When teachers elicit students' ideas at the beginning of a unit or an activity, making the transition from these ideas to student-centered investigations is often a challenge. How can students' ideas lead to productive hands-on, minds-on, and meaningful investigations? During this workshop, we'll consider how teachers can move students' thinking from exploring what they already know, to asking a question about what they want to know. We'll also consider how the ideas that emerge during an open-ended exploration or a brainstorming session might be "finessed" toward the learning goals intended by the teacher.
The Great Bean Bag Adventure
Having discovered that seeds must have water to sprout, we set out to investigate what other conditions help seeds grow. In our second experiment, we went "beyond the basics," combining water with light, soil, and air to see which (if any) of these three conditions support seed growth.
What we used:
4 plastic baggies
What we did:
Folded and placed two paper towels in each baggie. Poured water in each baggie to moisten the towels. Labeled and prepared the baggies as follows:
Maddie has seven kittens. Some are black, and some are white. How many of each might she have?
After you've answered the question, discuss your process. How many combinations did you come up with? Did you all agree? Did everyone in the group interpret the question in the same way, or were there differences in your understandings? How did your group negotiate differences in your interpretations of the question?
Kalpana questions whether or not the children were aware that differences in their results might be significant. How might you find out if your students recognize a discrepancy in results, and if so, what they think about the discrepancy?
Marquita's pendulum activity may seem to be a case of extreme dissonance, and yet the students are very interested in their own ideas. How can you help students move beyond their own ideas and consider their results in relation to those of their classmates?
Recall a situation in which a math or science activity that you had planned simply did not work as you intended, either because the activity went awry, or because the students "missed the boat" in terms of their understanding. (If you cannot recall such a situation, it's fine to invent one.)
First, write a brief narrative (1 paragraph) that describes what you, the teacher, experienced in this situation. What were your goals? How did you know that things weren't working? What were your reactions? What did you think was the problem? How did you feel?
Then, write a brief narrative (1 paragraph) from the perspective of one of your students. What were his/her goals? How did he/she know that things weren't working? What were his/her reactions? What did he/she think was the problem? How did he/she feel?
Bring your two narratives with you to Workshop 5, and be prepared to share them with your colleagues.
Suggested Grade Level: 3-5
Students investigate whether length and/or weight affects how fast a pendulum swings.
Washers of the same size
Large (jumbo) paper clips
Stop watch or timer
After students have had the opportunity to make some initial investigations with pendulums, help them focus their investigations with the following activity:
Build a pendulum:
Does a pendulum swing faster when more weight is attached?
Does the length of the pendulum affect how fast it swings?
Have students design an investigation to determine if the distance a pendulum is pulled back from its resting place determines how fast it swings.
Younger students can investigate pendular motion by building pendulums, observing their motion, and then trying to find objects in their own world that have a similar motion (e.g., playground swings, grandfather clocks, ponytails, children hanging from monkey bars).
Adapted from Grossman, Marvin C., Shapiro, Irwin I., and Ward R. Bruce. 1996. Project ARIES, Module One: Time, Peterborough, NH: Cobblestone Publishing.
As a result of activities in grades K-4, all students should develop
"In elementary grades, students begin to develop the physical and intellectual abilities of scientific inquiry. They can design investigations to try things to see what happens-- they tend to focus on concrete results of tests and will entertain the idea of a "fair" test (a test in which only one variable at a time is changed)."
National Research Council, (NRC). 1996. National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. (pg. 121)