What "story" can I create that will
get the kids excited and involved?
This really involves being playful with the
content to get the right context. I feel it is most important
to get the kids going and messing about with a good story or question
before delving into any content. The story or question needs to
create cognitive dissonance for the kids...it has to be something
they can relate to but causes them to question their own understanding
of it (and often it may be counter-intuitive). Once kids are
engaged in the context, the content becomes meaningful
to them and they are ready to learn it by applying it to this
context in order to solve the story or question. I truly believe
that the role of the teacher needs to be one that causes kids
to be confused rather than one of knower of all knowledge! A cautionary
note...this may also frustrate the kids so the teacher needs to
check levels of frustration and assist or redirect as needed
(more on this latter).
Sample Questions which Create Dissonance:
- The topic is Seasonal Changes (Nature Seminar):
Autumn: plants and animals are getting ready
for winter our most harsh season. Most of our birds migrate, deciduous
trees drop their leaves, and many animals hibernate. Why do bats,
bears, deer, moose become pregnant in the Fall only to carry their
young through this harsh season?
- The topic or content area is Biotechnology:
How do we define (biologically) an "individual"?
After the kids brainstorm answers, I show them slides of a beech
forest and ask them how many individuals do they see? They count
the trees BUT many of the beech trees are the same individual
connected by a common underground root. This is followed by a
slide of a living two-headed garter snake...each has a functioning
brain....this is followed by showing them a redwood burr that
has sprouted new growth. Although the "sprouts" are
new, the burr is 600 years old. I ask the students "how old"
is this plant / individual?
- The topic is Genetics:
The essential question when we begin to study
the human genome project;
"Because we can, should we?"
- The topic is Ecology (Nature Seminar):
I ask the students to inventory, by trophic
level, the aquatic invertebrates they find in the Souhegan River.
The resulting Food Pyramid is inverted....contrary to what they
learned in biology and have read in the text. I then ask them
to figure out why it is in fact inverted.
Field Projects Exploring Open-Ended