Reading in Science
Teachers understand the student composition and diversity of their classes better than anyone. Class time is limited and precious; it is best used for peer interaction, teamwork, and discussions that can’t take place at any other time. Some peer interactions, and even some of your modeling or lecturing, can be moved online. However, there is also clearly a place for whole-class instruction during class time. During whole-class instruction, you might briefly read passages aloud so that students can hear what fluent reading and the pronunciation of unfamiliar words sound like; it also gives you the opportunity to emphasize and analyze particular vocabulary, sentences, and segments. You can model close reading of passages with the goal of students following a release of responsibility model as they produce a product based on your model (with guidance), then work on a passage with peers, and finally work on a passage on their own. In practice, students are probably most engaged when whole-class, group, and individual work are combined, and where peers and instructor provide feedback and participate in genuine discussion.
Blended Learning and Flipping the Classroom
Blended learning and flipping the classroom have each become full-fledged educational movements with strong adherents, moderate practitioners, and even opponents. Blended learning emphasizes combining online and in-person instruction, primarily to provide students with components of self-directed and self-paced learning. Flipping the classroom also advocates a mix of online and in-class instruction, but the emphasis is not necessarily on self-direction and pacing. The main focus of flipping the classroom is to use lecture videos and multimedia to deliver content as homework, saving class time for peer interactions, discussion, and teamwork. Both blended and flipped modes of instruction can be used very effectively for inquiry-based literacy instruction.
The standard sections of a lab report—abstract, background, purpose, results, and conclusions—relate to the activities of an actual lab experiment. For students to effectively read, understand, and critique research reports, they must have experience collecting and analyzing data. It is even better if they can play a role in planning experiments and read about the larger context and meaning of experiments. While it is necessary to be methodical in sequencing and doing experiments and in carefully and consistently documenting results, you could consider more flexibility in how students report their findings. You could also encourage them to question aspects of the scientific method as presented in most textbooks and lab manuals. For example, what is the value of formulating a hypothesis? Do you always need a testable statement, or might a rigorous question suffice in some cases? It’s also worth noting that the conceptual rigor that goes into designing and executing lab experiments also applies to field research, where nature may provide the equivalent of a manipulation, and in clinical research, where you may not have the advantages of the controlled lab setting.
Explore: Examine the How Science Works [JPG] flowchart and think about how the scientific method as taught in schools compares to how researchers actually conduct science.
Field trips are an opportunity to enrich and reinforce the curriculum. Because a field trip is often not directly in synch with classroom instruction, it can expand a perspective on what’s been explicitly covered in the course, moving students from a more narrow perspective to big ideas. Field trips can also help broaden student literacy: they “read” the experience by listening to guides and looking at exhibits and other aspects of a visit; they can also hone note taking and reporting skills. In general, students will get more out of a field trip the better and more explicitly they prepare for the experience with readings, videos, or even a preview discussion about what to expect. Students are also likely to get more out of the experience if they are given some materials to help organize their visit, giving them a purpose as well as a structure and goals for their time. During the field trip, teachers can curate and mentor the experience in a setting that may be more relaxed but more energized than just another day in class.