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Yesterday we had a meeting to plan the time line for the Science Fair. In the meeting, we were stuck on the discussion on whether or not students should be able to choose their own topic or pick from a list of topics that have modeled questions to start the students into the Scientific process. How do you all feel? Spoon fed with guidance or allowed the opportunity to use their own prior knowledge/interest to come up with a topic?
Science is amazing because it is hands on, involves higher levels of thinking,and students are giving the opportunity to use their creativity. The process of prepping for a Science Fair is a big undertaking but the rewards out way it.
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What age students do you teach? The younger the student, the more guidance they will need. Perhaps modeling the scientific method should be your first step in teaching the process. Your class could conduct an inquiry, then you could show them ways that variables could be altered to produce a new experiment. Depending on your students ability to work independently, you may want to provide a list of suggested projects. For older students, perhaps give them a choice between some project suggestions and free choice. Although students love choice, sometimes the choices can be overwhelming, especially for students that do not have a good grasp on the scientific process. The site Science Buddies has a large database of projects to choose from. It may be a good middle-of-the-road solution. Although students would select their own project, the project directions would certainly help scaffold the process. Good luck!
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I created a collection of NSTA journal articles about science fairs that I think you would find useful. I hope it helps.
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I think that some guidance could be good. Maybe give broad topic suggestions that way students can think of what interests them like nutrition or chemistry or physics and go from there. Also, explaining the process of questioning that leads to an experiment. You want students to be creative but if they have trouble maybe a sit down and give them ideas based on what they are interested in.
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I think it would be best to provide some guidance but let the kids choose their own topics for the most part. You could give them an example of a topic and the types of questions they'd want to ask while providing a broad outline of general science categories to choose from. Once they have a baseline to work with, it'd probably be easier for them to come up with a more concrete topic of their own. Plus, assisting them with how they should go about developing hypotheses and everything else would help them to keep from getting off-track. I think the amount of assistance would depend on the needs of the student but for the most part, if you give them a reasonable amount of room for creativity and self-expression, they're more likely to take a deep-rooted interest in whatever they choose to do. If any of them need more assistance, then you can give it to them as needed.
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I’m not sure what grade level you teach, so that would have some influence on the student’s range of choice. But with inquiry, ideally, you want the student to explore a question that is of interest to him/her. I would ask each student come up with a testable question of his/her own, then the teacher could meet with the student and talk about the question, perhaps help the student fine tune it, and discuss the plans for the investigation, type(s) of data to collect and how the student might proceed. This is how I worked with my middle school students when they had a “science fair” project to do. It seemed to work well and set them initially in the right direction.
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I think students should pick from a list of topics. I believe this option would be better because if the students got to pick their own topic, then they may easily pick a topic that they know much information about, which means they will not have to do as much work. So, while doing the project, they may not learn much. But, if the students get assigned a topic or are limited to a list, then the students will most likely learn more about the topic they are doing their project on. Therefore, I think it would be best for the students to choose from a list of topics because it will allow them to learn new information rather than going over things that they already know. Also, it would be great if the topics were interesting and caught the attention of the students so that they are excited about doing the Science Fair.
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Like Ashley and Kathy, I think it's a good idea to let your students pick their own topics. Kids by nature are inquisitive and giving them an opportunity to explore their interests through the science fair can help your students develop their problem solving skills. If you have students who are struggling with ideas, you could offer them some guidance on selecting a topic. Once your students determine their topic and develop their questions, you could verify that the topic is appropriate and that the question is testable. Depending on the grade level of your students, you may want to help guide them through the project process by using a Science Fair Worksheet. I attached an example that I used for a science fair at the elementary level. I made each section of the worksheet due on specific dates. This helped me insure my students were keeping up with the project at home.
I've attached a few resources from the NSTA Learning Center that might help you out. Also, I'm glad that Patty suggested the Science Buddies. It's an excellent website that has tons of resources.
Good luck with your school's science fair!
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Guiding is very important as well as allowing them to select what they are interested in. I would only want to guide my students once they have chosen a direction to go. Of course the age of the students does matter.
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Having students choose their own topics to start a project is a nice idea in getting students even more interested in science. Usually I assign topics such as planets and body systems. I get some complaining of not getting the topic they wanted but I tell them there is always something interesting to learn from every topic. What would some of you suggest if I let students choose a topic of their choice but most students choose the same topic leaving some topics not chosen? Thanks in advance for your great ideas.
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Thanks for making this post. In my education class we just had a discussion on some articles we read about the different types of inquiry based lessons in the classroom. After learning more about inquiry based lessons I would have to say that it would be more beneficial to your students if they had the choice to choose their own topic. If they are interested from the start then they will be more motivated to conduct the research and answer their own questions. I think this would greatly help them improve their critical thinking skills and propose their own questions in the classroom in the future. If you'd like you could provide a list of topics for the students to choose from but if they have their own topic they would like to research on their own then let them choose it. As long as there are certain requirements or standards that their project must adhere to then the students shouldn't get off track. Hope this helps!
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WOW...What a discussion....with many interpretations..
I too am wondering about the age of the children.
Regardless, inquiry is a process, that usually includes pieces like observation, questioning, making predictions, observing, making meaning, questioning, drawing a conclusion and maybe questioning again. I do not believe students should be taught "the scientific method" that I was taught..a lock-step, linear process. Scientists do not work like that. Science is messy. It is not necessarily linear.
I was wondering if instead of a "science fair" in the traditional way maybe you could start a new tradition...An Inquiry Conference? This way students could develop questions that interested them and follow it through.
When students write up their work, I still expect to see a question, observations, a prediction, an investigation, etc. but there may be more than one question.Students might draw an initial conclusion but after further investigation have a different conclusion.
In this type of work, the science notebook is very important as it is the all the documentation of the work the student is doing.
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I love the idea of an Inquiry Conference! What a fantastic title for the 21st Century science fair! Thanks for highlighting that science is a messy process and tends to be non-linear. I think this is an important point to clarify. Since most of us "learned science" using the scientific method, it's easy to slip back into teaching using the lock-step method. As teachers, we really need to seize opportunities that enable our kids to experience science through inquiry.
Michael, I wouldn't worry if some topics go unresearched or if two students do similar experiments. Maybe if two students do similar research you can have them collaborate to examine their results to determine similarities and differences in their outcomes.
I found a resource I want to share. It is called "Nurturing Inquiry" by Charles Pearce, published by Heinemann. I am going to share some of the information here. I have this book so if anyone wants more information feel free to contact me.
Every day children make astounding scientific discoveries. The playpen, sandbox, backyard, and playground are their laboratories. What, then, can we offer these young scientists who have spent their lifetimes acquiring knowledge through their own investigations? What experiences can we provide to enhance the growth of the scientist within each child? Charles Pearce found the answers and shares his discoveries in Nurturing Inquiry. The book offers a tour of Pearce's inquiry science classroom, where students are given daily opportunities to do what they do best: investigate, explore, and discover, using their own questions, curiosities, and interests.
Nurturing Inquiry provides all the information you need to incorporate inquiry into your curriculum. Part I is a detailed account of how Pearce prepares his classroom, his students, and himself for the introduction of inquiry. In Part II, Pearce explains how to sustain interest throughout the school year by giving students more and more ownership in their investigations both within and beyond the classroom. Part III includes ideas to help you meet the particular challenges of assessing inquiry and offers examples of various assessment instruments, including surveys, checklists, and dialogue journals.
Replete with practical ideas for materials, activities, and strategies, Nurturing Inquiry is the perfect resource for teachers looking to create a community of scientists in their classroom. But it is much more than a how-to manual—it is also an inspiring look at the reflection, choices, and values that shape the practice of a highly successful teacher.
I. Lighting the Fire: Getting Inquiry Underway
1. Inquiry: The Next Frontier
2. Getting Started
3. Inquiry Periods: A Structure for Inquiry
4. Discovery Boxes
5. Outdoor Explorations
II. Tending the Fire of Inquiry: Keeping Those Burning Questions Hot
6. Using the Curriculum
7. The Science-Language Connection
8. Inquiry Enhancements
9. The Kids' Inquiry Conference
10. Tools for Assessment
The book offers a tour of Pearce's inquiry science classroom, where students are given daily opportunities to do what they do best: investigate, explore, and discover, using their own questions, curiosities, and interests.
Kathy, this looks like a wonderful book. Love to explore the ideas here or in another forum
Arlene Jurewicz Leighton
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I found a resource I want to share. It is called "Nurturing Inquiry" by Charles Pearce, published by Heinemann. I am going to share some of the here. I have this book so if anyone wants more information feel free to contact me.
Thanks so much for sharing the information on this book! I hadn't seen before, but I'm excited to check it out after reading your description. I did some quick research on the title and discovered that the ISBN is 978-0325001357 in case anyone else is interested in researching or purchasing the book. Thanks again, Kathy! I look forward to continuing the discussion on this book once I receive it in the mail!
I think that the students should be able to choose their topic for their science fair project. It depends on the age of the students. The younger grades, third and fourth graders, should be given more guidance. They should be provided with a list of different topics to choose from. If you're teaching middle school students, then they should be given a list of websites to choose from, but they should be allowed to choose a topic that interests them. The students will be motivated to do well on the science fair project and may enjoy science in the future. This way a student can show off their background knowledge in their topic of interest.
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