As a curriculum developer my nose is constantly buried in science education standards, notably the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which are slowly being adopted across the country. As I've been delving into these standards and other literature about teaching pedagogy ( which is the method or practice of teaching), I've noticed a clear shift away from the scientific method. If you're like me, then growing up the scientific method was the bread-and butter of your science classrooms, and you were taught to memorize the steps of the scientific method:
In a classroom discussion about magnets, one student wonders, “Will magnets work under water?” Over the next few days, the class debates the question and designs and executes an experiment to get some answers. Okay, yes, they will work underwater. But then they continue, “What about this statement in our text that says some materials WILL block magnets?” If water won’t do it, what about plastic, or glass, or wood, or rubber, or cloth, or another magnet? And they are back to the drawing board, designing more experiments to test these materials, wondering if magnets work through gases and liquids, but not solids, trying ice in place of water and on, and on, and on. Finally, as a class we cry uncle – we can’t find anything that will block our magnets, and a very eager class is finally given permission to do a little research on the topic.
Another class is looking at a chart in our science text which illustrates the classification of animals by using the example of a wolf. It starts at the kingdom level and works its way down, gradually dropping all the organisms that don’t cut it as a wolf. After a few levels, we’re left with the cats and the wolf, the dog, and the fox. The cats get dumped in the next round. Makes sense. But in the next level, the fox is dropped with the explanation that this level contains only “dog like” animals. Now we’ve used this chart for years and years, and most of the time, the students smile and nod, and we move on. But this class is different – they’ve been “inquiring” all year long, and are used to questioning their text, their teacher, and themselves! When it seems like the fox has just been ousted from the club randomly, they start to wonder. “What is it about the fox that makes it less doggy than the wolf?” “If it’s not a cat, and not a dog, what is it? Where does the fox fit in?” For the next several days the class passionately debates the issue and delves deeply into the process of scientific classification. What specific traits make a dog a dog, and a cat a cat? Where does the fox fit in with these other animals? What traits make the cut into “dogginess” or “catness” and who decided all these rules? It is a fascinating journey
Part 1 of 2: Inquiry Based Science in the Classroom by Guest Blogger Ann Johnson
Students Discover Scientific Principles through Inquiry Based Science And Learning
“Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Johnson! THIS is exactly what I was talking about – right here! See this: D-e-p-o-s-i-t-i-o-n. This is EXACTLY what I was talking about…you know when the really fast water moves all those pieces of rocks and all those little rocks fall out of the water and end up somewhere new…this is EXACTLY IT! This is EXACTLY what I said!”
I was hooked. For the first time in my teaching career a student was excitedabout “deposition,” “erosion,” and “weathering” - topics that I approached each year with a sense of dread. As amazing as those forces might be, my yearly earth science unit never failed to induce a state of drooling or daydreaming in my 4th and 5th grade students. I taught with the usual suspects: photos of the Grand Canyon, the standard multi-syllable vocabulary, text passages loaded with main idea and detail, rock and soil samples and those cookbook “experiments” that dominated our curriculum. It bored my students to death and frustrated me: I love earth science, and that love (not to mention the key science concepts) was not being transmitted to my students.