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POSTCARDS FROM PORTUGAL

 

Inquiry-Based Science Teaching

From

The Country Where It All Began

 

 

 

 

Today there are a variety of imperatives for the successful teaching of science in our public schools. To begin, the continuing evolutions in the fields of technology, medicine and engineering demand an increasing turnout of highly trained technicians, doctors, scholars and engineers. Moreover, we must also take into account that the training these youngsters receive, irrespective of their future vocations, will directly affect their future success as productive citizens (Buxton & Provenzo, 2007). When we teach students to “think like scientists,” we inculcate in them the ability to cognate creatively, use time efficiently, work with others, and gather, organize and evaluate data, as well as view specific subject matter as part of a larger system (Laureate Education, 2007a). We cannot underestimate the importance of these successful habits and traits.
Reflecting on what I have recently learned about the teaching of science has been an  uplifting experience. I have profited by a variety of videos, reading matter, andhands-on experimentation. In addition, the lesson building as well as communicating with my colleagues in both the discussion format as well as inblogs have shed a new light on the new pedagogy. Reading about the positive experiences, frustrations and questions other teachers have had has been enlightening and expansive. Collegial cooperation through communicative devices such as blogs plays no small part in the successful teaching of science (Buxton & Provenzo, 2007). Blogs have become one of the prerequisite technologies on the social learning front. As a result of this course I have emerged as a strong proponent of blogging. The sharing of science reflections, questions, conundrums and means of acquiring knowledge helps the entire learning community. Moreover, blogging has a positive effect on the writing skills of our pupils.Research has shown that students write more, write in greater detail, and take greater care with spelling, grammar, and punctuation, when they are writing to an authentic audience over the Internet.

 

 Planning: the Yin and Yang of Science


Looking back, I particularly liked the science teaching strategies to which I was introduced. Based on  hands-on, inquiry- based, structured activities, the approach proceeds, in sequential order, along the following lines.Plan the lesson by aligning learning objectives, activities and assessments to power standards (Laureate Education, 2007b). Science learning standards describe what the students should know and be able to do (Hammerman, 2006). They help the students focus in on big ideas as they provide a framework for describing unifying concepts across intra- disciplinary and interdisciplinary fields. Using these goals to guide the exercises as well as develop the assessment is an efficacious way to keep the children focused on the core concepts (Buxton & Provenzo, 2007).  Next, the instructor should present key concepts in a way that is relevant to the lives of the students. This will act as a natural “engagement enhancer.” To begin the actual lesson, in the interest in heightening the curiosity of the children, he/she can use a demonstration, a read aloud, a video, or show an artifact, etc. As the children discuss this anticipatory gambit, their prior knowledge is activated and shared (Laureate Education, 2007b). At this point it is profitable for the teacher to formulate questions that will further heighten the interest of the children (Buxton & Provenzo, 2007).Concomitantly, asking the students to generate their own questions helps link key concepts, encourages them to analyze what they have learned, and allows the setting of personal goals to be reached as the lesson evolves (Hammerman, 2006). In addition, it is fruitful to ask the pupils to offer scientific reasoning to back up their answers (Laureate Education, 2007b). Further, as the learners practice process skills, they should be encouraged to closely observe phenomena (Laureate Education, 2007b).They should also be offered instructive prompts to describe properties, identify functions, and discover similarities and differences (Hammerman, 2006). Accordingly, the teachercan use this early opportunity to clear up misconceptions and slowly introduce technical vocabulary (Buxton & Provenzo, 2007). Next, we must allow the children to propose possible explanations (hypotheses) to explain what is occurring. In doing this we can introduce mathematics (for measurement) or technology(instruments, websites, blogging, etc) into the lesson. Later, as they construct models or delineate blueprints, engineering, the fourth discipline in the STEM system (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), can be addressed (Buxton & Provenzo, 2007).

 

 


Science is more about process than product. In order to lay the groundwork for the process, the teacher can now begin to develop dispositions necessary for studying science. She/he introduces and demonstrates the material used for the inquiry-based exercise. Modeling by the teacher is very important. The children can then systematically record their reactions, questions, predictions and evidence of learning in their science journals. Not only do these writings organize their thinking, but they allow the children topractice their writing skills as well (Buxton & Provenzo, 2007). At this juncture, the class is ready to break into individual groups of four or five. Heterogeneous, cooperative groupings are an important adjunct to successful science activity outcomes (Buxton & Provenzo, 2007). Here, the children will work together on a shared vision, exploring the presented phenomenaas they exponentially increase their learning, critical thinkingabilities and problem solving skills. They will also learn to observe, hypothesize, and collect and document data as they discuss and extend their learning about things that are a real and important to them. In this way, they are reaching every teacher’s goal of becoming the scientific thinkers. Further, the instructor should allow students choices as regards activities. Furthermore she/he should assign to them the responsibilities of goal setting, planning investigations, and data collection as well as monitoring, assessing and recording their own  progress. In addition, asthey realize that the sum of the whole, working together, is greater than the sum of their individual parts, they will understand the true communal nature of scientific investigation.



As the group work advances, the teacher, acting as a facilitator, asks questions that require higher order thinking (‘Why do you think that way”)?(Laureate Education, 2007 b).Finally, as the pupils are called back into a whole-class format, they will share and expand on their newly acquired knowledge. This learning can then be further extended and enriched by applying it to reallife situations. These can involve the interests of the children, the school the community or the world-at-large. Lastly, material evidence of their learning can be acquired by informal observation of the process or product, by one-on-one interviews, by perusing the students’ journals, by evaluating the oral answers to the teacher’s questions, by comparing the products with prior portfolio artifacts and by assessing teacher-created as well as standardized testing (Buxton & Provenzo, 2007). 

 

 


All students, regardless of their abilities, language of origin or disabilities deserve an equal opportunity to learn science. An important part of any science lesson is differentiating the material so that the affective as well as the cognitive needs of all students can be addressed. This can be done through the use of multisensory approaches (extensive reading materials, videos, audios, live demonstrations, hand-on activities, art work and the Internet, etc.). This will ensure that we take into account the diverse learning styles of our students. Additionally, we can support those in need with extended time, graphic organizers and appropriate pairings, groupings and job assignments.
Reflecting on the content, processes and assessment results of structured inquiry lessons is one of the most fecund things a teacher can do (Laureate Education, 2007c). Equally important is evaluating firsthand how children interacted with the assigned activities. It is in this “looking back” phase that we get a “fix” on how well the learning process went. Referring to the field experience video we witnessed this week, the teacher, Ms. Taguchi used the reflection process to conclude that she needed to be more cognizant about completing a dry run through the activity before presenting it for the students’ consideration. She also realized that she must be more diligent about having the materials at everyone’s fingertips. By doing this she will assure herself of an even more successful rendition the next time she presents the lesson (Laureate Education,2007d).

 


In conclusion, it is important that students be introduced to the joys of scientific inquiry in a hands-on, teacher-supported exercise (Klentschy, 2008).  This will help them to develop more independent inquiry skills to be utilized later in the term. As the students experience science through direct experimentation, they will acquire a broader and clearer grasp of the inherent concepts. Consequently, as they observe, hypothesize, collect and document data, discuss and extend their learning about things that concern them, they are reaching every teacher’s goal of becoming scientific thinkers (Buxton & Provenzo, 2007) This organized thinking will not only help them in this particular field, but will also help them to negotiate as successful citizens in their adult years (Buxton & Provenzo, 2007)


Unfortunately, contemporary state- issued directives that emphasize test scores and prioritize time constraints may once again result in a “lecture and memorization” mode of teaching(National Education Standards, 2010). This current conundrum should alert those educators interested in developing in our students an authentic affinity for science. What is the solution? Perhaps we need teachers to take the lead in changing the curriculum from a didactic, lecture centered stance to a more constructionist approach. In order to implement this transformation, teachers need to be more knowledgeable about the subject matter they hope to teach (Rice, 2003). They must also be able to access appropriate materials connected to the lesson. Finally, they need to know their way around and through the political power structure. In this manner they will bring aboard the power players so needed for increased funding and true curriculum reform.It seems that educating fellow teachers,politicians and administrators about the high stakes implications surrounding science education may very well constitute the heart of the matter.


 

 

References

Buxton, C. A., & Provenzo, E. F., Jr. (2007).Teaching science in elementary & middle school: A
cognitive and cultural approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


Hammerman, E. L. (2006). Becoming a better science teacher: 8 steps to high quality instruction

and student achievement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
               
Klentschy, M. (2008). Developing teacher leaders in science: Attaining and sustaining science

reform. Science Educator, 17(2), 57–64.


Laureate Education, Inc, (Producer). (2007) [Motion picture]. Program One. “Overview of Key
Concepts in Science Instruction:  Baltimore: Canipe, S.


Laureate Education, Inc, (Producer). (2007) [Motion picture]. Program Six “Guided Inquiry:
Classroom Demonstration” Baltimore: Houston, S.


Laureate Education, Inc, (Producer). (2007) [Motion picture]. Program Thirteen. Interview with
an Expert” Baltimore: Rankin, L.


Laureate Education, Inc, (Producer). (2007) [Motion picture].Program Fourteen. “Virtual Field
Experienc Science Lesson.” Baltimore: Authors.


National Science Education Standards: An Overview. (2010).Retrieved on June 27, 2010
from thewebsite:http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=4962


Rice, Jennifer. (2003). Teacher quality. Retrieved on July 19, 2010 from the

websitehttp://www.epi.org/publications/entry/books_teacher_qualityexecsum_intro/:

 

 

Best Practices for the Teaching of Inquiry-based Science

 

The Teacher:

 

Functions as a facilitatorof learning: guides the learning experience

Provides a safe and supportive student-centered environment for learning

Structures lessons to build on prior learning

Uses inquiry as a primary approach

Uses the vocabulary of science in communication

Provides opportunities for students to ask inquiry questions and generate hypotheses

Uses manipulative materials to build or reinforce concepts

Uses collaboration and cooperation between students

Uses heterogeneous groupings and individualized instruction

Uses material and equipment for multisensory learning

Provides opportunities for students to use critical thinking and reasoning to solve problems

Uses notebooks to organize thoughts and integrate writing

Uses questions to engage students in discussions

Gives students choices and recognizes their affective as well as cognative needs

Applies learning to the lives of children

 

 

 

 

 

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