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Getting Started:

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:

  1. 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?

  2. 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?

  3. The topic is Genetics:

    The essential question when we begin to study the human genome project; "Because we can, should we?"

  4. 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 Questions:

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