Science Fair: Are they learning anything?

I just want to say that I love Science Fair (spoilers!). I am a tiny bit scared about doing it every year and every year, I find out something new about how students learn.

The name of this blog is Science Teaching Resources and once this unit has run its course, I will be able to share my resources with my readers. I promise! I just want to think about what is working well before I let my resources loose on the world.

I have two classes. One has learners that are much more independent and engaged. Another has learners that are dependent on me as the teacher or not as interested in my subject. The nice thing is that Science Fair is bringing out the best in both groups.

The more independent group have fascinating conversations about science that make me want to do a little dance of joy when I hear them. For example: “No wait! Wait! That’s not our independent variable!” or “Woah, why do you think the measurements are like that?” or “How can we make a conclusion out of these results…. I think our hypothesis was wrong! Huh!”

I only dance internally. My favourite moment so far is when one of my students who struggles a bit with literacy walked over with his work to the keyword dictionary display and said “Hey guys! ‘increase’ is on there, it means ‘to get bigger’ just like I said!”

Which made the hour or so of writing those definitions seem more than worth it. Also, it makes me want to write more of them for the topics. I don’t want to have lots of make-work for myself that doesn’t benefit them. It’s more than gratifying to see them actually using what I’ve provided.

I am also glad that I taught them about variables and other scientific minutiae at the start of the year. They are really able to apply this stuff and fly away with it. HIGH FIVE TO PAST ME.

With the other class, I’m providing a lot more support. Many of the children with the greatest need of me arrived part way through the year. It seems I need to develop my planning so that I am teaching The Basics all the way through and not just in August. Mostly, my students were underway with the experimental phase. But some of them were waiting on a piece of equipment or a test subject, so I gave them the task of writing the first part of the lab report.

Again, work I did at the beginning of the year really paid off. I made some writing frames and these were really useful. I can sort of remember what it was like not having any clue where to start. With some students, you hand them the mark scheme and they can piece it together. Others need writing frames. Sure, their writing is going to be more basic and less detailed. But. My hope (belief?) is that after a few sessions of using my sentence starters, the process will become much more automatic and they will not need the training wheels anymore.  As much as they need to work independently, they also need to learn how to do that. Asking them before they are ready can paralyse them completely.

So. What are my students learning?

I think after this unit, they will be much more able to plan experiments and analyse results. They will have increased facility with scientific literacy, including writing lab reports and using correct terminology. They will understand that scientists don’t (just) stroke their beards or mix explosive chemicals together, that there is a recipe for discoveries. I think they are also learning how to communicate ideas in order to inspire and excite.

I had a discussion with my supervisor about getting them to reflect on their learning during the process. I love the idea, I do. I love the idea of video diaries or written journals, outlining what they have learned. I am just nervous about introducing a new skill that might be too hard for them on top of everything else.  I find that evaluations are usually the weakest part of any lab report. Also, when they reflect after a unit, I get a lot of “I had fun. I worked well with my friends.” and not the expected “I can make tests fair. I know how neutralisation works. I found writing my conclusions difficult” Of course it’s about training them to be able to do this and the more they do it, the easier it becomes. I think the time to do it is after they hand in their lab reports this Thursday. That is a good time because they will have cleared the most challenging task out of the way and will have the mental energy left to think about thinking before Science Fair is old news.

I am so excited about Science Fair in April!


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