Monday, March 7, 2011

Sustained Inquiry: Explorations of Living Things

Sustained inquiry is the development of an extended investigation over a period of time, and is a very important component of science in the classroom. Students work together, collaborating with their teachers, in discovering and investigating science concepts and ideas they can observe over a period of time. For example, most students in school will have an opportunity to plant a seed and watch it grow over a period of time, discussing and investigating what the plant needs to grow and flourish. Providing opportunities for elementary and middle school students to interact with living things helps to instill an appreciation of the complex processes involved in sustaining life. Having plants and animals in my science corner when I am a teacher will be a must to encourage sustained-inquiry lessons in my classroom. Students need to be able to directly observe and investigate living things in the classroom, pose their own questions, and search for these answers through observations, recordings, experimentation, and collaboration. Sustained inquiry is important to have in the classroom as opposed to simply just having scientific inquiry activities because students can become more involved in the responsibilities of caring and providing for the living things in the science corner, pose more inquiry questions, and become more involved in the overall inquiry process as it is over an extended period of time.

I believe that today's technological revolution has certainly made it more difficult than ever to distinguish between what is living and what is not living. Children see things that speak, move, need energy, grow, sleep, give birth, and eventually die. However, many of the characteristics I have just described also describe many of the new gadets, toys, computer programs, and other technological innovations we have in our society today. Children could certainly find it hard to distinguish between what is alive and what is not alive now more than ever. For example, many technological toys children have require them to take care of the virtual pets by feeding them, caring for them, walking them, and putting them to bed. These virtual pets are not alive, but they appear to be so! In addition, computers and cell phones are not alive; however, they often talk to us and we often can put these devices to "sleep" or in sleep mode. Children can certainly attribute these phrases to being alive. Also, many toys that children have move around on their own without being controlled and talk- also confusing for differentiating between being alive and not being alive. 

There are certainly so many varieties of plants in one's neighborhood or nearby suppliers that could be potential good candidates to bring into the classroom's science corner and discuss and investigate in class. For example, any flowering plants and plants that produce fruit would be prime candidates to discuss germination, what is a seed, discuss the parts of a seed under a microscope, the parts of a flower, what a fruit truly is (plant's ovary-protecting the seeds), and how plants grow (photosynthesis). Children could bring in seeds that they have at home from foods they enjoy eating (cultural diversity) and we could attempt to germinate them in the classroom. I know that in my biology class, we ordered Wisconsis Fast Plants from a website, which are named for their quick growth from germination to plant in less than five weeks. They are also good to use in classrooms because of their low maintenance and well-illustrated life cycle.

The lesson discussed in this chapter, "When is a vegetable a fruit," was a great example of both/and thinking. The children needed to compare two edible parts of a plant (fruits and vegetables), but before they knew which was a fruit or which was a vegetable, they needed to compare and contrast the edible plant parts they were given. By classfiying the edible parts into which has seeds and which does not have seeds, the students were able to see the distinction between fruits and vegetables. Vegetables are roots, stems, leaves, and flowers of the plant while fruits are the ripened ovary of the flowering plant (houses the seeds). The students can see that both fruits and vegetables are parts of a plant, and that fruits are only part of a flowering plant or a plant that produces seeds. Students can see both the distinction and the realtion between fruits and vegetables in this lesson.

Sustained-inquiry lessons provided in the lower elementary grades pave the way for independent research in the higher grades for many reasons. Students are exposed to the process of the scientific method and the ways of scientific inquiry at a young age through sustained-inquiry lessons. Children are provided with opportunities to pose their own questions, make hypotheses, and conduct their own investigations and experiments over a long period of time with the support and guidance of their teachers through these sustained-inquiry lessons. With repeated practice, children will develop a more scientific way of thinking and more confidence and begin to pose questions more natually and without as much help and input from their teachers. Students will see very rewarding and experience positive results from participating in these sustained-inquiry lessons, and will remain very interested in researching even more questions and pursuing more answers. This developed interest in discovery through investigation will have been a direct result of having the opportunity to explore science in a direct mannar. Students will, therefore, be more willing and have a desire to conduct independent research in the higher grades from this exposure to sustained-inquiry lessons and the confidence that followed. These scaffolded, meaningful experiences provided in the younger grades will better prepare students for conducting independent research in the older grades.

I found some wonderful websites offering ideas for sustained inquiry in the classroom:

In class this week, we learned how to formulate objectives! Objectives are the most specific component compared to  the aim, or national standards, and the goals of the lesson, or the state standards. Dr. Smirnova was very helpful in teaching us the "CBC" or conditions, behavior, and criteria components of an objective. The condition is the setting in which the behavior and the criteria will be met. The behavior is the action performed by the student, and the criteria is how the student's work will be evalutated. Objectives are overt and measureable; they are not covert and ambiguous. Verbs such as, appreciate, believe, comprehend, know, understand, indicate, grasp, familiarize, learn, like, and realize are not acceptable objective verbs to use because they are not measureable! A teacher needs to be able to assess a student after a lesson, and the verbs previously discussed certainly do not provide any opportunities for teachers to be able to do so. Verbs such as, name explain, outline, describe, illustrate, create, outline, compute, and diagram are sutiable verbs to utilize in an objective. A good example of an objective is: Given the necessary materials (paper towel, water and a few seeds) needed to observe the germination of seeds in one week, the student will write a reflective entry following the criteria of the rubric at the level of 3 out of 4. This is indeed an objective of an activity we took part in doing in class; however, during the week we did not see any germination of our seeds! Perhaps we did not water, or moisten, the paper towel enough. However, it would have been a great example of how to discuss the process of germination, parts of a seed, compare what is living and non living, and what a plant needs to grow through sustained inquiry in the classroom.

This is a picture of seeds germinating

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