Musings and Strategies From the Teachers Next Door

The inquisitive and curious nature of children make students the perfect scientists.  As educators, do we believe that is true?

Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist, has done some fascinating work using children AS scientists. (You can view his TED talk for the full description.)  The basis for his experiment is that children do experiments everyday through play.  They ask questions, gather information and make conclusions.  He went into a school and had the children ask questions that they wondered about bees.  From these questions, they worked together to design an experiment to see if bees could solve a puzzle and learn to fly to a specific flower within a specific pattern.  The fascinating part of this story is the students did the observing, the investigating, and the gathering of information.  Funny thing though, he mentioned that the greatest resistance he had in doing this project was actually the teachers.  The teachers didn’t think the kids could do it, AND they weren’t comfortable trying something that might not work.

That made me stop and question my own philosophy of education.  Do I hold my kids back thinking that I am protecting them from failure?  Do I hold them back because of my need for control?  Do I hold them back because I have lost my sense of curiousity?

I decided to jump in with both feet and see my students as actual scientists.  I showed them Blackawton Bee Project and spent time letting them ask questions about the world around them.

After talking about our questions, I let them choose a question they wanted to pursue.  The only criteria is that it couldn’t be googleable 🙂

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We have been working on our projects for 6+ weeks now, about 1 hour each week.  And they have astounded me – not all, but most.  Here are a few of our topics:

  • Does your zodiac really match your personality?
  • Does your intelligence determine how fast you can solve a maze?
  • Can kids determine emotions by expressions?
  • Do all dogs communicate the same way?
  • Do all people taste food the same?
  • Can you really tell what a person is like from their Facebook profile page.

They designed an experiment that would give them information they could use to answer their questions.   For example, the girl curious about the accuracy of zodiacs, created a questionnaire.  She randomly listed the personality descriptions of each zodiac sign, without listing the zodiac name.  Then she had place for the person to write their birthday.  So awesome!!

As they worked, they asked tons of questions about gathering data, having a good sample, and as they worked on a way to clearly present their material, they have created graph, learned to use excel, and worked on presentations using many different formats.  They are having to learn what it takes to speak clearly, maintain interest, and draw conclusions.  So much learning has happened.

As a teacher, I am learning to be comfortable not knowing how things are going to turn out.  It’s making me better.  It’s making me comfortable with my own “failure.” And it’s transforming my class into a safe place with students can take risks without having it effect their grade.  I’m finding that disinterested students are now engaged and the quality of work has greatly improved.

How has your class improved over time?


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