Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Posting Nine -- Grade 11 University Biology Frog Dissections – Smarter Science?

Today was frog dissection day, a highlight of the course! Probably the only better lab is the fetal pig dissection! Although I went through a stage where I no longer wanted to dissect preserved specimens with my classes there is so much learning that occurs during these two events that I have grown to love them and even look forward to the students’ nervous excitement.

Here’s how the frog dissection lab unfolds in my laboratory. The students work in groups of two or three. Each group is given a carefully produced dissection guide and accompanying work package. By reading the guide and following the directions they are guided through the hands-on dissection in such a manner that the written answers to the questions are self-evident. Naturally some of them do not bother to read or follow the directions so they struggle with the questions.

Is this Smarter Science? Is it a collaborative inquiry based activity? Let’s look at it a little more carefully.

In the weeks leading up to the frog dissection the students have studied the “Internal systems Unit” of the curriculum. In grade 11 this includes the digestive system, the circulatory system and the respiratory system.

Step one of Smarter Science is INITIATE AND PLAN (aka Engage). The students have been questioning, predicting , hypothesizing and inferring what the actual dissection will be like during the previous lessons while we have been studying the theory. Looks like I can check step one off.

Step two of Smarter science is Perform and Record (aka Explore). This is a carefully guided dissection so the students do NOT design their own experiment. They do, however, use instruments, record, gather data, demonstrate and experiment. Hmmm . . looks like I can check this one off.

Step three of Smarter Science is Analyze and Interpret (aka Explain). This is where the work package comes in! The questions have been designed in such a way that the students have to analyze, evaluate and review what they are doing constantly. The questions do not require simple “yes” or “no” answers. Rather they force the students to draw on their prior knowledge, discuss amongst themselves and decide, collaboratively on the appropriate responses. . . . which leads us directly to step four!

Step four of Smarter Science is Communicate (aka Extend). So now the students are discussing, explaining, reporting, writing, reflecting and teaching each other. Check, check and check!

So why didn’t I think this activity was Smarter Science? Let me review what Smarter Science is: “ . . . . is an open-source, engaging framework for teaching and learning science in grades 1-12 and for developing the skills of inquiry, creativity and innovation in a meaningful and engaging manner.”

Right! So I didn’t use the framework directly but we were inquiring in a creative, innovative, meaningful and engaging manner.

What do you think? Please write your comments in the box below.

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