Sunday, November 17, 2013

Teaching The Scientific/Experimental Method Part I

How do we know what we know?  How can we learn about the world around us?
  • We start from what we know and then ask questions.
  • These questions can be turned into hypotheses.
  • We can test these hypotheses, analyze the results, and communicate our findings. 
  • This can, in turn, generate new questions and create a pathway to deeper inquiry and understanding.
It all sounds incredibly formulaic, but when you ask a child to rely on their own agency to arrive at a larger understanding via the experimental method, it is essential to allow them to drive the inquiry and the conversation and afford them the space to let this process evolve organically and experientially.  While the scientific method can appear to be a very linear knowledge-product construct, the route through which this can be achieved should be creative and non-linear.  The work of the group informs the knowledge of the individual and vice versa. The intersubjectivity that is the end goal of the constructivist model can only be arrived at through ample opportunity to visit and revisit data.
Thankfully, project-based learning is attracting the attention of many new adherents in education, but what that looks like and what that means varies greatly from school to school.  In first grade at Sabot it means that:
  • The ideas that we pursue come from the children;
  • The children propose the questions and develop the hypotheses - not the teacher;
  • They are offered guidance and the tools to help them pursue the answers to their questions, but they alone have the agency to answer them - again, not the teacher; and ultimately, 
  • Children are taught that their personal experiences offer them valuable tools to answer their questions and that secondary reference or source materials and outside expertise are just that.  We must start from personal connection, experience, and observations before looking to other outside experts or expertise to build our knowledge base. 
Without explicit front-end teaching, without directing the students to utilize computers and books to get the answers to their questions...what each child brings to any project investigation is unique, organic, and uniquely theirs.  They contribute their understanding into the collaborative whole and what results is infinitely richer than the sum of its parts.  

Which leads us to...plants...

The children started from what they knew:

I. ties the plant life cycle to the water cycle

R:  from seeds to sprouts to trees - they need rain and sun
A.C.: Growing trees.  It starts out like a little seed, growing, growing, then a little shoot, then a trunk, branches and green leaves.  It’s a living thing of nature.  It’s a plant. 
I:  They’re growing through the roots.

P:  The roots, they help it grow.  With a weed, if you don’t get the roots when you pull [them up], it will keep growing.  And I know that all plants are green.

J:  The water goes through the trunk and to the leaves. 

E.K.:  They (trees) sometimes eat dirt, soil.

T:  How do they survive with sun and rain?  I would think they need worms.  I don’t know but I want to know if worms give them water.

E.S.:  This is like past, present…persons, plant seeds...When they grow, they kind of have a dangerous life.
What else do they [plants] need to grow?

C:  They need enough water.

A.L.: Sunlight.  I know how they get it.  The story in The Cat and The Hat says, “Don’t take the leaves off the trees”.

E.K.:  And the leaves help us breathe.

J:  The trees give us oxygen.  We breathe out carbon dioxide.  It’s a gas.
A.L.:  Trees make air and breathe out carbon dioxide.  It’s the other way around for us. 

Thinking and working like scientists, they started with what they knew, shared their knowledge, and then began to think about questions that they might be able to test.
  Most of their questions centered around figuring out what plants need to survive.

Four tests were created to see how (and if) seeds would grow:

TEST 1:  Do you need soil to make seeds grow?
·        With water, soil, and rocks
·        With water, rocks, and NO soil
TEST 2:  Do worms help seeds grow?
·        With water, soil, and worms
·        With water, soil, and NO worms

TEST 3:  Can seeds covered in fabric grow? 
·        Seeds covered in fabric
·        Seeds NOT covered in fabric

TEST 4:  Do seeds and plants need sun to grow?
We used plants that had already sprouted as well as seeds that had not yet sprouted

Once the tests were created, the students had to come up with a prediction.  After seven days, they were invited to return to their tests and record their observations and share their findings.  After another week had passed, they again recorded their observations.

As they learn to find ways to answer their questions about the world around them, they are discovering that the scientific method isn’t just simply applicable to science, but to all investigative endeavors:
·        Start with what you know
·        Ask questions about the things you don’t know
·        Use these questions to create a hypothesis
·        Make a prediction about what might happen
·        Create experiments to test your hypothesis
·        Look for evidence
·        Record your results
·        Go back to your hypothesis and your prediction and see if you arrived at an answer (or answers)
·        What did you learn?
·        Did anything surprise you?
·        Communicate and share your findings
·        Be open to the ideas and suggestions of others
·        Stay curious – questions tend to turn into more questions 

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