The first question the 6th grade students were asked on their very first day of science for the year was,
"What does a scientist do?"
We shared ideas with each one of our peers and finally came up with our definition, which was;
"A scientist is someone whose job it is to ask questions and investigate, so they can better understand the world around them."
The students were told that they are had just become scientists, because it was now their job for that class to question things, investigate, and make discoveries to help themselves understand how the world around them works. The primary way we establish this in the science classroom is through Inquiry Based Learning. The inquiry means that the students are given the reigns on their learning, they are able to work their scientific knowledge into new shapes and formats, trying new techniques based on their knowledge, and exploring what science means in every corner of their personal world.
We are beginning to explore how physics plays a role in our universe, intertwining the physical sciences with earth and space sciences. Our inquiry was centered around something that regularly occurs in the universe, craters. We did this by using the 5 E's of scientific inquiry; Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend, Evaluate. Our engagement happened as we discussed, with our peers, our background knowledge or ideas about what craters are, how they are made, and where we see craters. We took a closer look at the craters we see when we look up at the moon.
We noticed that some of the craters were different sizes and depths than others, which gave us our inquiry question; "Why is there a variation in the sizes and depths of craters?"
The students were then allowed to explore, and investigate the inquiry question to build their own personal understanding. We achieved this through and experiment called Crater Creators. Students worked in pairs as they used materials like, a pie tin, flour, a meter stick, and a variation of balls with different sizes and mass, to investigate what variables related the creation of craters changed the diameter.
Students experimented by dropping the different sized balls from different heights and measuring the diameter, or how far across, the mark left in the flour was.
We then reflected on the observations we made during our experiment, and used this experience to explain how we would answer or explain our inquiry question. After students have expressed their findings, we assigned scientific concepts to what we observed. The occurrence we were observing was Newton's second law of motion: Acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass. The greater the mass (of the object being accelerated) the greater the amount of force needed (to accelerate the object). Put simply the pushing or pulling of an object produces acceleration. With this knowledge we then went on to extend our inquiry, thinking about the force that was acting on our objects as the fell towards the earth, thinking about what our push or pull was that caused the object to accelerate. We allowed this to remain open ended as we left, but still keeping it in the back of our minds, so that we could observe the world around us and make connections that might help us investigate how what we observed today is related to the earth and its place in our intricate universe.
By allowing the students to be in control of their experiments, and not directly giving scientific concepts to be memorized, students were able to have meaningful interactions with these scientific principals and create their own personal connections and understandings, which will stay with them even after they leave the classroom setting.
Our understanding of the world so far and any scientific discovery or innovation so far, happened simply because someone made it their job to ask...