Back in February, I had the opportunity to model a lesson at Bayside Elementary School. The teacher had been working with her students on sound and wanted them to experience inquiry. More specifically, she wanted to help them understand how to develop a testable question.
Questions are the heart of what a scientist does. Scientists are experts at asking rich questions and then designing experiments to find answers to their questions. If we want our students to think and work like scientists, then they need opportunities to do this same process in the classroom. But given the limited time, how can teachers engage students in the very same process used by scientists?
It begins with first allowing students to do something. What do I mean by do something? Well, let’s look at what 5th grade students did with craft sticks, pieces of a straw, and some rubber bands.
To begin the lesson, I simply told the students we were going to make a sound instrument with craft sticks and rubber bands! Of course they were immediately hooked. After making what I call a sound machine, students played their instruments. For 5 minutes, the room hummed with sound!
Next, all I did was ask this simply question-what could we change about the materials that might affect the sound we hear? Suddenly hands went up and soon, we had identified one thing we wanted to change-the location of the straws. This led to a great discussion on pitch.
All in 20 minutes!! Yes-20 minutes!! Here is the thing my friends, if you look at traditional textbook lessons, students always start with reading about the experiment and in most cases, the experiment gives them everything they need to do-it even states the question! In reality, not much critical thinking is required. If we want our students to become experts, we have to change the way we do things. Instead of beginning with throwing students into the lesson, start with having them make observations. Have them build their own sound machine and then ask questions about the object. It might take more time, but the payoff leads to critical thinking, higher student engagement, and the development of real scientist!