Thursday, 5 September 2013

Week five - scientific investigations

Monday of week 5 (as described in the previous post) I went into role as Wiremu and delivered the bombshell about the dodgy sponsorship for the project.  The next day - Tuesday - I was back with the student teachers. The session began with a meeting to bring everyone up to speed on what had happened. As before, the children positioned as company members broke into small groups and told the student teachers (positioned as 'trainees') what they needed to know. I noticed that children were equally pre-occupied with the fact that there was a rival company competing for the project as they were about the ethical issues raised by the liver oil sponsorship.

In a sense we had loaded them with not one but TWO key tensions to worry about. Some of the children commented that it was all rather difficult - so much to think about and so little time left. The consensus was that it was best to get the project completed - try to beat the opposition - and THEN think about what action to take to communicate our feelings about the ethical issues .... Quite authentic and mature responses to a complex and real world matter.

So we moved on to the focus for the session, which was to investigate the samples brought up by Bruce's deep sea probe. Andy had led the children towards this by asking them to nominate what they thought would be important to check out in order to help the tank design. Unsurprisingly, the children had come up with very similar aspects to those planned by the teachers - they mentioned needing to test the quality of the water (so we could reproduce it for the tank), needing to get the salt water clear again (so it could be disposed of), needing a filtration system and needing to consider the temperature of the water at the depth that the sharks naturally live.

This is an example of how a the teacher using mantle of the expert can predict some of the likely outcomes of inquiry and plan ahead - or even 'lead' a little towards a curriculum area they wish to explore. We wanted the mantle to lead towards a session of science experiments and sure enough, with the right questions, the children 'requested' it.

Each student teacher took responsibility for a 'station' within which a separate hands-on science experiment was set up.

Alysse was dealing with temperature,

Gavin asked students to consider different materials
for filtration systems.

and Irene was working with Ph testing.

Each of the student teachers was charged with ensuring that the experiment they set up met the expectations of the NZ curriculum in science, and each wrote a full plan accordingly

One of the questions people sometimes ask is whether mantle of the expert allows teachers to plan 'proper' deep learning in particular curriculum learning areas. This can be a challenge in inquiry learning in general. I'll ask the student teachers to comment after this blog about their experience of teaching 'real' science during this session...

The student teachers took leadership throughout this session and it appear to go very well aside from a few practical issues (cold temperatures leading to a smashed glass bottle, boys getting excited at the chance to make a mess with the wet sand, the difficulty for ESOL students in understanding complex  instructions). Students rotated around the space in groups, moving from station to station and engaging with the different experiments in turn. As I travelled around and listened to the conversations it seemed clear that the children were doing more than completing the tasks, they were also relating what they were doing to the context of the shark tank design.


Towards the end of the lesson, Andy received a 'text' from the boss, Clive, reminding the ARS company members that they needed to draw implications from the experiments.

Blue post it notes were hand out for the colleagues to jot down what they had learned and how it would impact on the project. This was a form of assessment in disguise.

Comments on the sticky notes were diverse and showed that children had understood the science. children noted that the ph of the sharks water should be approximately 9. They advised ways to filter and desalinate the water. They even included some commendations that were not part of the original intention of the experiments such as noting 'the chemicals to alter ph are poisonous and therefore should not be touched' and 'we will need to ensure we use thick glass for the tank as if it gets too cold the glass might break,'

As we left the classroom, one of the children updated the 'countdown' on the whiteboard - only 6 days to go until the presentation to the client!

1 comment:

  1. Gavin's bit...

    Going in, I initially found approaching a ‘science lesson’ in this way a little tricky to get my head around, as I was the one who set up the experiment and yet I was also attempting to present myself as if I had very little idea what actually needed to be done. This is perhaps a result of being so accustomed to the traditional science methods and structures of teaching and learning – so often in isolation from other learning areas – in which the lesson is very much teacher-led.

    I found myself consciously resisting the urge to control or ‘teach’ the science, and instead tried to allow the group to play and discover the learning for themselves, reminding myself to be confident that the task had been set up well before hand. The groups responded well to this power shift, and as a result the more I stepped back, the more the group began to step forward and take more responsibility. They began to communicate more amongst themselves, collaborating and refining each other’s ideas instead of looking blankly at me to spoon-feed them further instructions. They also communicated ideas with me, yet in a collaborative manner - not just looking at me for answers.

    Furthermore, positioned as a “trainee” in this lesson especially, I began to notice how I could still influence and draw attention towards key ideas without it appearing too domineering. I began to enjoy actually ‘playing’ with the materials alongside the group – a very legitimate method of experimentation in my view!

    I also noticed how all the while the group was playing and experimenting, they were also relating to the context of the commission - to design a filter for the shark tank. It became somewhat of a driving force, motivating them to find a solution which would help them with their shark tank designs. I know this, because I began to hear conversation such as: “This one works pretty well, but it’s waaay too slow for our massive tank.” - and - “If we make the water too clean, it won’t look like sea-water which is pretty murky anyway. The shark won’t believe it.”