Tuesday, April 23, 2013

STEM EDUCATION -Inquiry-based research in the classroom


Greenhouse Project

Worm Farm Project

Hydroponic Project

Aquaponics Project

As a science educator my initial concern is to help create, within the minds of my students, the desire to champion the cause of preserving Mother Earth for future generations.  It is understood that greater understanding of science leads to greater appreciation for our planet and the environment that we all count on for life.

Physical and chemical characteristics of soil, plants, fertilizer, water and air are game for scientific inquiry.  To become more knowledgeable about the environment is to be more powerful in your ability to take on challenging problems and put forth the effort to provide timely solutions.

The goals of the project are to develop within students an appreciation for factors that impact changes in our environment and our quality of life.  Students develop the skills, attributes and understanding to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and effective communicators of both creative ideas and arguments based upon fact.  This multifaceted approach to learning provides the instruction and key learning experiences to support students in their development of more sophisticated understanding.

These are long-term inquiry-based research projects provide a wealth of opportunity for formative assessment of by teachers.   Formative assessments provide the needed snapshot measure of students’ abilities and their growth in understanding.  It utilizes the assessment of performance expectations that are designed to improve 21st century skills such as information processing and communication, thinking and problem solving and personal and workplace productivity.  The instructional methodology is grounded in the 5E instructional model that features the following learning components:  Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.

There is an abundance of research on the pedagogy of teaching science that points to the fact that students engaged in project-based learning opportunities not only learn the same content as in lecture-based units but also gain critical thinking and problem-solving skills.  When students are in control of their own learning while conducting long-term research projects, then they are more motivated and it creates a strong sense of ownership.  Authentic research experience has the potential to provide high school students with scientific reasoning skills desired by both high school and university instructors.

Using practices in the science class is the means by which to develop understanding of science ideas.  The learning of science requires doing science.  It requires both scientific and engineering practices.  These projects provide the means to include performance expectations that challenge students to demonstrate knowledge-in-use.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Science Fair Experience


Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century

The 2013 U46 Science Fair

The elation felt by participants at a finale, whether it is a sporting event or a science fair, is ultimately driven by the sheer pleasure of the accomplishment of tasks of no simple means.  This is why School District U46 moves heaven and earth each year to marshal the effort needed to provide science fair opportunities for students.  This is the essence of what science education is all about.   It is about making the case for students to take on challenges, tax their learned skills and abilities and present evidence-based arguments that support their scientific discoveries.

If science education is to move forward in the 21st century it has to place these types of project-based challenges in front of our students to learn.  The genius of the learning process comes from inquiry-based scientific investigations that utilize the knowledge and understanding brought into the classroom by students. 

The Next Generation Science Standards envisions science education in America to be thought of as a process of doing science to achieve understanding and not as the attainment of absolute knowledge.  Student achievement is measured in the movement from conceptual understanding to conceptual understanding and this demands performance.  It requires students to implement this understanding by solving problems and posing new questions.  Doing science leads to student performance outcomes that are real and aligned with the learning of fundamental concepts in science.

Participation in the district science fair is one avenue that educators in School District U46 are able to connect with project-based science providing the means to help motivate students to learn science.  It is a hook that can engage students in the process of doing science.  This engagement is outside the textbook, outside the classroom and placed into the homes and within the community. 

Science Fairs are STEM educational initiatives that become incubators for inspiring young minds. It provides a forum by which student achievement is applauded and their effort and commitment to excellence is recognized.  The science fair experience provides the opportunity for students to work independently for their own education using the abilities and skills they have mastered over many years of schooling.