PA Grant Report:
Inquiry-Based Science
and 21st Century Learning

February 05, 2021

By Sophie Glassman Golob, Head Science & Math Teacher and Nicole Watson, Head Science and Math Teacher

Science is everywhere. This is what we tell our students each year to give them a more concrete understanding of what can—at times—be a very abstract content area. When teaching science, one must not only understand that science is everywhere, but also experience it. In 8th grade, students should see science not only as experiments or lab reports, but as opportunities to make change and solve problems using a growth mindset. We believe that in science, ‘fail’ is not a word but an acronym meaning “First Attempt In Learning.” Students are asked to explore before being given the concrete terms, and to create, test, and sometimes fail. A lot. Then to take that failure and use it to redesign, retest, and collaborate to come to a conclusion. Using the Next Generation Science Standards as a foundation for content, along with 21st century learning skills, we decided to redesign the current curriculum to reflect this process of inquiry learning and student discovery.

We used Atkin and Karplus’ 5E Model for Science Instruction (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate) as a guide to creating tailor-made units of study and lessons for our students. We tweaked the steps and decided on Engage, Explore, Flip, Apply, and Assess. This model of instruction has empowered and motivated our students to discover the content in meaningful ways. When we teach new content, students always have an opportunity to engage first with an image or video, as well as explore the topic with a hands-on activity. These activities often involve household materials—a clear demonstration of how science is truly everywhere. Once students have explored the topic, we give them the scientific language to explain what happened during their exploration activity. While we are the experts, we are also facilitators in their learning process. This inquiry process of learning encourages students to internalize the content in their own way, making it an authentic and meaningful experience.

Another major update to our curriculum was moving from the Scientific Method to The 5 Phases of the Scientific Process. Phase 1: Planning; Phase 2: Design; Phase 3: Action; Phase 4: Analyze; and Phase 5: Conclude and Communicate. The reason for moving to this process was to incorporate all types of science, including engineering. These changes were in order to provide our students with a more STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) focused and authentic learning experience.This was not to negate the scientific method but rather to allow much-needed room for problem solving, which is an essential life skill.

Scientific discourse, which happens during Phase 5, guides students to understand the ability to defend a claim with research. Students were introduced to the C-E-R (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) model and writing strategy for connecting science concepts with lab work, which will allow them to actively practice scientific thinking. These skills will be used throughout the year in hands-on and observable experiments to ignite their curiosity and enrich student learning.

We are so grateful to the PA for continuing to provide such a great opportunity for teachers at MMFS to engage in amazing work especially during this unprecedented time. Our hope is that rolling out this curriculum will not only continue to contribute to the growth of the Mary McDowell Middle School science program, but will continue to create accessible and equitable pathways for our student scientists.

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