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The move to inquiry...or better yet PBL
The grad classes I was in this summer were all about PBL and the importance of moving to a PBL classroom. As always, I sit through this stuff and they tell me I need to do it, but they don't say how to do it. I've tried a few full blown inquiry labs this year as I moved into a higher level course, teaching chemistry. And the kids have absolutely no idea what to do without being told. I found a lab online that was basically: "Given the following supplies prove the law of conservation of mass." They were given a balance, a flask, a balloon, a grad. cylinder, baking soda and vinegar. I didn't have a single group of students throught my 175 student day who could figure this out without any help from me.
Any ideas on how to get students to think for themselves on these types of activites? I'm beyond the point of frusturation with a lot of stuff this year. My district decided that freshmen should take chemistry so I have 9-12 grade students in my classes all mixed together; which has been a disaster to say the least.
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Don't get frustrated. Actually if you look at the NGSS inquiry is out and the new buzz word is 'Scientific Practices.'
I am attaching my list or collection of articles about PBL from the Learning Center. I hope you may find one or two of them helpful for you.
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My inquiry lessons this year have been hit or miss. Some classes do better with it than others. For example, this week my classes created a "human table." Each student was assigned a shape: dot, circle, triangle, square, pentagon, and hexagon. Each shape had a unique size and color. They had to put themselves in rows and columns (we are about to discuss the periodic table). Some classes just stood there until I gave them a hint. Others organized by shape first. Only in one class figured it out with little guidance because a few leaders in the class arose and told everyone where to move. This not only had the identifying patterns, but it also had them working as a team.
My school district is big on PBL as well and I am wondering if anyone has implemented any PBL projects in a high school chem setting? I would like to do a guided PBL project at the end of the year, but I do not know where to start.
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This is one I put together about Stoichiometry for my grad class this summer. It has flaws...the scenario "problem" isn't fully a real situation, however it gets them thinking about the fuel mixture. Fortunately, my professor didn't know much about stoichiometry so I still got an A!
PBL_Unit_Plan.doc (0.25 Mb)
I find it interesting that the articles you chose focus on elementary learning. My summer classes for grades 4-8 are problem / project-based, and the kids are incredibly engaged. Like Chris and others on this thread though, the older students seem to have much more of a challenge with the creative aspects. Could it be that our students in high school are cautious about making a mistake?
I have my students openly share and swap ideas as they are designing their experiments. Sometimes we have colossal failures, but even failures can be incredible learning opportunities. I also like the students present and share, and finally, analyze and reflect on not only the experimental design and results, but also on the teamwork and design process.
Chris, I have seen the same experiment, but with instructions. It is a classic. Could you devise an assignment that might have them choose some of the materials - perhaps describing the reaction, then have them design the experiments, share their ideas within groups, then design a final - with approval - that they will perform. They write the hypothesis, the procedure, perform the experiment, write the results and analysis. I did this with eighth graders a couple years ago - life science independent experiments, and it was a great experience.
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One thing we discussed in my grad class this summer was that the dedicated high school students are afraid of being wrong and potentially getting a bad grade. Eventhough being wrong dosen't necessarily equate to a bad grade.
I think that with elementary kids, there natural curiostiy and desire to learn is still there, while many high school students really just don't care any more. My students seem to have a big barrier to learning new information and holding onto it for more than an hour or a day. I'm really having difficulty this year bridging that gap. I can't reteach everything 2-3 times, I just don't have time for it.
Have you tried flipping any of the content? If they forget it, then they could go back and review it.
What do you mean by "flipping the content"?
Have the students preview the "background" or lecture material before coming into the classroom. You might have a video that shows the reaction of baking soda and vinegar in a bag - something that will show them that there is a reaction, and that they need a mechanism to capture the gas if they are going to show the conservation of mass. When given a bottle, a balloon, a balance, and the reactants, it might make more sense. Oddly enough, it didn't take the elementary school kids that long to figure that out. The key step is how to capture the invisible gas produced. I know it isn't a huge step, but they need to identify that they need a way to capture the gas if they are to measure it, and I don't think most even think of the gas produced as a result of the reaction as having mass.
For those who are not familiar with "flipped" classrooms, I have attached a collection of resources
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Chris said, "One thing we discussed in my grad class this summer was that the dedicated high school students are afraid of being wrong and potentially getting a bad grade. Even though being wrong dosen't necessarily equate to a bad grade."
So, how to you keep the dedicated students involved, engaged, and out of the nut house?
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I am in the process of implementing a flipped classroom with a problem based curriculum. I found in the past year that my students struggle with thinking through problems! We train them to answer multiple-choice questions. What I found to work was the following:
1. The students are organized into groups for a unit. As we work through the unit towards the problem to be solved, the students reflect individually about the content that is being taught and how it applies to the problem. After they reflect individually, the students then work with their team to formulate a complete response for that section of the content.
2. The flipped classroom allows the students to review the material as needed. My kids really like it!
3. The problems have to be interesting to the students and they have to be able to approach the problem. If the problem is too complex, the students tend to get lost. Think about having check points in the process for students to work towards.
My first unit at the start of the year was on elements, compounds, mixtures, physical properties, chemical properties, and parts of the atom. I gave the students a petri dish with a mixture of sand, salt, sugar, styrofoam pellets, iron filings, and gravel to separate. The first reflections were short and the students seemed really lost. As we moved through the content though, the students refined their answers as they figured out how to solve parts of the problem.
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I agree with everyone's comments and concerns, as well as questions. I too find that my 7th grade Life Science students struggle with critical thinking skills and inquiry type learning tasks. However, depending on the questions asked, and the patience of the teacher (I've had to experience this...haha), students will slowly begin to understand the process. Their responses become more substantial as their observations do as well. Like most things...the more it is practiced, the better it becomes. I've struggled with this as well and found that I had to let go of my preconceptions and expectations and that I needed to sometimes just let the conversations and experiment be a spontaneous event...often leading to rich conversations and partnership in learning (student AND teacher).
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Before I teach any major inquiry, I work with my students on smaller inquiry tasks. One of my favorites is "Which finger is the most important when tying shoes?" I have students whiteboard what they think is a hypothesis and experimental design. Each group shares their whiteboards with me and I question them through any rough spots. Basically, I have a written test, a small inquiry activity, and written inquiry activity that students must go through to demonstrate proficiency. Usually after this, students are ready to do more on their own independently.
I divvy up inquirys throughout the year. Students may only do parts, "Write a new question based on the results of the lab." or "How can the results of your lab be used to prove....(a new scenario is provided to students)?" My students are in 8th grade. I know you have older students, Chris, but you still need to make certain they have the background necessary to be successful. Not all middle school science teachers emphasize the thinking and inquiry skills like we do at our school.
Some scaffolds, are okay to have, especially at the beginning of the year if students are new to PBLs. I only read through your materials quickly, but do you have cross-over questions in your background materials? What I mean is there questions that ask students to think back to the original problem and look for a connection? How would knowing that ratios are an important part of chemistry relate to the problem of the explosion? How would figuring the amount of a substance produced in the reaction relate to the problem of the explosion? How does the reaction provided in the background work model the reaction of rocket fuel?
Formative checks are important to have. When working large projects, students can get lost along the way. I often stop students at least twice while working a larger project. I have them pull out their rubrics and start asking questions of what the characteristics of the rubric should look like in their project. For a recent project, I had students sharing their titles for their experimental design diagrams. A lot of erasing went on as students made corrections. But, with a good title, they see the hypothesis and variables much clearer and usually can self check the rest of their work.
It all takes time and a lot of patience.
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