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At Home Experiments (@HE)

By Adam Bradford

09/30/2020

At Home Experiments (@HE)

As a science teacher, I am often faced with the same problem year in and year out: How do I make my students curious and get them to ask questions? As an IB teacher, I’m particularly interested in getting students to ask their own research question for the internal assessment rather than waiting for me to spoon feed them one.


I know I am not alone in this challenge and that every year there is a moment when I produce new resources and think, “Sweet! I have cracked it for sure this time. I will never have to plan this again.” I’ve learned to be more cautious, but still, this time I think I am onto something. Something that is also perhaps useful for distance learning. I call it “At Home Experiments” or @HE. 


Initial problem:


-       Students struggle to develop IA questions independently.


-       Students struggle to apply the scientific method (including trialling experiments, evaluating, and improving experimental design).


-       Students struggle to work independently on developing lab ideas (trialing, evaluating, etc.).


-       Students lack curiosity (they struggle to ask questions when presented with a problem).


The @HE curriculum provides scaffolding that allows students to self-direct scientific enquiry. The curriculum gives them the structure to start asking “what if” questions at home while addressing syllabus content. 


Overall, the curriculum is aimed at:


-       Developing scientific practical skills


-       Developing students’ curiosity through asking questions


-       Increasing students’ independence and self-regulation


By adopting different focuses, the scaffolding slowly introduces students to different aspects of the scientific method (planning, method, data collection, data processing, concluding, and evaluating). The idea is to allow students the space to conduct an experiment without the time pressure of class and then give them a forum to look at each other's ideas and reflect upon how they can be improved, using a round robin poster display of the work.


The curriculum starts by recreating Pasteur’s experiments into spontaneous generation, a syllabus point that I find often comes up on exams but can be glossed over in a presentation. What better way to remember it than by recreating it in your own room? Students then try to calculate the isotonic point of a gummy bear.


Depending on the experiment, students are given a basic method or not. The goal is to get them doing science, asking “what if” questions with no risk of failure and presenting their work in an informal fashion.


I haven’t run the whole curriculum with an IB class yet and I am not imagining that I won’t ever have to spoon feed a research question again, but perhaps I can do it less often. Ultimately it is about creating fun learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom to make our students curious.


My next steps are to take @HE and turn the most promising labs into projects that can be developed into “At Home Internal Assessments.” Because let's face it, we might also need to facilitate that.


The curriculum is available at https://sites.google.com/view/atbiology/


Adam can be reached a abradford@las.ch.


Adam Bradford is an IB biology teacher and head of department at Leysin American School in Leysin, Switzerland.




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