Friday, March 21, 2014

The Nature of Science

If you're anything like me, you're doing it wrong. Teaching science, that is. For the last two years as a science teacher, I have been on a quest for the best activities for "doing science". Hands-on, "fun", engaging, and meaningful are the words that I used to use to describe my lessons and activities. I read a ton of literature on how to get students to think like scientists and how to make my lessons focus on critical thinking. And it never really clicked. Until now.

FINALLY. I. Get. It. Science isn't something that you do. It's everything, all day, every day! Thinking critically is just a small part of science. What is critical thinking, anyway? There are so many different interpretations, but for me, critical thinking is just being able to independently solve problems that you face by using your background knowledge and whatever tools you have available to you. This starts with science, I believe! Scientists solve problems every day and it's important to teach students to think like scientists so that they can solve real world problems that they will inevitably face throughout their lives. Teaching students how to think like scientists really does change the way at which they look at life. It's all about getting students to be very curious about the world around them and to teach them how to ask testable, scientific questions. But for me, this isn't something that comes naturally as a teacher. I have to work at how I deliver the content to students. And it is so hard!!

Through reading, reading, and reading some more, I have been able to pinpoint some key strategies to help students. Prompting students with a very intriguing question is key. Developing that initial interest and curiosity is necessary in order to get students to really be interested in what they are doing is crucial to the main goal of the lesson. The next part is probing them with deeper questions until they start to probe the questions themselves. This will come over time and isn't something that happens overnight. Another big part of critical thinking is to provide students with just enough information to get them started and then BACK OFF! This is a very difficult concept for me because when a student comes to me with a question about what they are doing, it's so easy to just tell them the answer! But instead, it's so important to let students figure things out for themselves, let them ''do it¨ wrong so that they can learn from their mistakes. Even answering a question with a question is a good thing for developing critical thinking skills.

Though I started this year out VERY strong with these critical thinking skills, I let the difficulty of practicing this technique get the better of me and I haven't been as diligent with practicing these skills daily. So, after Spring Break, we are retracting a little. We are going to practice these science processing skills covering content that we've already learned about. We will just be taking it to a deeper level.

I have a very, very long way to go until I am by any means comfortable with this. But it really is all about growth and learning. I love it!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Differentiation in Science. And Volume!

As educators, we know how important it is to differentiate our instruction in order to make sure that every student reaches the learning goals that we set together. Sometimes, a class discussion reaches all students, but very rarely is that the case. Students need to be engaged in what they are doing - not just told what they should know.

This makes for a very challenging dilemma for us as teachers! How do we do this? How do we teach so that every child learns the same thing - but present it to them in a different, tailored, individualized way? The answer is just as complex as the question itself. And there isn't just one "right" way to do it.

For me, it looks a lot of different ways. I typically have a class discussion to review what we've learned and to also talk about what's coming up. I offer a time to ask questions about what we've learned and that can actually take up more time than I ever plan for!! I love that because it lets me know that the students are thinking like scientists and becoming increasingly curious about the world around them and how to fit what they are learning into their own lives.

We ALWAYS do hands-on activities. ALWAYS. We always get up and move around and go outside and look at things and explore. So that's usually the next part of my science workshop. Actually working. We just wrapped up the volume portion of my properties of matter unit. It's a lot of math. A LOT. And they didn't even complain about it! Instead of just having the students work out problems on a worksheet, we measured the volume things that we might use in science. For example, how much water would I need to completely fill up our class fish tank?  Then we talked about the science cabinets in our classroom. How much stuff could we fit in there? We measured and measured and measured some more. Then we got really ambitious and we wanted to know how much stuff we could fit into our classroom. We first reviewed that volume is the amount of space that an object takes up, but that it also tells us - if packed tightly with no spaces - how many cubic units could fit inside. {We also talked about what a unit is and we agreed to use feet - or cubic feet - to measure our classroom.} This was very challenging for us because my classroom isn't a perfect rectangle or square. So we had to break up the room. I had the students work in groups so that I could walk around and help with strategies to solve the problem.

This is very typical. I assess the students before I group them so that I know which groups need a little extra help, the ones who get it and need more, and the students that are right where they need to be and can complete the task on hand.

I got carried away. Back to differentiation. So the idea is that you have assess what students already know, give a lesson, demonstration, or a class discussion and then you break the students up so that they can practice with the concept and hopefully even take it a step (or two) further. Taking it a step further is only possible through teaching students how to think critically, which is a whole other ball game altogether. {More on critical questioning later!}

Overall, the main point of this post is just to demonstrate one way to differentiate instruction. I  love the workshop model in all subjects  - yes, even science. No, it is not easy, but if it were easy, it wouldn't be challenging for me - which is one thing that I love about my job. It keeps me on my toes.

How do you differentiate your instruction in science? PLEASE leave me comment and let me know - one main reason I started this blog is to collaborate with other teachers to gain insight so that I can continue to grow as an educator! I heart comments!!