Science in the classroom, due to time and testing constraints, is often memorization-based. Students learn the terms, definitions, and concepts of scientific disciplines. But that's not science! Science is an active process--the systematic study of the world and universe around us. When students are given lectures and textbooks and told to absorb the information, they are not learning about the nature of science or what scientists actually do. In addition, they often don't remember the content teachers work so hard to impart, and they are not likely to have a deep, conceptual understanding of what they do remember, since the information exists in isolated chunks.
An inquiry-based science project (whether for a fair, a unit in class, or for fun) is a great way for students to learn more about what science itself is, not just what nameless scientists in the past discovered.
But how can students go from knowing only what a scientific fact is to knowing what a scientific question is, and how to answer it?
At the NRAO, we have developed several activities that guide students through the process of forming a scientific question, developing a process to answer that question, collecting data, and making sense of that data. These activities are designed to work from scratch--a student who has never been in a science class before can, in a few hours, be comfortable with the scientific process.
Activity 1: Answering Questions about Galaxies
Activity 2: Butter-side Down?
Supplementary handouts about coming up with a scientific question, taking data, and making sense of the data.
We based these activities on the backwards-faded scaffolding model of learning, developed by the CAPER team, which builds upon existsing learning models that show the benefits of hands-on, minds-on, inquiry-based teaching. These methods allow students to construct their own knowledge, rather than having knowledge passed down to them. We also based the development of these activities on the idea that apprenticeship is an effective way both to interest students in science and to help them embrace the critical thinking that will help them learn not only science, but all subjects, and will help them grow into informed citizens.
For information about data-driven research related to science teaching and learning, see the Reading Material page.