Doing the Work

Reposted from sbaglia.com

MelThomson

It’s difficult for me to believe, on occasions, that it was back in 2010 when I started dabbling in getting students to contact experts outside of the school to support their own inquiry learning. Fast forward to 2013, and from Castlemaine via Maryborough I find myself at Crusoe College.

When innovating, the structures of a secondary school can make things more difficult than at a primary, where flexibility allows you to take advantage of more opportunities. If you want to do something new and different, invariably, the secondary school timetable is not your friend.

Yet, these are things that can be overcome, and secondary schools often provide opportunities that are absent in primary schools. For example, students at secondary schools are more likely to be already familiar with using technology, and often have mobile devices at hand that, rather than being a scourge to the teacher, can actually be used to their (and the students’) advantage. And dedicated science classes and laboratories excite most year sevens as something totally novel (“we’re heating water?!?! AWESOME!!!”).

My beliefs around teaching science have been pretty hard-wired for a long time. Having been a scientist, I know that science is really about not just finding answers, but finding questions. I fear we don’t tap into getting kids to ask their own questions, which almost instantly gets them more interested in the answer than if the question had come from the teacher. The difficulty for the teacher can be dealing with dozens of different questions, all requiring different levels of support.

One novel way I’ve tried to deal with this is to enlist an army of “Virtual Scientists”, who kindly give up their time to support students investigating their own questions. The main way they do this is through a dedicated science site, where students blog their progress in their investigations, and our scientists push their thinking and answer their questions. The site allows for public and private messaging, forums, and twitter integration to give all parties a chance to find what form of communication works best for them.

TimMoore

Recently, this plan has become a reality, as a small number of students have signed up and received feedback on their Coffee Cup experimental plans. And while the asynchronous nature of blogging and messaging suits busy scientists and awkward timetables, there’s nothing quite like some real-time, face-to-face discussion. So it was with a sense of excitement that our budding scientists Skyped with Tim Moore, an electrical engineer in Newcastle and all-round good bloke (he was part of the program in the early days at Castlemaine North Primary School) and Dr Melanie Thomson from Deakin University in Geelong.

As I told one of the budding scientists later, we want this to be a normal part of science; that when you got home and were asked “What did you do at school today?”, the answer “Oh, Mel and Tim helped me understand the data from my experiment” would not be unusual.

We’re on our way.

(If you’re a scientist reading this and this style of working with students appeals, you can read more and sign up here).

 

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