STEM Research Projects
Patience and commitment in science classrooms is not only demonstrated by achieving students, but also by teachers modeling this same behavior as facilitators of long-term research projects.
During fall semester of 2012 students in my physics classes began to work through preliminary research procedures that are necessary when conducting scientific investigations. The goal was to research and produce electricity from alternative sources of energy (solar panels, wind turbines and fuel cells) without creating a carbon footprint. Since September students have studied sources of energy by class discussions, reading articles and researching new innovations dealing with nonpolluting energy production.
Over the past three month students have worked through a process of systematic preparation to initiate a scientific inquiry process. These student-centered and long-term research projects are worked through different stages of the STEM Research Process. From idea generation to a focus upon a topic and the implementation of research design, these critical steps are taken and begin the assent to the science research challenge.
By facilitating an organized investigation process, without step-by-step procedure, it has allowed students to be more creative, and develop a real sense of exploration and ownership. The STEM Research Process, tied to a teacher’s commitment and patience to let the process emerge, will create a 21st century learning environment that includes the following: time on task, real exploration, developing ownership of the project goals and inspired deep-thinking of the experimental results. These are the fundamental ingredients fostering success in the 21st century science classroom.
Long-term research projects require a new set of abilities and skills that are now necessary to meet the problem-solving demands of our modern society. Collaboration skills, openness to new ideas, effective communication skills and a commitment to evidence-based reasoning are important attributes needed by students to work effectively within talented groups of individuals coming from diverse backgrounds and interests.
These long-term research projects, placed squarely within the current physics curriculum, help to determine educational outcome in the science classroom by providing a creative learning environment to do research, collaborate and construct reasoning out of the experimental process. Learning comes alive and grows with all of its complexities, forms and relationships. This school, with its science classrooms, will now become the sought after “institution of learning” nurturing the creative and thoughtful process of inquiry and problem solving. It is science education at its best!
During this spring semester the physics students will initiate their scientific investigations and produce experimental results that support or disprove their hypothesis. It is critical that the interpretation of these results, drawn conclusions and graphical presentations ultimately showcase their scientific findings and are the means by which performance is measured.