Sunday, February 27, 2011

Matter Matters: Getting Messy with Ordinary Objects

Science is a messy process. In science, children need to be actively involved in their education and learning, and therefore, this entails getting messy occasionally. Meaningful exploration should be taking place in classrooms, and this will sometimes lead to experiments and investigations that make literal messes, spills, and accidents. Water may spill, such as in Ms. Harrison’s class, mixtures may get all over desks, and things may appear in disarray but this is all part of the process. In addition, getting messy in science can show students how science is not a neat, clear process. Often, science experiments do not go as planned, and sometimes for unknown reasons.  Science can be a very frustrating and difficult process.  The process of classification is not always clear and neat, as well, as it was demonstrated with the “green goo” in Ms. Hager’s classroom. The students could not clearly classify the green goo as a solid or a liquid, and this is because it truly is neither- it is a suspension.  To help students make meaning out of a messy experience, teachers should guide the process by posing questions to students along their investigation, demonstrate that getting messy in exploration is a nonthreatening process (they won’t get in trouble for making a mess), and explore and manipulate materials. Teachers should create investigations for students to do that make them engage in hands-on- minds-on activities, collaborate with one another, and cause them to actively be involved in the inquiry process. Classification of objects, living things, and states of matter should be taught through the active participation of students in investigations. Students need to visually see and interact with the differences and commonalities of objects.
Often students are in classrooms that are maintained as neat, clean, and messy-free zones of “learning.” Teachers are afraid to let students take control of their own learning, and actively be involved in the process. They often do not get their hands dirty in exploring the concepts being studied, and simply view the concepts as outsiders. Once the teachers have organized, planned, outlined, and provided all the necessary steps for students to do, there is no room for left for students to think or be creative. Students are just following carefully designed instructions that tell them all they need to do or know, and they are no longer thinking or inquiring for themselves. Teachers pick investigations to do in classrooms that require no real active participation from students that may entail getting “messy,” and stick to investigations that just require students to watch, observe, or do one step out of a possible 20 that was previously done by the teacher. I know this to be true, because it is how my science teachers taught in elementary school. We were always given worksheets that proposed scenarios in which we needed to inquire from, but we never actually engaged in the learning process by manipulation of materials or getting “messy.” It certainly affected the way I learned science concepts, because I could often not grasp them. Now, I feel as though if I was provided with the opportunity to explore on my own I would have been able to connect the experience with real-life, and actively made categories.
I am aware that there may be a question posed by a future student when I am a teacher that I am unable to answer with complete confidence. Although science is my major, there may be certain subjects or material I may not be too sure about, and I would never want to tell a student an incorrect answer or misguide him or her. Therefore, I would tell the student to look up this information on the Internet and come to class tomorrow with the answer to share with the class. We are all learners, including the teacher, and therefore, one should take advantage of such a situation to demonstrate to students that we will always be furthering and sharpening our knowledge.

In class this week, we all constructed and took part in designing science circus stations. This was an interesting and enlightening process because I was able to see how this activity would take place in a classroom, and what kind of activities would be good suggestions to use in the classroom. For example, my group created an investigation of heat and air (air convection) and how when air is heated it rises. We had set up a station where people actively got involved, and needed to put a deflated balloon on a water bottle, submerge it in ice water, and then take this same water bottle wiht th deflated balloon attached and submerege it in boiling water and observe what happens (the balloon inflates). Throughout the activity, students are making predictions, recording observations, and at the end they answer a series of questions. The other stations in the science circus were great, as well, and all involved active participation, inquiry, reflection, and were interesting and fun to do! Having the stations only be about 7 min-10min long enables students to engage in a series of different activities and areas of discussion in science. Actually doing a science circus scenario in class this week helped us all see how long and direct the stations should be for students, how long questions should be at the end of the activity, and gave us all some wonderful ideas to use in our own classrooms in the future. For example, I really liked Group 6's moon phase activity. It required the eating of marshmellows in the shape of the various moon phases, and I believe young students will really enjoy and be involved in this activity. In addition, I realized how important collaboration can be during the science stations, as we all helped each other by posing different questions, clarifying different misconceptions, and all participating through different roles and jobs in doing the activity. Certainly, a student who is special needs or an ELL student can be helped immensely through science circus activites, as he or she will feel more confident having the help and support of his or her peers to complete the activity. Overall, I feel that using science circus' in one's classroom could certainly be a wonderful idea in order to show students how science is related to real-life applications to form connections, to engage students in active, enriching investigations, practice collaboration skills, use inquiry skills, and connect these engaging experiences to science content being read in class. These are meaning-making experiences.

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