What do scientists do?

S&C cover

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I am really looking forward to this year’s Science & Children journal. Many of us teach with themes or essential questions that focus our instruction, and this year all of the issues of S&C will focus on aspects of using inquiry in the classroom. I would also encourage secondary teachers to browse through the articles for ideas that could relate to or be adapted to other grade levels, especially if your students are novices to inquiry processes. This month’s theme is “What Do Scientists Do?” and includes the editorial A Powerful Way to Learn and a comparison of traditional school science with the Experiences-Patterns-Explanations triangle (and what this looks like in a primary classroom).
Inquiry at Play shows that our younger students (PreK–Grade2) are at a perfect age to introduce processes such as asking questions, making observations, discussing patterns and categories, and solving problems. The author suggests inviting a scientist into the classroom to meet the students and share his or her work. (If a real visit is hard to schedule, perhaps a teleconference via Skype could be arranged.) Or the teacher or another guest could portray a scientist, using the suggestions in this article. SciLinks has biographies of scientists and a collection of websites on Careers in Science if you need additional information.
Thinking Like a Sssssscientist shows that elementary students can use authentic processes when studying topics such as snakes. I love the graphic that compares the traditional “scientific method” and an inquiry model used—note how the word “wonder” appears in each process!  SciLinks has more on snakes.

This summer, I noticed purple boxes hanging from trees as I drove through the Northeast. They were part of a study of the range of the emerald ash borer, an insect invasive species. The teacher and students in the article Citizen Scientists also investigate the presence of invasive species SC091002 in a long-term study. The author has suggestions for other citizen-science projects that would engage students of any age.
Reading as Scientists describes a classroom project in which 6th graders learned and practiced how to read scientific material. The article includes a rubric for the followup writing assignment and examples of student work. Finding appropriate materials is a challenge—I like the downloadable articles on the Natural Inquirer and ActionBioScience websites.
If you’re thinking of ways to use video technology in your classroom, the authors of Lights, Camera, Action…It’s Science Friday have some suggestions. They describe how student “experts” share their experiences and expertise with others through short video segments that are broadcast within the school. I’m thinking that older students might enjoy this too, sharing with their peers or with younger students. The author includes suggestions for getting started with a similar program.
Dig Deeply and What’s Bugging You? show how traditional plant-growing activities can be “kicked up a notch” to guide students through open-ended investigations. If you and your students are thinking of other projects involving insects, check out the articles How Insects See, Through Their Eyes, and the websites on Insects in SciLinks.
Supporting Ideas with Evidence discusses how to guide students through learning about cause-and-effect studies with independent and dependent variables. And this issue has the debut of a column devoted to formative assessment “probes.” This month features the probe Doing Science to uncover students’ conceptions and misconceptions about scientific thinking.
And check out the Connections for this issue. Even if the article does not quite fit with your lesson agenda, this resource has ideas for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, etc.

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2 Responses to What do scientists do?

  1. Chris Perrot says:

    Liked the comments that had to do with learning inquiry at play. I plan on posting the progress observations in my pre k classroom. Free play for four year old children is sometimes hard to justify. It is inappropriate for four year old children to take away play time in order to teach test taking skills. Free play is how four year old children learn best.

  2. MaryB says:

    Thanks for your comment, Chris. Isn’t it sad that we have to justify “free play” for four-year-olds? Exploring the environment and interacting with other children are foundations for further learning.

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