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The Private Eye®: (5X) Looking/Thinking by Analogy

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Review Synopsis: by science content expert Nicola De Torre

The Private Eye is a teaching manual designed to enhance creativity, promote higher-order thinking skills, and improve literacy across all subjects through hands-on, engaged learning. Teachers are able to make new discoveries along with the students, which helps model life-long learning. The ideas in The Private Eye: 5X Looking/ Thinking by Analogy promote student-directed learning environments and focus on the process and thinking involved with learning. Along with this notion is the critiquing of ideas rather than correcting answers. This book helps us as educators see the wealth of resources around us and offers an approach that will help our students make sense of their world while acquiring critical thinking skills. This manual comes highly recommended to those who are already comfortable with teaching and need a refreshing perspective from outside the confines of a traditional curriculum. It offers a refreshing view of teaching at any level and the world that surrounds us.
Full Review:
The Private Eye: 5X Looking/Thinking by Analogy is a book that can be used across disciplines to enhance higher order thinking skills through close observation, thinking by analogy, changing perspectives, and theorizing. The idea is that teachers and students use a jeweler's loupe to observe specimens. Author Kerry Ruef effectively combines relevant research, curricular ideas, and examples of student work to lay the foundations for her program. The Private Eye inspires creativity, engagement, and the adoption of new perspectives, not only for the students, but also for teachers. In such a program, teachers can model lifelong learning as they explore along with the students.

About a third of the instructor's manual presents the major concepts involved in The Private Eye program and cites research that supports them. Armed with a jeweler's loupe and a few rhetorical questions, students are prepared to study anything. Each loupe's magnification is 5X, and when two are added together, the magnification is increased to 10X. The loupe's plastic frame makes the magnifier easy to use: it eliminates surrounding distractions and the need to focus the eyepiece; this takes the students directly to the specimens they study. The magnified samples look fundamentally different from the original objects. The students consider what they are looking at and ask themselves what else it reminds them of and what else it looks like. As they record their ideas and draw what they see, they extend their thinking and begin to create theories based on why they see what they do and how form might affect function. Teachers can follow the process, which is similar to the scientific process. The book sets forth the steps involved:

"Exploring analogies can be equated to investigating connections; as experiences change, so will the connections and analogies. Consequently, many of the ideas that are presented in the book are not presented as stand-alone lessons, rather they are projects or extensions to existing curricula in which constant refiguring and experimentation is necessary for theory building and learning."

The remaining bulk of the book presents projects and lessons on a variety of subjects. Each subject presented in the book begins with several goals. For science, the goals include the following: "1) To develop the main habits of mind of the scientist: looking closely at the world, thinking by analogy, changing scale, and theorizing. To enter the process of a real scientist... to emerge a scientist... one who loves and 'can read' the world; 2) Consider the suggestions ahead... and invent your own units spinning off The Private Eye process."

The entire guide makes an effort to bring the intrinsic scientist out of everyone. In The Private Eye: 5X Looking/Thinking by Analogy, we see scientific literacy as the skill of decoding the information around us rather the recitation of scientific fact and vocabulary. Every student, whether a kindergartner or a college sophomore, follows the steps to observe, record, and draw conclusions based on the guiding questions. In any activity, students naturally make connections between form and function, as is often mentioned in life sciences. The questions inspire further thought and inquiry, which is the essence behind the scientific process. The ability to draw connections and recognize differences is vital in scientific research. The premise of geological study is that the present is the key to the past, and can similarly be applied to the studies in this book.

Many scientific concepts and disciplines are incorporated in the suggested activities, such as: conservation and ecology, botany, energy transfer, zoology, entomology, and geology. Reuf also offers several projects such as a series of lab activities that lead students to become comfortable with and then grow increasingly familiar with the characteristics and behaviors of common garden slugs. The activities start with simple observations and grow increasingly deep as the students become familiar with the objects they study. Attention to inquiry and incorporation into one's own curriculum help to make each study relevant and memorable.

Another principle in the guide is that of scale. In the ecology section, for example, the author explains that "you watch how an individual system lives inside a larger system, which in turn, is part of a larger system still." This draws us back to scientific literacy and developing the ability to understand the big picture or global concepts. The author is careful to include ideas for all sections in the National Science Standards while maintaining the flexibility necessary to incorporate the concepts and processes into any academic curriculum or discipline.

In each subject-specific project or lesson, other subjects are incorporated. Reuf explains that experts in all areas share common prerequisites for success, namely the skills to be able to think deeply and understand the processes involved. While scientists may look at the proposed sequence involved in The Private Eye program and immediately compare it to the scientific method, writers could look at the process and liken it to the writing process. Even mathematicians study patterns and relationships and create a language of numbers that symbolizes and represents what is observed in the real world. Art is easily identified throughout, since drawing what you see is a key element in the process, but this book also offers extensions to the abstract. Because this program presents an approach to teaching, it can be implemented throughout the disciplines. Because it focuses on a process of observation, inquiry, record-keeping, and theorizing, it helps to strengthen scientific reasoning through any subject lens.