How can we cultivate a student’s (and a teacher’s!) natural love of learning and exploration amid so many demands in today’s schools? The recent article “When Success Leads to Failure” in The Atlantic by teacher–author Jessica Lahey drew our attention once again to the pressure students feel to test well and excel in their studies—perhaps at the expense of their love of learning. When facing numerous expectations, teachers and students constantly wonder, “Do we have time to follow our curiosity and explore that exciting question or problem raised during today’s lab? Or is it time to turn toward the next textbook chapter, college-application essay, or high-stakes exam?” For this month’s issue of Book Beat, we selected these lessons and activities that can help you nurture students’ love of science exploration and keep the light of curiosity shining brightly in your classroom.
When in Science Class, Do as Scientists Do
The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to introduce students to the many ways that scientists do their work, including making observations, using models, and conducting experiments. Consider using Page Keeley’s formative assessment probe “‘Doing’ Science” from What Are They Thinking? Promoting Elementary Learning Through Formative Assessment to uncover what your K–5 students think about how we study science and the practices of scientists. With the insights you glean, you’ll have all you need to design classroom experiences that will help students see the numerous scientific methods we employ when exploring the natural world. Encourage your students in grades 8–12 to look for patterns, a key strategy scientists use to try to make sense of the bewildering array of natural phenomena we encounter daily. The chapter “Science Without Numbers: Searching for Patterns” from John Haysom’s Science Fair Warm-Up, Grades 8–12: Learning the Practice of Scientists gives students opportunities to study data sets in search of underlying patterns, which can lead to deeper understanding of natural phenomena. (See also the books in the Science Fair Warm-Up series for grades 5–8 and 7–10 .) For high school students, you can also download the lab “Environmental Influences on Animal Behavior: How Has Climate Change Affected Bird Migration?” from Victor Sampson and coauthors’ Argument-Driven Inquiry in Biology: Lab Investigations for Grades 9–12 to guide students in exploring animal behavior and the interactions among species and their environment. While engaged in this lab, students will learn about the differences between data and evidence and gain experience using an online database.
Foster a Culture of Curiosity
We know students are engaged when they ask “What is that?” and “What’s happening here?” at the sight of a puzzling object or phenomenon. Curiosity and questions drive scientific exploration. An important part of the scientist’s work is making observations and inferences when facing new phenomena, and having students explore these concepts early in the school year builds a foundation for their scientific studies. For elementary students, download the lesson “Earth Hounds” from Karen Ansberry and Emily Morgan’s Picture-Perfect Science Lessons, Expanded 2nd Edition: Using Children’s Books to Guide Inquiry, 3–6. This lesson begins with reading the entertaining book Dr. Xargle’s Book of Earth Hounds, in which an alien professor draws hilarious conclusions from his observations of dogs. Students then make observations and inferences about the unseen properties of mystery objects, all while learning the differences between observations and inferences and how scientists generate knowledge using both. For K–8 students, download “The Little Tent That Cried,” a chapter from Richard Konicek-Moran’s Everyday Earth and Space Science Mysteries that can be an excellent introduction to the water cycle. Students engage with the story of two young campers who awake to water dripping on them inside their tent. Just as the children in the story puzzle over where the water is coming from, your students will ponder the source of the dripping water while learning more about condensation and evaporation in the context of a natural situation. Explore other topics covered by the many stories in the Everyday Science Mysteries series.