In Science class during the 3rd trimester, the 3rd and 4th graders have been working on self-directed long-term inquiry projects on ENERGY. Guiding students through a project like this was new for me, and I learned a lot along the way.
We began the unit by exploring what students already knew about energy, and as a group we decided on a working definition of energy. We then made a list of questions we had about energy, and categorized those questions into larger topics, creating three BIG questions: 1) What is energy? 2) Where does energy come from? and 3) How is energy measured? Each student then chose one question they were most interested in and wrote sub-questions that would help them know where to start their research.
Now we needed to start. We discussed that “googling” something is not the only way to find out about it. In fact, students were required to do their first bit of research in elementary non-fiction books I had gotten from the library. I also led the students to realize that there are experts in their networks that they could reach out to with questions. Their teachers, parents, other relatives, and even peers could be a great resource.
When research was underway, students began thinking about how they would want to share their learning, so that they could have that end goal in mind. Together we came up with the following options: making a poster, creating a slideshow, writing a book, making a model, doing a demonstration, or planning and implementing an experiment. For those who chose to plan an experiment, we did some targeted lessons on the scientific method, fair tests, and variables and controls.
For the last few weeks, students worked diligently on their projects. As I reflect on the work they did, I am recognizing the many skills they used: researching, note-taking, synthesizing and summarizing information, consolidating learning, presenting and sharing knowledge, collaborating with peers, time-management, designing and implementing experiments, and collecting and analyzing data. They did this on their own with just a little help from me. The projects that they ended up presenting at our science fair where nearly 100% their own work. The role I served was as facilitator – implementing mini-lessons on various research and presentation skills and helping students to procure the materials and texts they needed. Because I was much more hands-off with this project than I am used to, I was a little bit nervous about the end products. But, on Wednesday, I was thrilled to see the students’ final projects. And because their topics, partners, and types of presentations were self-selected, every single student seemed truly invested in, and proud of, their work.