Inquiry Based Science Lessons

Another generic resource, also from the NSTA elementary mailing list.  The issue of using inquiry in science lessons is a big deal and also came up a recent School Leadership Team meeting.  Inquiry does, of course, get used, but it's always a tough item since it is easy to get "off script" when using a lesson plan that allows student-driven inquiry.  At the same time, it's hard to really teach science without it.  The issue in NYC, and probably many other places, is that since the city has instituted standardized science testing, the test is naturally content based. 

Problem.  Big problem.  Why? Because ultimately, science is not a collection of facts (organized or not).  Yet that is precisely the impression given to every NYC student when they have to prepare for and take that test.  History is a collection of facts: what happened is what happened.  Yes, there can be interesting analysis of the motivations of the players in the historical dramas we study, but nonetheless, you cannot infer the future from the past.  (Okay children, if you back talk you parents, you can predict the near future you will get in trouble, but you know what I mean).  English grammar (or other languages) involve certain rules and memorized exceptions.  Math involves memorizing some rules and relationships (think multiplication tables, rules for addition, algebraic relationships, etc.). 

But science requires that we learn to solve problems in a certain way.  The collection of facts that many people think of as science are the results of that problem solving endeavor.  We call that way the scientific method (although I find the standard description a bit misleading and overly formalized). To see if a student has learned science requires more than them regurgitating basic facts, but testing to see if they have absorbed the methodology of science it harder.  It's a different kind of test and harder to write.

Okay, off the soapbox.  The question was asked and one teacher pointed to a web site I had never heard of, http://www.wetheteachers.com/.  The site has cross-links to other sites, including Curriki (the curriculum wiki).  The site requires that you sign up before you can view or submit content.  One of the documents is a generic inquiry lesson plan that leads you, the teacher, through the process of assembling all the parts for an inquiry-based lesson plan on your specific topic: http://wetheteachers.com/plan.php?id=37. I'm only beginning the explore.  A couple of years ago I felt like I didn't have enough resources.  Now I'm feeling overwhelmed by how many there are and how little time I have to use them.

 

What a "School Leadership Team" (SLT)?  If you are in New York City and have school age children, you probably know the answer, but for those of you who don't or live elsewhere, here in NYC, each local school is expected to have an SLT formed of both parents and teachers in equal measure.  Their job is to review the school's Comprehensive Educational Plan (CEP) which has to include review of school/student performance metrics, community/parental involvement, and other items.  The idea is to be continuously reviewing how the school is doing with respect to its educational mission and to make corrections.  Like any other committee, how well it does varies from school to school, but the intent and goal of the SLT is excellent.