28 October 2007

Tools for Investigative Design

All too often, the scientific method is taught like a laundry list. Its lockstep pattern doesn't feel like a scaffold to students---there are too many terms to remember in order to make it work. It is not a "plug and play" type of format. Also, there is a disconnection from the way real science is presented. All of the elements of the scientific method are there, but it is not always in the same format. The method itself is just a suggested recipe, not The Way.

Several years ago, I saw a presentation at our state science meeting on Inquiry Boards. These were laminated posters which had each step of investigative design printed on them. A teacher would have these in the classroom to model the process through the use of well-placed sticky notes. The idea was presented as something to use with elementary students; but I have used the posters and booklets with secondary students and teachers. It's another tool in the arsenal...another way to get even more kids on board.

I first pose a research question or problem. For example, a recent problem in my classroom was "What factors change the rate at which an enzyme works?" I asked students to help brainstorm a possible list of ideas: temperatures, pH, concentration, type of enzyme, etc. We then brainstormed possible things we could measure: time, number of bubbles generated, and so on. Each of the students' ideas were written on individual sticky notes: one colour for the manipulated variable and a different colour for the responding variable. I placed the notes on the "Brainstorm" poster.

Next, we choose variables. Earlier in the year, we choose them as a class. Once kids have more experience, I allow them to select their own with their lab group. The sticky notes are physically moved to the new poster. One is placed in the manipulated variable box at the top...at least one goes in to be measured in the middle...and the remainder of the brainstormed manipulated variables are moved to the box at the bottom. This is very important. Most students stumble when they try to figure out what the controlled variables are. Using the different coloured sticky notes and physically moving the items is great reinforcement.

From there, students use the variables to write their hypothesis, consisting of a prediction and a prediction reason. I scaffold this by asking students to use an "If...then...because" writing frame. Once they understand that a hypothesis needs to express a relationship between variables and a reason why, they don't have to use the frame. For most of them, however, it is a comfortable tool.

There are also posters for the materials/procedure, results, and conclusion, but I won't show them in the post. (You can get all of the inquiry boards/posters by opening the document at the end of this post.)

I also use a student sized version of these in a foldable. If you open the document at the bottom and then choose to print by using "2 pages per sheet" (see bottom right of print box), you will have the boards on four sheets. Copy them back to back. Have kids fold each one in half. For the first one, the kids should cut 1" slits from each end of the fold. For the other paper (it doesn't matter which is which) they should cut out the fold, except for the final inch at each end. By inserting the first page through the hole created in the second page, they will have an instant booklet. The pages in the electronic document are purposefully placed in an order that will become a beginning to end story within the booklet.

If you want the posters, print out the document (or send to Office Depot or Kinko's directly) and then use a poster maker to enlarge the papers. I highly recommend laminating these so that you can write on them with dry erase markers. I will try to remember to take some pictures the next time I use these. Please let me know if you think of any improvements. And without further ado, here are the Inquiry Boards.


Hugh O'Donnell said...

I'm sending this blog URL to my favorite science teacher (besides yourself) who will share it.

Cool stuff!

Hugh aka Repairman

The Science Goddess said...

Always happy to share!