to spark their interest in our subject. When a student develops a deep and personal interest in a topic, their time, energy, and effort will follow. Sometimes even our "best" lessons don't seem to get through to all our students. How can we find a way to reach them? When teachers take the time to reflect and analyze some of their best lessons, many times we can see that we have "favored" approaches we use again and again. In this lecture, I will begin by reviewing the evidence from my research on the importance of interest to long-range educational outcomes. Next, I will discuss a framework for developing a better understanding of students' learning preferences and for examining learning activities for these preferences. Matching learning activities to students' learning preferences is an important way to engage students. Yet, many times students may also change their preferences when they are exposed to positive learning experiences that challenge them and expand their interests. I will offer some options for finding out if some of your lessons might have that effect. FOCIS stands for "Framework for Observing Children's Interactions" and it is intended to help teachers develop a better understanding of the different types of teaching approaches we use in our learning activities. I will discuss my current research study using the FOCIS Framework and my most recent findings.

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Robert H. Tai is an associate professor of science education at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. His educational background includes baccalaureates from the University of Florida (B.S. in physics and B.A. in mathematics, 1986), M.S. (1987) in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Ed.M. (1994) and Ed.D. (1998) from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. After leaving the UIUC graduate physics program, he entered the UIUC Teacher Education Program and became a certified Grade 6-12 physical science teacher. He then taught physics for three years in grades 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12 at schools in LaGrange, IL and Wichita Falls, TX. In 1993, he entered the Harvard Graduate School of Education. After graduating with a doctorate in 1998, he was an assistant professor at the College of Staten Island of the City University of New York from 1998 – 2001. He came to the Curry School in 2001 and was promoted to associate professor in 2007. He focuses his work in the area of scientific workforce development from an educational perspective. His most current research includes studies on the graduate research and educational experiences of physical scientists and biomedical researchers; science interest and engagement among children ranging from Grades 3-12; understanding and assessing the effectiveness of informal science education programs; and examining the effectiveness of specialized science, mathematics, and technology high schools, among other topics. His research studies have been sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Robert N. Noyce Foundation, and the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. He has published research studies in the journals Science, Science Education, International Journal of Science Education, the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST), the Journal of Chemical Education, the Journal of Biological Education, and The Physics Teacher. He served on the Harvard Educational Review as an Editorial Board member from 1995-1997 and as the Booknotes Editor from 1996-1997. He is currently an Editorial Board Member (2011-2014) of JRST. In 2008, he received the Council of Scientific Society Presidents Award for Education Research Leadership.