Sunday, March 27, 2011

Moving Beyond the Science Kit

Although it can be very tempting as a teacher to take control of the situation and not allow the students to have free reign and full control of exploring materials and experiments on their own, it is more beneficial to allow students to investigate and create meaning on independently. Simply having students write down definitions to vocabulary words and telling them the definitions of words before engaging in an investigation is not enough to ensure a successful understanding. It is, in my opinion, better to allow students to establish some level of meaning and understanding before providing new vocabulary words. Otherwise, the students will not have much background knowledge or experiences to connect these new definitions and terms with. Also, the teacher should control much of the experimental design and initial problem posing; however, the student should then be given control over procedures and findings. Giving students the ability to make decisions and design their own procedures when it is time to address the presented problem is very important and crucial. Science ideas and understandings will emerge from all students at different times, and it is acceptable to allow a diversity of procedures (which are important for learning). In addition, students need to make personal connections to science concepts in order to understand more and make more permanent connections. 

It is important for students to learn about the history of science before engaging in an investigation or experiment because students should be provided with insights into the nature of science and the role of historical, philosophical, and technological contexts in the development of scientific knowledge. In chapter 10, Ms. Murray does just this when her students are preparing to learn about the atom, and has her students break into groups to research the scientists throughout the years that have contributed to the atomic theory. The students naturally realized that the atomic theory has constantly been refined and altered, and probably will be again in the future. Science is always changing and growing!

In addition to having her students research the history of science concepts and theories, and incorporate an open-ended approach to describing what an atom looks like, I like that Ms. Murray used mystery boxes to help her students understand how scientists can describe and understand something they cannot see. The students were surprised that by using their other senses they were able to successfully infer what the unseen objects were in the boxes; and therefore, the students now had a better understanding of how scientists gather data about something they cannot visibly study (the atom), as well. It is easy to see why scientific models are still evolving about the atom. 

Ms. Murray has her students research, discuss, and draw the structure of atoms, but also design and build their own atomic models with materials like Popsicle sticks, beads, and tape. The reason Ms. Murray has her students build and construct atoms in order to bring together all the information the students have collected, researched, discussed, and learned and apply it building a model representing all of these factors. Instead of simply stopping at the drawing stage, the students are now challenged to find objects and design models with specific measurements that will represent the sketches they have drawn. Agreeing upon and building one sketch design is a more challenging process that involves much collaboration and thinking. Now, the students are truly acting like the scientists they researched prior to this investigation- they are applying the data they have collected/observed and facts they have researched into a completed, simulated model. 

This week in class, we started fieldwork! It is very exciting and interesting so far. We are helping our 5th graders with science concepts and classwork, and in a week we will actually be teaching the 5th grade class a science lesson according to the 5 E lesson plan. I am excited to engage the students in this inquiry lesson about pH!

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