Friday, February 18, 2011

Science as a Process

"The fascination of any search after truth lies not in the attainment but in the pursuit."
-Florence Bascom

Everyone who engages in scientific activity, uses certain helpful and critical process skills that guide them along in the scientific process in order to gain information about nature and natural phenomena. The skills include: observing, classifying, collecting data, inferences, making hypotheses, experimenting, analyzing data, and concluding upon one's results. Therefore, creating a classroom in which students can be invited to utilize these skills in an active environment will foster students' development of inquiry and interest in science.
Some great ideas I absorbed from this chapter were to have both a science notebook and science circus' in your classroom. Like a journal, a science notebook integrates writing and science by becoming part of the science instruction. Here, students will record observations, predictions, reflections, responses to prompts, and other reasoning. This notebook facilitates sense-making and metacognition instead of simply just recording observations. The science circus consists of several stations at whcih the students are asked to perform cetain tasks and record thier results or reactions. These stations involve activities that engage students in the planning process by using their own inferences based off of observations, and often realtes to daily life common scenarios. Students become scientists- they observe, record, predict, compare observations to predictions, plan an investigation (control variables, independent/dependent variables), experiment, compare and contrast predictions with their results, and refine their process skills and ideas, as well. For example, during class we enagaged in the balloon activity. We observed an inflated balloon be popped by a pin inserted into its side. Then we observed an inflated balloon being painted with magic blue liquid on the top of the balloon, and it did not pop. Together, we collaborated our observations/data and ideas to come to the conclusion that the location of the balloon caused the balloon to either pop or not pop. Then, we needed to create a hypothesis, conduct an experiment, record data, and come to a conclusion if our hypothesis was supported or not. Therefore, this experiment allowed us to use inquiry and scientific process skills to learn about pressure and tension of gases through active participation and planning. It was a great way to learn and explore this concept instead of simply memorizing, and having students plan the investigation themselves is certainly a key component.
The difference between observation and inference is that observation is the viewing of natural phenomena involving the process of taking notes on the shape, size, color, texture, mass, speed, movement, any other various changes that may occur. Observations include all the available data attainable from an object or an event using our senses. Inferences, however, are assumptions or guesses that may be made or proposed to explain what has been observed. They are reasonable statements about an object or an event that is based on observation For example, in science, students observe an experiment or some natural phenomena take place, and then infer, or conclude why something occurred or did not occur. Students infer what happened, for example, in the soda can experiment in which the soda can exploded in the back seat on a very hot day in the car.
In addition to the process skills of observation and classifying, the process skill of classifying is especially familiar to all because of how often it is used in daily life. Classifying is the process of sorting objects or ideas into groups according to similar properties. For example, we classify the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, the classes and subjects we study, the weather, the music genre we listen to, and much more. Classification, although often unnoticed, is always occurring in our heads as our brains organize information and new information based on prior experiences. Classification is a very important science process skill, as well, in which we use to try and make meaning of the natural world and all its diversity.
It is certainly very crucial to engage students in planning an investigation rather than simply conduct the experiment because then the teacher truly gets to see a student’s limit of knowledge on a certain subject or content area study. When the children take part in planning the investigation, they are using their inference skills to make sense out of what has been observed and combining this with their prior knowledge. In addition, by planning the experiment or investigation, the children will be more interested in the activity and true learning can now occur. The students need to figure out which variables to control, or keep the same, which variable to change (independent variable),the variable that depends on the independent variable (dependent variable), and what the expected outcome will be. They are learning and taking part in the scientific process by planning this investigation based off of their own inferences and observations.
If my classroom had the privilege of owning a microscope for two weeks, we could do many investigations and activities as a class. I would setup my own investigations for the students to observe and conduct under the microscopes, and allow them to observe and view their own objects under the microscope. I would ask each student to bring in a water sample from a pond or lake (maybe even a puddle) nearby to class to observe on a slide under the microscope. Hopefully, the students will be able to analyze small critters and single-cell microscopic organisms in their water samples. Perhaps I would have students view pre-made slides of plant cells if we were doing a lesson on photosynthesis or even mitosis. If there was enough time prior to using the microscopes, I could Daphnia (microscopic plankton) for the students to examine under the microscope, as well. There are so many applications and activities to do with a microscope, and it is a tool that can give them the freedom to observe objects from their own familiar environments.

Here are some websites I found full of GREAT ideas for science investigations and to use in a science circus setting in the classroom:

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