Thursday, August 07, 2008

Inquiry Learning

I am currently in a 3 week workshop on inquiry earning. Yes I know its August but there are no regrets. I made the commitment to attend the workshop, it was something I was looking forward to going to, and I AM SO GLAD I DID!.

First let me explain my summer situation. I really needed my summer vacation this time. This last year was particularly tough because of two things. First, I DID NOT PREPARE FOR THE START OF THE SCHOOL YEAR! I made the STUPID assumption that I could just do what I did last year for the first week of school and catch up with lesson planning over the weekends. Well that TOTALLY didn't work. I was just as bad as the kids :( . This compounded the second reason that made a tough year for me, my school changed its pacing plan for biology. It threw me for a loop and I never felt caught up. Part of that extended year-long feeling was also due to mismanagement of my time from time over the year.

So at the end of this school year I decided to make sure to prepare and plan for the next school year. One of my GOALS is to have lessons that meet the California standards but are not specific to my text book. This way when my school changes books, I'll be ready. In addition for preparing lessons I also planned to attend 2 different workshops over the summer. One workshop met for 2 weeks in the summer and will meet once a month over the upcoming school year. This workshop is on literacy, a focus on reading and writing. It's a good workshop that shows how to use strategies to engage students in their content reading. Basically it gives prereading strategies, build up, post writing strategies and rubrics to help grade what is written. The best part of the rubric is that shows examples of 1's to 6's. Thats helpful for me so that I can see examples of what a 3-6's is and compare it to my students. In addition I also got some free books on literacy strategies. English teachers got a GREAT binder that had 9 lessons that each teach different types of grammar.

I'm really happy about the latest workshop that I am attending this week. It is on inquiry learning. Before taking this workshop I thought Inquiry learning was hands on learning, nothing more of that. I'm learning that its so much more. I signed up for the workshop because I was told that it consists of a cohort of Biology teachers who are grouped together and
we would work laboratories for the classroom. If you are a science teacher having new and interesting labs are a MUST HAVE. If they are fun its a bonus! That is why I signed up for this workshop. Thats not quite what we are doing, but I don't care. In the 4 days I have been there I'm really learning alot about Inquiry learning and I am excited to take what I learned into the classroom this September.

When my year ended last year I knew my lesson needed work. Part of the change in my school's science pacing plan was to shrink it down from 36 weeks to 30 weeks for teaching all the Bio standards. The reasoning behind this is to have the students 100% prepared for state testing in May. I don't think this is a bad idea. The nice thing is that you have the last 6 weeks to investigate any area in Bio, such as classification, plants, biotechnology or microbiology. My lessons for the last year were mostly textbook driven with the focus of activities on reading, Cornell notes and Lecture. Followed by a test or quiz. The Labs were either grouped, demo's, or very truncated. What my lessons needed was more laboratory activities that engage the students and get them thinking.

Inquiry learning is actually teaching kids how to think.

Let me give you an example with a laboratory that every bio teacher from high school to college does. The good old introducing the microscope lab. The day before the lab you introduce the microscope and give the student a handout or page numbers in the book to preview the microscope. The next day you might demo how to use the microscope (10-20 minutes) then allow the students to use the microscope. Now if your class is 50 minutes long the students really only have time to look at a few slides. Forget making them. That will be tomorrow and another demo. Then maybe later you give the kids a test so they can define the parts microscope and what they do.

This year I will be again doing the good old microscope lab, but using inquiry learning.

This is what I'm going to do. I will have the students use a blank sheet of paper in their science journal. I will take one microscope from the cart to show them how to properly carry it, I'll show them how to be careful with the stage and objective lenses because the stage can injure the objective lens. Then they will draw their microscope and figure out what all the dials do ON THEIR OWN. They won't be able to use the book initially, which will force them to write in their own words what each dial does on the microscope, but they will get to play (which is what they want to do) while they learn (which is what I want them to do) what the function of each knob or dial does. I'll give them slides to practice with. Hopefully this will also limit the "is this right Miss?" questions.

Inquiry learning is actually teaching kids how to think, at their pace by investigating.

Now I'm lucky, I have computers (12 of them, so groups of three students per computer) in my room. They are old Apples, but they work with the internet. The next day I will have students investigate on the web how to make a wet mount slide, INSTEAD OF PROVIDING THE INFORMATION FOR THEM! I know if I give them a hand out most won't read it, let alone write a prelab. I hate having to say "If you don't have the prelab you don't get to do the lab". But if I show them how to search for information on the web then I am also teaching them technology skills. I can show them to look for the domain name as a clue to whether a site is a good source. As a homework assignment I can have them bring in something THEY WANT TO SEE to make a wet slide of for the next day. (Now this I will have to be careful so students do not bring in anything inappropriate into the classroom) I'll also have available your basic letter "e" as well as some thread to show depth. I think the students will (I HOPE) love exploring the microscope on their own as well as remember how they work.

Let me give you another example. One experiment that I do for Cellular Respiration is to use Yeast. I have the students place yeast, sugar and salt, in different combinations into test tubes. Then I have them place a balloon over the test tube. This is done to show the anaerobic reaction of yeast. The yeast eat the sugar and expel CO2 gas. I wrote the lab (A total late night project) I tell the students how much to measure out in each tube, how warm the water should be and how long. INSTEAD I think when we get to this point we will look up what conditions are good for yeasts and anaerobic reactions , and then I will provide the yeast and sugar and salt and test tubes, BUT LEAVE IT UP TO THEM HOW TO PUT IT TOGETHER! They write up the prelab telling me there plan, then they do the lab the next day. Not only are they learning how to research, learning about anaerobic reactions, and different types of yeasts (classification). They will write a better report because they figured out the procedure and they will improve their reading sills as they do research for their report.

Inquiry learning is actually teaching kids how to think, at their pace by investigating and creating their OWN experiments. Making their own questions and finding out their own answers!

So I'm currently in week one, day 4, of my workshop and am looking forward to the next two weeks, AS WELL AS THE START OF SCHOOL! Thats not crazy, thats just the difference between a job and a career!

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