As I reflect on this past year, I'm happy to report that my hands on, inquiry based intermediate Science program was an overall success.
I began the year with a group of Grade 8s who had not had a lot of variety in the way they were expected to show their learning in Science class. By that I mean, they took notes, read from a resource, received a study guide and took a test. Some of them were successful with this process, so in comes this teacher, new to them, wanting to them to show their learning in other ways.
Our last Science unit is usually the most collaborative and hands-on, structures and mechanisms. To make some of them feel better, I gave them their lessons and labs in advance, we followed the text book more closely than I have all year. I had high expectations when it came to how they show their learning in lab reports, but I gave them an option to document their findings using alternative ways, not just their lab book.
They all chose to show their learning in written lab report, although since I had been taking anecdotals along the way I still think most were successful overall, even though pencil and paper is not everyone's strength. As a culminating task, I provided them with this activity. The idea was that since there were so many interruptions those two weeks, they would be able to plan their learning and decide how they would showcase it. Most of them tapped into having conversations with me, and I kept track of these, but others chose not to. Even if they were working in groups, they needed to show how this new knowledge personally applied to them.
The magical moments became when I over heard a conversation go something like this:
"Mrs. Skibinski, what do you mean how does the system affect me personally?"
Another would over hear and pipe up, "What's your system?"
"The transportation system."
"That's so easy! Buses emit green house gases which cause global warming!"
"But buses also help people get places when they don't have a car, we could take a bus because we can't drive a car."
and so on...
In the end, the conversations exploded exponentially more than any memorization of facts for the purpose of taking a test would have shown. If this group had been more open to using the blended learning discussion forums, I can only imagine the knowledge building that we would've accomplished!
My colleagues and I recently finished a collaborative inquiry project in which we investigated giving students a digital choice in showing their thinking and communication, our focus was on Math but it gave all teachers in the project more confidence to give student choice in other subject areas. One of the struggles I'm finding with "old school" teachers, is they feel parents will also question where the learning is if there is no paper evidence at the end, they don't feel trusted to use anecdotals and observations as a way to report to parents. But this Science class with a group of grade 8 students who have only been showing their learning by reading the textbook and taking a test for their whole elementary career, today they told me they even took spelling tests in kindergarten, was able to adapt.
Every month they do a reflection on their learning for me and when given the choice with what to do with the last two weeks, an overwhelming majority voiced that they wanted to do something hands on. Since I had given them hands on learning all along, I did give them the choice to write an inquiry report. A few of them did admit, "oh good, I like that."
I just hope that if you're an educator on the edge of trying something new and out of the box that your colleagues at your school may not be doing, you may feel lonely at first. Innovators usually are. Know that the students do appreciate it and it will be worth it in the end.