When students are given the opportunity to embrace subjects that they have genuine and authentic interest in, engagement becomes automatic.
Allowing students to participate in the development of the educational process to suit their own unfolding understanding results in learning that is more durable. It is only within the context of a semiotic domain in which we are affiliated that we can really process meaning and make connections. Facts and information, disembodied from the meaning or the matrix of a student’s personal reality, will evaporate as soon as the test is graded.
Knowledge, incorporated actively into a student’s preexisting interests, becomes part of their expanding individuation and process of making meaning of the world and their lives. This of course is the ultimate goal of all education.
The work of Windschitl, Thompson, and Braaten (2008) on model-based inquiry, which describes a learning process that is much more diverse and open ended than traditional scientific method. I found that the tension, as described by Coffey, Elby, Elby, and Daniel (2010), between this more authentic and realistic practice of scientific inquiry and traditional instructivist educational models was indeed difficult to navigate. As science instruction moves away from the description of an existing model, expecting the students to only generate confirmation of that model, toward allowing them to discover the model on their own, this decreased control that instructor has of the process can lead the students to fallacious, if intermediate, ideas.
Of course this process of guessing, right or wrong, and then testing, is the essence of the process of scientific inquiry. It can be very challenging to allow students to follow their own curiosity and epistemic process of building models to make meaning of their world. The instructor is required to follow rather than lead this process, they are forced to try themselves to more deeply understand the meaning being generated by the students, which requires an attentiveness on the part of the instructor that can be challenging and time consuming, especially when it comes to trying to assess the quality of the student’s work. We found it much harder to see if they were actually developing understanding of the process when they were not completing it in a constrained, step-by-step lesson, and delivering it in a rigid, preconceived format where they just followed the steps we proscribed. Once we opened the process to their curiosity, it went in all sorts of unexpected and challenging directions.
The work done by many non-scientists such as Antonelli (2011) on the role of art and the aesthetic in the process of scientific inquiry was also enlightening and caused a change in the expectations we had about the outcome of the project. The use of music and dance especially, something we had not initially envisioned, but were asked to include, turned out to create connections within our students that enhanced their engagement greatly.
SCHMIENCE!! DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS:
The primary objective of of this pilot process was to better understand the process of scientific inquiry as the kids understood it. We saw the initial concept, that was, at least among those who were willing or able to express it, shared by the whole population that science was a “subject they learned in school” change considerably during the course of the project. Their expectation that only questions such as those about quantum mechanics or string theory would constitute valid scientific inquiry has been completely revised. Helping them find a mundane question and then seeing that we could answer that question, or not, by using a rigorous process of analysis, model-building and then testing was a revelation to them, that they seem to have completely integrated. This objective was divided into the following parts:
- Ask a question capable of being answered in a classroom environment.
- Hypothesize about the possible answers.
- Devise an experiment that could test these hypotheses.
- Use rigor to record data during the testing.
- Reflect and evaluate the data.
- Draw conclusions from the data.
- Reiterate the process to extend the depth of the question.
We did discover that this population was extremely engaged and excited by the process, and suspect we can extrapolate this in some ways ot a more general audience. Much more work needs to be done surveying the interests of more typical students to better devise the program components.