Unlocking the NGSS Series – Intro

The best way to describe the Next Generation Science Standards is like this:  We used to teach students the history of science (facts, dates, people), now we teach students how to think like scientists.  In my mind, this is an amazing and positive shift.  Whether we become scientists or not, we all interact with our physical world is some way.  Observation and critical thinking is key to these interactions.  So, it may not be necessary to know the intricate workings of the ribosomes and endoplasmic reticulum (although who can deny what fun words those are!) but it is arguably helpful to understand what nutrients our cells need and what happens when they don’t get them.  This is the gift our new standards have given us, an opportunity for our students to ask probing questions while observing every day phenomena. 

I’m sure many of us, myself included, can remember spending science class reading about other people’s discoveries and memorizing long lists of Latin-based words or laws about the physical world, particularly in middle school.  If we were lucky, we had the pleasure of a class with labs which at least allowed us to re-discover those discoveries we read about.  If this is all we ever did though, how would we ever discover anything new?  To examine phenomena, ask questions, and test theories is its own special type of critical thinking, one that requires instruction.  The Next Generation Science Standards is designed to steer instruction in this direction, but the fact of the matter is, it can be difficult to teach (and assess) “thinking like a scientist.”  The setup of the written standards is difficult to navigate as well, leaving many teachers unsure about what to teach.

Over the next blog posts, I will be exploring the Next Generation Science Standards for grades K-8 and sharing a few tips I’ve found helpful, both on how to navigate the new standards as well as how to implement them in the classroom.  I will be using and referring to the standards posted on the Next Gen website (http://www.nextgenscience.org/) (although I like the navigation and layout of the California site (https://www.cde.ca.gov/pd/ca/sc/ngssstandards.asp) a bit better).  Lastly, I will try to share as many fabulous and fantastic resources as I can… starting with this one here.

Happy Teaching!

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Reflection of a Year

It’s been a tough year. This past week, the first week of summer, I took a camping trip to the coast. I normally don’t “walk away” so quickly but I needed the time to reflect, to catch my breath. It’s been a long, tough year.

The kids that entered my classroom this past August are not the same kids who left me this June. They’ve grown and matured in amazing ways, ways that cannot and will not be tracked by a summative state test… and that’s ok. They learned coping skills and cooperation. They learned appropriate ways to communicate their emotions, and their needs. They learned that they are worthy of unconditional love and acceptance, but it wasn’t an easy lesson. It’s been a tough year.

The students who came to me in August came with a history. They were “those students,” a cohort I’m sure we’ve all encountered. As a group, they averaged far below grade level in both reading and math. Many of my 5th graders were still mastering regrouping skills in mathematics, let alone multiplication facts. But more than that, they came into the classroom shouldering a collective weight of trauma that no 10 year-old should have to bare. Too many of them had come to believe that adults give up on them. That they aren’t worth anyone’s time. And so, they acted as such.

The first few months were a battle. A stubborn refusal on my part to let up and a relentless push back from them to prove to me that they were right; that eventually I, too, would give up on them. And, believe me, there were days I wanted to. It was a tough year. But sometime in February, we hit a turning point. We had small successes, academic and behavior, then bigger ones. It’s hard sometimes to remember that growth is growth and that small steps are sometimes the most important ones. I had to keep telling myself, “they’ve made a lot of growth.” And they had.

We still encountered problems. This was the year when pencils, erasers and (yes, sadly) chairs were thrown in my classroom. When I spent more time teaching life lessons than grammar. When we had class discussions about kindness and respect and taking care of one another because its what we do. We are a class and that’s just as important as being family. These were new concepts for some of my kiddos. But in the end, we grew together, we spent more time using our words and kind actions to express ourselves and less time being impulsively reactive. It’s been a tough year.

On the last day of school, I looked around at my students and I thought to myself, this is a group of young people I can truly be proud of, even if it’s been a tough year. They worked hard. They grew. They accomplished a lot. Then a student handed me a card. In it she had written: You are the only teacher who ever stood by me. Others followed. Sentiments from students and parents thanking me for being there for them, for their kids. I couldn’t stop the flow of tears as the full impact of the year hit me.

 It occurred to me then that so many people had walked away from these kiddos, they truly believed no one would ever be there for them. What an unfortunate and terribly awful thing to believe at 10. And how many times are we, as teachers, the only adult in a student’s life who sticks by them? After 15 years of teaching, I think I had forgotten just how incredibly impactful our profession is. Each and every day, we make a huge, profound difference. And for some of our kids, we are the only one who stands by them, the only one who believes in their unbridled potential. I became a teacher because of that, because of the magical experience of watching an individual discover and unlock their potential. But somewhere along the line, I got bogged down by the bureaucracy of our profession and lost sight of the real reason I do this… to help young humans be the very best versions of themselves. I was reminded of that this year and thanks to my students, it’s been a good year.

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The Flipped Lab

Not too long ago a concept called “The Flipped Classroom” entered into the education jargon. The idea was to have students complete the direct learning activities at home (lectures, reading) and complete the student-led activities in the classroom (projects, labs, exploration activities). So much of this concept appealed to me when I was first introduced. I am a big proponent of changing our education delivery. What with google and other resources right at our fingertips, information is readily available. Learning to discern, comprehend, and analyze information is really the new frontier of today’s classroom.

The problem for me, however, came in the form of logistics. I have, for most of my career, worked in settings where a student’s access to online resources could be limited at best, and this, it turns out, is a fundamental component of the flipped classroom. Everything from hardware to connectivity meant at least half my students would not be able to access the at home segments of their education. Still, I wanted to explore this idea of student-centered instruction more and do it in a way that ensured everyone had access. That’s when I discovered an idea I came to call “the flipped lab.”

The concept grew out of an ELD/ STEM initiative I worked on. The program aimed to design highly effective STEM lessons that met ELD standards and sought to promote language development through science. One of the guiding principles of the program was that students needed opportunities to experiment with phenomenon before being provided with direct instruction. And this didn’t just mean seeing a demonstration or putting their hands on the equipment for a few minutes. It meant really engaging with the science, on their own, then discussing their observations and thoughts with each other and generating their own questions. Only after they had really delved into a phenomenon would they then be presented with information. To me, this was like becoming Newton or Copernicus, Mendel or Pasteur. Instead of reading about what great minds before them had discovered, they discovered it for themselves then turned to the experts to seek answers to their questions.

My first revelation on how to make this happen came when I was teaching about the xylem and phloem in plants. Normally my lessons would go something like this: Lecture on the xylem and phloem, view artistic renderings of the xylem and phloem online or in the textbook, create our own diagrams about the xylem and phloem, then conduct a (common) lab where we stick carnations into colored water and watch as the white flowers turn a bright red at the edges and finally dissect the stems to observe actual xylem and phloem. In all honesty, by the time we got to the last part (the most exciting part!) most of them were so lost and confused, the phenomenon had little effect! That’s when I decided to flip the lab.

The next time I taught this lesson, I started with the carnations. No explanation, no reasoning, just a simple “Let’s observe and see what happens.” Within a day the color began to creep up the stalk and into the white petals. Small streaks of red made their way across and pooled at the edges. The students were fascinated! How had this happened? Could they cut the flowers open and look at the inside? Could they view it under the microscope? Why was it only moving up parts of the stalk while other parts seemed unaffected? They discussed ideas, thoughts and theories with each other, each bringing to the table their unique language, background, and experience. Soon we had a collection of theories and a ton of questions… and a reason now to move with engagement to the books, diagrams, and online resources.

In many ways, a “flipped lab” is the underbelly of the Next Generation Science Standards. As humans, we are natural observers and questioners of the world around us… natural scientists. The science classroom should be a place where we can celebrate this innate curiosity within us!

Looking for lessons to help flip your labs? Check out these great resources:

Student-led exploration of plant and animals cells

Exploration of Newton’s Laws through race cars

An introduction to cells and the basic needs of all living things

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Making Microscopes

Did you know that you can turn your smartphone or tablet into a Microscope? Here’s How…

Light allows us to see objects. It reflects off an object and projects an image onto the retina of our eyes, which our brain then interprets. But, if we bend the light, we can change how the object projects. We can make the object bigger or smaller, or even distort the image completely. By using a lens (a curved piece of transparent material, usually plastic or glass), we can manipulate the light to make an object appear closer or larger.
In this activity, we will combine the camera lens already found in a smartphone or tablet, with a second lens to make a microscope (a tool to see (scope) small (micro) things).

Materials:
*Inexpensive Laser Pointer *bobby pin
*super glue *tweezers or small screwdriver
*wire cutters (or other scissors strong
enough to cut through metal)
*masking tape
*tablet or smart phone

Directions:
Disassemble the laser pointer until you are left with the light
and circuit unit. The small, silver barrel attached to the unit
contains the lens.

Break off the silver tube, setting all other pieces aside.

Using the tweezers or small screw driver, carefully remove the ring that holds the lens in place. The lens should fall out after the ring is removed.
If you are unable to remove the ring, complete the optional step below.

(OPTIONAL – only needed if step 3 was unsuccessful) Using the wire cutters, carefully cut notches into the sides of the top, loosening the hold on the lens (use caution and adult supervision here… alternatively, students can attempt to work the lens loose with the bobby pin and tweezers. It’s important not to scratch the lens, however.)

Turn the top upside down on a firm surface and gently bang the top against the surface until the lens comes loose. You can also attempt to work the lens loose with the bobby pin or tweezers. Be sure not to scratch the lens, however.

Once you have the lens, set it off to the side while you prepare the bobby pin.

Open the bobby pin slightly so that the opening is a bit wider than usual. (You want the lens to fit snugly in-between the prongs, without snapping out). Carefully place a small drop of super glue on both sides of the largest notch in the bobby pin.

Using the tweezers, carefully place the lens into the large notch of the bobby pin, being careful not to get glue on the lens. Allow the glue to dry.

Once the glue is dry, place the lens directly over the camera lens on your tablet or smartphone. Attach masking tape to hold the bobby pin in place. Your makeshift-microscope is now ready to use!

Turn on your device and access the camera function.

You will need to adjust the magnification and blurriness of objects in two ways, first by using the zoom-in function of your device’s camera and second by adjusting how far away you hold the device from the object you are attempting to view. (This is similar to using the focus knob on a traditional microscope).

Use your makeshift-microscope to explore the microscopic world around you! When you are ready to look at specimens, use a specimen slide just as you would with a traditional microscope.

Watch the process here!

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A Book that is Out of This World!

In my current position, I teach 5th grade at a school where the focus is to drive the curriculum through the lens of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Honestly, it’s a dream job and I work with a great team (taking a moment to count my blessings…). One of our greatest challenges, however, (and our ultimate goal) is to develop thematic units that are based on the NGSS and adequately cover all other standards in a relatable way.  Obviously, this won’t always happen, but we’ve made a good go at it none-the-less. One of the things that bothered me when I joined the team, however, was the fictional literature tie-ins that were being utilized. At the time, we had one fantastic novel that synced beautifully with our curriculum (Flush by Carl Hiaasen) and another that only sort of fit (Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell). I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the novel, but it was a stretch to say it tied in to any of our 5th grade science curriculum.

Well, over Thanksgiving break I was doing my usual wonder through the library (the one where I check out way too many books… my eyes are bigger than my brain, and my break, apparently).  I was in the children’s section, hoping to spot some new literature that might interested my students who don’t particularly like reading, when all the sudden the book Space Case by Stuart Gibbs caught my eye. I had no idea what I might be in for but I decided to go ahead and judge the book by it’s cover… I nabbed it and added it to my extensive pile.

It took me less than a day to read (which says more about the book than my reading speed).

Space Case is a fast-paced mystery about 12-year old Dashiell Gibson and his life as one of the first humans to live on the moon.  In this futuristic novel, NASA has developed an outpost on the moon, host to scientists and their families. While the prospect of being amongst the first humans to live on the moon may seem intriguing, Dashiell informs us that it most definitely is not all it’s cracked up to be… until the first ever murder on the moon occurs and Dashiell finds himself smack in the middle of the investigation.

Dashiell’s 12-year-old perspective of life on the moon is both humorous and honest.  Gibbs did a fantastic job weaving in the science we might not think about (such as visiting the toilet in a low gravity environment) with the raw honesty of a child narrator.  Additionally, the plot carries twists and intrigue suitable for young readers, giving them an opportunity to use deductive reasoning skills as they attempt to solve the mystery of the murder alongside Dashiell.

Not only is this a great literary piece for young readers, it also captures quite nicely several of the NGSS objectives we focus on in 5th grade, specifically the effects of gravitational force as well as the effects of Earth’s atmosphere.  While reading this book, we have the opportunity to discuss the reasons why gravity would be different on different celestial bodies and how different levels of gravitational force might affect us humans.  The book also touches on the effects of living without an atmosphere, leading us back to Earth’s own atmosphere and what significance it has on our lives. We can also delve into topics such as what resources are required to support life and what would be required to make another planet our home.

Each year, as part of our solar system unit, I ask my students to write a fictional narrative imagining that they have been chosen to colonize another planet. In the writing piece they reflect on the science we have learned while creatively developing a short story. Stuart Gibbs’s novel, Space Case, is a wonderful literary model of that assignment.  I highly recommend this novel as a literature tie-in for anyone teaching about the solar system.

Book Stats:

Pages – 337

Lexile – 750L

Accelerated Reader Grade level – 5.3

Grade Level interest – 4-8

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Graphic Novels… A Novel Problem?

As a middle school science teacher, I often encouraged my students to read… read anything. I was of the opinion that it didn’t really matter what they read, as long as they were reading. So, in my mind, suitable reading material could have included online news articles, blogs, magazines, and, yes, even graphic novels. Then I started teaching 5th grade… 5th grade reading and writing to be exact.

At first, I didn’t pick up on what was happening. It seemed as though my students (not all of them but many) were writing their papers as if they were writing a play.  Their papers included headings that documented the passage of time (4 hours later…) formatting that was anything but a paragraph, dialogue written with colons rather than quotation marks (Barbara: I’d love to go!), and descriptions that would be better described as captions without pictures.

We worked through lesson after lesson on grammar, paragraph structure, organization and detail. Still, a number of kids continued to submit papers written in this strange, disjointed manner.  It wasn’t until I took a look at their extra-curricular ready material that a theory started to emerge – their writing habits mirrored the popular graphic novels they were reading, minus the necessary pictures.

It’s hard for me to admit that modern graphic novels may not be the suitable reading material I’ve always touted. Reading should be a joyful experience and if that’s what a kid enjoys, who am I to deny it? Still, it’s hard to miss the fact that the modern graphic novel does not display the same level of depth and comprehension as a literary novel does. Additionally, it models for students a form of writing that relies too heavily on pictures to carry much of the content.

So, what is the solution then? I certainly don’t want to deny a student pleasurable reading experiences, but I also can’t ignore the fact that solely reading from this genre role models poor writing skills (when writing is the sole objective) and limits their scope of comprehension. Balance. As I explained to one student recently, balance is, I believe, the key. Just like anything else, relying only on one genre of reading (graphic novels) limits you as a reader, and as a writer. So, I am encouraging my students not to put down the graphic novels altogether but to pick up a few literary novels in between.

But, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the great graphic novel debate… Do you allow students to read them for outside reading projects in your classroom? Do you find that they limit their abilities as readers or writers? Do you encourage or discourage their use? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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The Metric System… A Love Story

The other day I was having a conversation with my son about the metric system.  It started innocently enough.  He had asked what a gram was and I had obnoxiously and sarcastically replied “1/1000 of a kilogram.”  After rolling his eyes and telling me in an exasperated voice that was NOT what he meant, he then wondered how I’d know it was 1/1000.  Thus, a conversation on the metric system.  My mom, who was listening in at the time, chimed in with a helpful “I don’t know why you bother.  No one uses the metric system anyway.”  As shocked as I was, I was even more dismayed to note that this was the second time in as many days that I’d heard this sentiment.  Yes, I suppose our everyday dealings with measurements requires us to more routinely know the customary system than the metric system.  But who among us can deny the beauty and pure elegance that is the base-ten foundation of the metric system?  A simple glide of a decimal point this way or that and voila!  The value of the number has instantly changed!  None of this multiplying by 3 or dividing by 12.  No!  Just a flip of the little decimal and suddenly my liters are deciliters… my kilometers are hectometers… my…

Okay, maybe I find the metric system slightly more compelling then most but truly, it is a pretty nifty way to convert measurements, once you know what you’re doing.  Plus, it’s the accepted system of measurements for all things science, so naturally, I’m in (you had me at science… *sigh*).

Teaching 8th grade science where we deal with a lot of physics (and a lot of measurement!), I was always shocked to find that the metric system was relatively new for most students even though it is addressed in the (California) math standards during earlier years.  Though I’ve known some teachers to push forward with their speed and acceleration calculations using the customary system, I found it better in the long run to spend 2 weeks at the start of the year immersed in a unit on the metric system (despite constant moans from my students that they thought they were in science, not math… ugh!).  Knowing the metric system and using it throughout a course on physics (and even other science disciplines) allows students to have a more concrete understanding of the physical principles they are bound to encounter.  After all, if I’ve spent my time recording data in inches and feet, how will I deal with that pesky 9.8 m/s2 as my object comes tumbling towards Earth?

Certainly, there is a benefit to addressing both the metric system and the customary system in the science classroom.  After all, when I calculate the velocity of the Ferrari speeding down the American highway, it’s not likely the patrolman clocked it in meters per second.  Knowing how to use both systems ensures a student’s understanding of the concept.  But, let’s not ignore the metric system, at the middle or even the elementary school level.  There is something quite magical about a system of measurement that can change with the flick of a decimal point.

 

Want to try a metric unit in your classroom?  Check out my unit on the metric system here.

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Battling the Multiplication Blues

This year, after years at the middle school level, I made the move back down to elementary school.  I was excited for the chance to once again teach all the core subjects and to build a stronger community with my self-contained classroom students.

At the end of the summer I joined my new colleagues for a retreat to plan and discuss the coming year.  One of the activities we participated in involved having discussions with the grade levels above and below us about the skills students need most as they entered our classroom.  The one skill that seemed to permeate multiple grade levels was the need for knowing basic multiplication facts.  It was evident from the discussion that from 3rd grade on, the curriculum relied on a student’s ability to quickly recall basic multiplication facts and that students who did not obtain this skill by 4th grade were quickly falling behind.

When I began working with my 5th grade students this year, I saw just how true these sentiments were.  Some of my students came equipped with multiplication mastery but many, too many, did not, making everything from fractions to calculating the area of a square difficult.  I sent home practice worksheets, assigned flashcards, and even gave weekly timed multiplication tests but the fact remained, those who knew it, knew it and those who didn’t weren’t investing the time needed to get it.

While flash cards and practice worksheets are not fan favorites in my classroom, learning games are which is how the Multiplication Battle Game was created.  (It started as a sneaky way to fill an extra ten minutes before recess and get kiddos to fill out their blank multiplication charts.) This is how the game works:

Students build a game board that consists of a file folder, a completed multiplication chart, and a blank multiplication chart.

One student attaches their game board to another students game board using binder clips.  The binder clips act as a support so that students can sit facing each other while viewing their board.

Each student then covers 5-7 math facts on their top board (the completed multiplication chart).  You can do this using sticky notes cut into small squares.  These become their “hidden spots.”

To play the game, each player takes turns stating a math fact with the answer. For example, Player 1 might say “2 x 4 = 8.”  Player 1 then marks the answer in the correct spot on their blank game board. Once player 1 has written down their math fact, player 2 will announce whether or not this was a hidden spot on player 2’s top board. If it is, player 1 can mark this on their blank chart with an ‘X.’

Player 2 will go next, following the same steps as player 1. Play continues back and forth until one person discovers all of their opponents hidden facts.

The first person to find all of their opponents marked spots wins!

Having students complete the blank multiplication chart as they play is the real key here as this is the step that provides students with the repetitive practice they need.  As extensions to the activity, I have had students complete the rest of their charts as homework after the games are over and I have even encouraged students to teach and play the game at home, offering it as a homework menu choice.

The outcome of incorporating the game into my classroom has been positive.  Yes, there are still students who struggle but the idea of ‘practicing math facts’ has a lighter tone in the classroom now.  But the best result?  Watching one student in particular light up as he recalls math facts automatically, a skill he didn’t have previously.  The smile on his face as he fills with pride and states math facts with ease is worth every moment in the classroom!

Interested in trying the game in your classroom?  Find detailed instructions and resources here.

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I was that student…

Imagine your most recent staff meeting.  A long hour (or more) after a long day.  Data and statistics and dates to remember flying at your exhausted brain which is drifting off to the papers waiting to be graded on your desk or the chocolate waiting at home.

Now imagine a student.  Imagine the student who raises their hand in class with so much intensity you are sure they will fall out of their seat.  ‘Quiet hands’ is simply impossible for this student as they wiggle, squirm, and “silently” declare “Oh, I know this!”

Now imagine this… today, during my staff meeting, that student was me.

I honestly don’t know what came over me, whether it was exhaustion or stress (or both).  I certainly didn’t plan it.  But as my principal asked a question about the data we were looking at my hand suddenly shot up in the air, I literally kicked the co-worker next to me, and I “silently” declared “Oh, I know this!”  Thankfully everyone, including me, burst into laughter that felt like a much needed release.  Data, after all, is not easily digested at 4pm. Banter about whether the student without the quiet hand should be called on ensued but I was finally allowed to answer.

The incident got me thinking a bit about how I react to the ‘little things’ in my classroom.  Do I recognize the moments when laughter is needed more than information, structure and procedure?  Don’t get me wrong, all of those things are important and we educate in an age when time is precious and there is a lot to cover.  But perhaps taking a moment to laugh with my students, to treasure their enthusiasm over their ‘quiet hands,’ is equally important?  Sometimes I know I can let those little things become big things in a negative way, focusing too much on the distraction and loss of instruction.

But tomorrow I have decided that I will find time to incorporate laughter and positive spirit in my classroom and to relish the enthusiastic hand.

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I See Race Cars…

I have a confession. I collect bottle caps.  Small, large, from all sorts of bottles, everything from Gatorade to milk. In the summer, when my collection reaches mammoth proportions and I can be seen begging bottle caps off strangers and relatives alike, this obsession seems undecidedly bad.  But in the winter, when the first race of the season is underway, and my collection has been put to good use, it’s easy to see this was never an obsession at all.  Because in that moment it’s finally clear, I never saw bottle caps, I saw race cars!

There is growing research to support the use of hands-on, inquiry lessons in the science classroom (Kauble & Wise, 2015).  In fact, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) adapted by most states puts a great deal of focus and emphasis on collaboration and student-led discovery.  But how does all this research and theory translate to the day-to-day of the classroom?

When I first started building race cars with my 8th grade students, pre-NGSS, I used it as a culminating activity. It was an active, engaging way for students to summarize and evaluate 4 weeks’ worth of Newton’s Law knowledge about how things move on Earth.  Powered by balloons, students had to engineer a car that could move fastest and furthest down the raceway.  Each of Newton’s three laws must be put into action for students to experience success and though the task sounded easy to most students at the beginning, a lot of hard work and critical thinking is needed in the end.  Race day was always a well-remembered highlight of the year and the students walked away with a much better understanding of motion after experiencing the hands-on engineering project.

But two years ago, when I started to evaluate my teaching in light of the new standards, I started to wonder… what if I didn’t teach Newton’s Laws?  What if students built the cars first?  Would they make connections and ask questions that would lead to a self-discovery of the laws of motions?  Or would my classroom devolve into a not-so-glorious mess of recycled boxes, glue, and, yes, bottle caps?  I decided to take my chances… we would build without knowledge of Newton or his laws.

When I first posed the question (Who can build the fastest race car made only from recycled materials and powered only by balloon?) there was a lot of excitement in the room.  But after the first build session, excitement turned to frustration… quickly.  A pack of frustrated middle schoolers can be a little scary, so it was important to channel this energy, thus the debriefing, an important strategy I discovered as I was making my transition to student-led inquiry.  I learned that it’s important to take time (10-15 minutes) to stop and generate questions when using this style of teaching.  Why are you frustrated? (The wheels don’t turn; the car won’t move.)  Responses from that first question turned into new questions.  (Why don’t the wheels turn?  Why is it important for the wheels to turn? (Newton’s Law #1!) How do wheels turn on actual cars?) And these questions became topics for research.  At this point, building stopped and research began but more importantly an atmospheric shift occurred in my classroom.  Suddenly the classroom atmosphere had shifted from ‘I want my students to know why’ to ‘my students want to know why.’  There was deliberate purpose behind their search for knowledge.  They had a mission to accomplish!

So, how did my quasi-experiment on the use of student-led science projects fair?  Well, as I would tell my students, more data and research would be needed to fully gage the impact of this method (they would roll their eyes too, don’t worry) but here is a bit of qualitative data I found… my students were far more engaged and present in the lessons.  The truth is, there is still direct instruction needed here.  The difference is instead of me saying “today we will learn about Newton’s second law of motion which involves the math formula force = mass x acceleration” the students are asking “why does my car stop moving when I add decorations?” and I am responding with a lesson. Additionally, students are assigning themselves homework, a phenomenon I find hilarious!  I am not a big advocate of homework and I don’t often assign it but in this situation, I found that most students would go home and do something related to their project.  Whether it was asking someone for advice, taking to the internet, or reading a book, the majority of students were considering the science well outside of the classroom.  And finally, the students were turning to each other for help and advice (collaboration anyone?).  Discussions about why wheels that turn are better than wheels that don’t turn supported by information from Newton’s laws and a few tests we did on friction were happening all around me.  It was enough to bring this curriculum nerd to tears.

So, the next time you see a bottlecap, or an old box, or even a scrap of paper, ask yourself what possibilities it might hold.  What could a little science, a little engineering and lot of middle school creativity bring to life from that simple recyclable?

Check out the complete balloon powered race car lesson here!

Reference:

Kauble, A., & Wise, D. (2015). Leading Instructional Practices in a Performance-Based System. Education Leadership Review of Doctoral Research, 2(2), 88-104.

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