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When conducting student-led investigations in the field, the variety of questions, tools, and methods that students use can make summative assessment difficult for the instructor.  Though debriefing the experience can be a great way to find evidence of student learning, there may be students who tend not to contribute in group discussions.  Journal work, though comprehensive in some students, may be lacking in others.  I have found that requiring my students to present their research to the rest of the group not only provides excellent evidence of learning, but also gives my students the opportunity to share their work, ask and answer questions of each other, and be applauded for their achievement. 

Presentations  allow students to take ownership of their work and feel proud of their achievement, while allowing them to learn from one another through sharing knowledge and asking questions. Often, I find that student presentations level the playing field, giving every student the opportunity to share, question, and think about one another’s work in a safe environment.  Lastly, it provides an avenue for students to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of their investigation.

Here are a few tips for incorporating research presentations into your student-led investigations.

  1. Explain and Scaffold the experience.

    Let students know at the beginning of the investigation that they will be presenting their research to the rest of the group once they are finished.  This will entail two responsibilities: to present their work, and to listen and ask questions of their peers.  Explain that this is an opportunity to share their hard work with one another, ask each other questions, and hear what their teammates have been working on.  Address concerns on nervousness by giving a few guidelines. For example, I allow my students to present individually, in pairs, and occasionally in groups of three.  Encourage them to be creative and fun in their presentations! 

  2. Name the steps.
    Be explicit about what you want your students to present.  I require five components in my students’ presentations:
    1. Their question
    2. Their methods & tools
    3. Their results: data, what they found
    4. Their conclusion: what did they learn from their results?
    5. Next steps: what might have affected the accuracy or usefulness of their data, what they learned about using their tools/method, follow-up questions, etc.

      These should align with the steps they are following to complete their investigation, and so can be modified based on the instructor’s style in facilitating investigations.

  3. Give students the opportunity to prepare.
    Set aside a few minutes at the end of the investigation to give students time to prepare for their presentation. Encourage them to make their presentations unique! If some students are ready to present before others, instruct them to start thinking of good questions to ask their peers.

  4. Create a visual reminder.
    List each component of the presentation on a whiteboard or butcher paper and place it where the presenters can easily reference it.  If students lose their train of thought or freeze up, gently remind them what to say next, for example: “excellent question! What method did you use to begin answering it?”  Some students will give the entire presentation without a hitch, while others might benefit from a more conversational presentation, with prompts from the instructor. 

  5. Encourage questions.
    One of the most fruitful and interesting aspects of these presentations are the questions students ask of one another. These can lead to excellent discussions, follow-up lessons or activities, and insight for the instructor on students’ thinking. Be explicit about when it is time for student questions, particularly if you prompt students during their presentations.  Ask follow-up questions!

Student-led investigation presentations are versatile, fun, and interesting, and can be used in a variety of contexts.  They are excellent summative assessment tools, great teambuilding exercises, and a way to challenge your students to think critically, support one another, and be supported in a different way.

Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers~ Voltaire

Questions are everywhere! They provide the spark for new insights along with smiles and wonder. Answers are what many seek; yet questions offer the way.  We see this natural ability to question on full display every week during our residential program.  Questions come as natural as breathing does for many children and almost as vital! Persistent inspection allows students to make sense of, pick apart, define, re-define and hopefully navigate the world around them.  We encourage young learners to ask as many questions as they can think of. Sadly, the older we become the fewer questions we ask. We do not lose the ability to question, only the desire; possibly because most bosses and teachers are often more interested in answers, not questions. 

Socrates provides an excellent role model as well as a blue print for why and how we question.

  1. To deeply probe student thinking, to help students begin to distinguish what they know or understand from what they do not.
  2. To foster students ability to ask questions along with engaging in dialogue in order to apply these skills in everyday life.

We as educators can model questioning strategies as well as creating a safe environment for practice. Further Socratic questioning highlights the importance of questioning in learning. It inspires us to dig deeper into our ideas along with improving our ability to become active and independent learners.  Socrate's method can be broken down into four steps:

Elicit What do you think at this point?
Clarify

What do you mean by x?

Do you really mean x to apply in this or other cases?

Test

How does x account for y?

How do you know? Why should I believe that?

Can that really be true given z?

Decide Can you come up with a new proposition given what you have just learned?

 

“No one can teach, if by teaching we mean the transmission of knowledge, in any mechanical fashion, from one person to another. The most that can be done is that one person to another. The most that can be done is that one person who is more knowledgeable than another, can by asking a series of questions, stimulate the other to think, and so cause him to learn for himself.” ~ Socrates.

Sources: http://repository.cmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1126&context=hsshonors

http://web.stanford.edu/dept/CTL/Newsletter/

Bees are amazing animals.  As a teaching tool they open up a wide world of education topics to explore! I am going to share some reasons I think it is useful to teach with bees. This is not an exhaustive list but a place to start, use your imagination be creative and try something new!

Safety in taking risks/ Teambuilding

Bees are remarkable insects, however students experiences may only reflect their knowledge of painful stings.  I think the best way to handle this situation is have the students come up with safe ways to behave around bees and acknowledgement of different comfort levels. Remind students it understandable to fear something you don’t know much about but after the lesson hopefully they will feel more comfortable. The group of students can encourage each other to take risks and practice empathy.

Lesson idea: Comfort circle

Anatomy

Why study bee anatomy?

Bees have many unique adaptations that make them interesting to study.  Some are easy to understand adaptations of the worker bees like pollen baskets on their legs or furry bodies and some are hard to grasp like how bees are able to turn nectar into honey. And then there is the anatomy of the queen bee and drones to discuss. Because bees are so complexstudents can grapple with multiple concepts and begin to understand the system that is a honeybee and their colony. 

Lesson idea: Mind map of adaptations and uses for each type of bee

Life of a bee/ Teambuilding

The life of a honeybee is a complicated one (depending on what kind it is).  There are so many jobs to be done and so many bees to help! Every bee has a job that helps the community or colony of bees share success.

Communication through dance is such a large part of a honeybee’s life and is so different and interesting to watch.  This dance is shared to communicate where to find the best flowers to collect nectar and pollen. This can easily lead into a conversation about different ways humans communicate and the importance of communication for bees as well as humans and even more specifically within your group of students.

Once students explore the hierarchy of jobs for worker bees (which depend on the age of the worker bee), the queen bee, and drones they can find similarities and differences between their lives and perhaps further explore some adaptations of their anatomy!

Lesson idea: Team jobs, Bee waggle game

Bees are great resource to cover some pretty important topics but why should you care about bees anyways?! Sure they make honey that you can eat and they pollinate (mutualistic relationship) the flowers and food you enjoy like apples and blackberries. But they are also an indicator of the health of an ecosystem. You can ask students to explain their connection to honey bees.  Students can take their experience with bees to further explorations of other pollinators, agriculture systems, organic farming, where their own food comes from and see the large impact that the insect they were afraid of has in their life. 

Many investigations that students encounter are like recipes in a cook book, where the teacher has selected the investigation question, then guide the students through a pre-designed methodology, so students investigate in the “correct” and “scientific” way. However, I have found when I lead students through an investigation, there is a lack of critical thinking, motivation, and passion for science. Recently, I have begun to incorporate a Student-Driven Investigation Model, when students create the investigation question and design the methodology for researching that question.

When I begin a Student-Driven Investigation, I ask students to perform a brainstorming session, where they each write as many questions as they can about a particular topic, such as an ecosystem or natural phenomenon, in four minutes. I remind students that there is no “correct” question and the more they write the more questions they will have. If they get stuck, I ask the students to simply write words that come to mind as they think about the topic, as they write down more words, this process will lead to more questions.

After the students spend time brainstorming, I ask them to pair up and share their questions with their partner. As a pair, they should pick out their favorite three questions, then narrow those questions down to one investigable question that they will present to their team. I remind the students that investigable questions are ones that can be investigated with the tools they currently have, including observations using their five senses, and can be done within the time limit.

After each pair has presented their one question, I facilitate a group discussion. During this discussion each member is expected to share their opinion on which question would be the best for the team to investigate and why. This generally leads to one or two questions potential questions for the group to consider. As the instructor, you can paraphrase group thoughts or offer advice to help the team reach consensus. However, try not to give advice on the actual investigation topic, so students do not see you as the science authority, who is judging their investigation. Students have real ownership over the topic, if their voices are the only ones heard.

Once the students have selected a question, then the instructor can begin a discussion on how they should actually investigate the question. The instructor may want to give the students time to brainstorm on paper, or share with a partner, before sharing in front of the group. I have found the students are more than capable of designing an investigation with only a little probing and input from the instructor. If the instructor feels they need to guide the discussion, do so only after you have asked the group if they would like your input and try to form it into an open-ended question.

Here are some open-ended question examples:

  • “How can we investigate this in 20 minutes?”
  • “How can we make sure everyone is included?”  
  • “How should we keep track of what we observe?”
  • “What math tools do we have to help us compare data?”

Once students have an investigation question and methodology, they are ready to investigate. During this investigation period, the instructor should only manage behavior.  A student can even be designated as the official time keeper. Once all data has been collected, the students should spend time analyzing and comparing data. Much like the discussions on the investigation question and methodology, the instructor can guide the students during the process using open-ended questions to facilitate their analysis.

  • “How can we compare each other’s data?”
  • “What math tools might help us?”
  • “What tools have you used in past investigations to understand your data?”

After they analysis their data, I have the students write conclusions statements on their own. I usually present conclusion statements as having three parts:

  • Introduction: introduce the question and state investigation method
    • “During this investigation, we wanted to find the most common color of crabs at the Harbor. We seperated into 5 pair groups and tallied all the colors of crabs we found in each pair. We looked in different sections of the beach, so we wouldn’t double count crabs.”
  • Data: what was found
    • “We found an average of 36 green crabs, 11 red crabs, and 24 purple crabs.”
  • Conclusion: the answer to the question
    • “Therefore, the most common color of crabs on the beach at the Harbor were green crabs.”

After the conclusion statements are completed, this is a great time to debrief their investigation. The instructor can ask their students what went well, what didn’t go so well, and how can this investigation be improved. This reflection piece can help students refine their methodology and find more effective ways in investigate. A great assessment for the investigation process is to have student list the steps they used to create an investigation. This can be done the next day or before a second investigation.

Student-driven investigations have the potential to increase student ownership of their learning and provide a greater opportunity for critical thinking, than teacher-lead investigations. In my experience, I have seen a drastic change in student motivation between an investigation I created as the instructor and an investigation the students create and lead themselves. Also, as the instructor, since I am only providing minimum support and do not appear to be the “Keeper of All Science Knowledge”, the students feel empowered by having choice and power over their education. The students look to each other for answers and ideas, and thus begin to see themselves as Scientists.