28 May 2005

Eggs-periments with Inquiry

The biology teachers (most of us, anyway) at my school have been doing some work with our curriculum. Now that the state has provided us with a roadmap of content, what should we do? It's also been a good time to talk about aligning expectations in one another's courses. The process has been slow, but has generated good discussion and collaboration.

One of the ideas generated was that for each Grade Level Expectation (GLE) we teach, there would be an inquiry-style investigation that would last for a good portion of the unit. This would not, of course, be the sole lab experiment. We were looking for a way to ensure that students had the necessary time and experience to develop "good" questions and design ways to test them. There would be a couple of choices for these inquiry strands of a unit, depending upon a teacher's strengths and interests.

We have a very enthusiastic teacher (Julio) on our staff. Now, it's true that we're all pretty passionate about teaching science, but this guy...well, I always think of him as a puppy. He has a very high energy level and is always on the move. Julio is constantly looking for ways to outdo himself in terms of lessons, which occasionally leads to some nutty things: kissing a sea anemone in order to feel the sting...setting himself on fire (while wearing his lab coat) in order to demonstrate safety (he had a kid use the fire blanket to put him out)...and so on. Julio is older than me, but has less teaching experience. This is his second career---and he is developing into a fine professional.

It was suggested that we use egg osmosis as an inquiry strand. If you haven't seen or done this, you can play along at home. Just take an egg and put it in vinegar in order to remove the shell. Afterwards, you'll be left with a giant cell encased in a membrane. Now, put it in some karo syrup overnight. Or try a glass of water. Or salt water. Whatever you like---and observe what happens to your "cell." Osmosis is a fairly simple concept (water moves across a membrane to where there's less water), but kids have a very difficult time with it.

Julio took it upon himself to write up a lesson plan for using egg osmosis as an inquiry strand. And in true fashion, it was over the top and only really made sense to him. But I just couldn't stand to poop on it after he presented it to the rest of us. Instead, I took his work and reformatted it into the Inquiry Cycle. I just did a skeleton outline and sent him an e-mail starting with "I wonder if something like this would work..." He liked the idea and is off and running with it again---and I think it will be eggs-ceptional this time.

The moral of this story, for me, was how to use my Science Goddess power in a different way...and a way that I'd like to do a lot more often starting next year. My colleagues don't need me for content knowledge. They're experts in that. What they need, as Wes pointed out to me, is for someone to spend the time reading the professional literature and learning how to dig deeply into curriculum and instruction so that classroom teachers have a resource in me. They're teaching 150 kids a day. Many have families and other obligations. They don't have the time or headspace to do everything---and here is where I can lighten their load a bit. I really find that eggs-citing. :)

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