February 4th, 2019
By: Melissa Knowles
Do you remember your favorite science lesson in school? Was it one of the classics – a dissection? Carefully engineering the protective casing to keep an egg intact on the egg drop? Digging in the ground for earthworms and roly-polies? I doubt that you remember with fondness the worksheets, tests, and powerpoint slides your teachers farmed out to you as a necessary evil.
Was it necessary?
Unfortunately, for many teachers and students, the answer is yes.
The Academy has the freedom to engage our students in small classrooms without the pressure of performing for standardized tests or trying to assess the level of understanding of 30 students at once. I am able to use multiple strategies to determine whether my students understand the concepts learned. These formative assessments can be as simple as asking probing questions to assess critical thinking, or I might have them construct a 3D model of an animal cell to demonstrate their understanding of cell structure. If a student can model the movement of chromosomes in mitosis with some string and pipe cleaners on their desk, I know that they truly understand the purpose of those steps in ensuring the correct number of chromosomes is in each daughter cell. And that concept is so much more important than memorizing which step is Anaphase and which is Metaphase.
Teaching those concepts requires a more hands-on approach as well. We’ve all heard the adage “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” credited to Benjamin Franklin. It is my goal in science classes to make that my practice as often as possible inside the classroom and out in the field on expeditions. Today the Biology students learned how to do Punnett Squares for genetics on paper, but we’ve also started seeds for plants with known genetics that we will cross-pollinate and then analyze the traits in the offspring to see the Punnett Squares in action (thank you Carolina Biological Supply Company for your Wisconsin Fast Plants!). In the field, hands-on science can be learning the effects of changing your center of gravity while climbing in the New River Gorge, testing water quality in the Okefenokee Swamp, or observing structure and function in saltwater fish of the Florida Keys. Hand-on science is beneficial for any student, regardless of diagnosis, but our AD/HD students thrive with it.
It’s not easy. It requires pre-planning, purchasing or gathering materials (I reuse more containers than you could ever dream of!), testing; even with all that it rarely goes exactly as planned. Which is not something to be afraid of! When we get unexpected results, that’s just a new opportunity for learning. We use our critical thinking skills to analyze the situation and try to figure out what happened.
How can this help you? Get hands-on with science at home! Cooking and baking are classic examples of ways to incorporate scientific concepts, experimentation, and changing variables into a fun hands-on activity. Nature journaling is a great way to practice observation skills, and joining a citizen science project can get the whole family involved in helping scientists understand the world around us. I’ve included some project I’ve been involved with below:
eBird – log your bird sightings, see what other people have seen in your area.
iNaturalist – works like Shazam for plants, fungi, and animals. Log your sightings and see what else has been sighted in your area.
NestWatch – is there a bird nest in your yard? Learn how to safely monitor the nestlings.
Project FeederWatch – log the birds that come to your feeder – great for winter break!
Great Sunflower Project – help scientists learn more about our pollinators by planting flowers and observing the visitors.
You don’t have to have all the answers, just encourage your students to ask more questions!