Science Never Solves a Problem Without Creating 10 More

This post originally began as a collection of weeks worth of notes I was taking to document my students’ inquiries about Air and Water. I decided to share the big ideas with you because I have never experienced teaching and learning like this before.

Science never solves a problem without creating 10 more.  ~ George Bernard Shaw

The same holds true for a grade 2 class of 16 imaginative 7 year-olds. Over the holidays I had time to reflect on my science program – or should I say, my students’ science program – because it no longer belongs to me . . .

This year has been the start of many new things, including integrating the use of iPads into my classroom program, and approaching teaching and learning using the inquiry-based model as seen in FDK. And now that I’ve had the chance to reflect on just what exactly happened in grade 2 these last few months, I am now seeing why, and how inquiry-based learning is improving student outcomes.

As I mentioned my science program no longer belongs to me. My students have laid their claim and I am still lamenting the loss of my science program. I really did pride myself on my collection of binders organized by subject, strand, and topic. I had my teaching, and my students’ learning down to a science – or at least I thought I did.

In past years my students and I would work through my lessons 1 by 1 and they would answer my well thought out questions, engage in experiments, watch videos, sing songs, write reports, video conference with the experts and discover all of the exciting things that real scientists discover.  It was exciting, but comfortable – I wasn’t taking any big risks. And now that I look back on it, my students weren’t either. But there was so much evidence of learning going on – a tonne in fact. I had no reason to believe this wasn’t a great way to teach and learn – until this year.

Had I taught my science unit from my trusted binders, I would have started with Social Studies exploring maps and globes so my students had an understanding of the world around them. Following our study of Maps and Globes, lesson by lesson we would have worked through the Science unit about Air and Water. My lessons were organized as follows:

Air Water and the Environment:
1. Moving Air
2. Air Temperature
3. Forms of Water in the Environment
4. The Water Cycle
5. Variables that Affect Evaporation
6. Sources of Water
7. Water Usage
8. Pollution and Air and Water

And so on . . .

However, this year I decided to try something new. I was going to see if my students inquiries could lead us through the curriculum. I have to admit I was very skeptical about how much curriculum we would actually cover in the time frame we had to work with. Would my kids really learn how to ask meaningful questions to further their own learning? Or would I end up pulling my trusted binders off the shelves to teach it my way? I photocopied the first few lessons – just in case. 🙂

Below is my collection of notes about the inquiries and learning that took place these 2 months:

1. I created a Science I Wonder Wall using Padlet – Padlet is a virtual wall that functions like a bulletin board. You can invite others to post notes on your wall and share their ideas. My kids used the app Qrafter to scan the QR code to access the shared “I Wonder Wall on their iPads. The only words I had on the wall were Questions About AIR and WATER. We divided the wall into 2 halves and the kids posted all of their questions about Air and Water on our wall.

2. The kids were asked to choose 1 question about air they wanted to answer. They worked in pairs and used Google images to collect pictures that would show answers to their questions about air. They used their iPads to create posters using Pic Collage. We shared our posters orally in class and figured out the answers to our questions using the picture clues the students had found. We added the answers to our Padlet Wall under the appropriate questions. The kids really enjoyed using Google and wanted to do more research. They had more questions.

3. Next the kids chose 1 question to answer about water. I modeled how to search Google to find a website. We typed in our search terms, discussed all of the text on the Google page (and what it means), explored how to choose a website from the 789, 000+ hits. We looked at a number of websites. Our searches led the kids to ask more questions about how to choose a “good” website. So, after much discussion we created a list of things we used to evaluate the websites we visited. In the end we chose PebbleGo. The kids chose PebbleGo because there were videos, pictures, and they could choose to have the text read to them. Kids research and answer their questions about water. They typed their research notes into a Word Document that they emailed to our class account. Then the kids used their iPads to create videos explaining what they learned about water. We shared our videos on our class blog.

4. The kids wanted to spend more time learning how to research on the internet. They had more questions. So we added our new learning to our Padlet Wall and continued on.

And that’s how it began. My kids were learning how to ask questions and find the answers to those questions. Over the next 6 weeks my kids inquiries led the way as we continued to learn more about air, water, and the environment:

5.  What is an Aquafer? – We video conferenced with the Texas Wildlife Association to learn more about water in the environment. Kids learned about aquifers and the water cycle. Since they had more questions about the water cycle, they used their iPads to find labelled diagrams in Google images that explained the water cycle in more detail. The kids saved their images in Pic Collage.

6.  How does the water cycle work? – The kids made a water cycle wheel, conducted a water cycle in a bag experiment, watched videos, sang a water cycle song and rap. They used their iPads to take pictures of the experiments and we posted the pictures on our class blog.

7.  How does the water cycle make weather? – We had lots of questions about weather. Kids posted their questions about thunder, lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes on our class blog. Meteorologist Geoff Coulson replied to our blog post and answered our questions. Time to experiment!
8.  Can we make weather? – Yes we can!  – We conducted a series of weather experiments. The kids made lightening, thunderstorms, and even a tornado! They used their iPads to take videos of our experiments and we posted the videos on our class blog.
9.  How do you measure temperature? – Our next set of inquiries we all about temperature. The kids learned how to read a thermometer and soon they had questions about hot and cold temperatures in different parts of the world.
10.  Where is it really cold on Earth? – The kids had the opportunity to video conference with a team of scientists in the arctic who were researching the effects of global warming on the polar bears. The series of live webcasts was titled, Tundra Connections. Following that video conference we Skyped with Michael Furdyk, Co-founder & Director of Innovation at TakingITGlobal who spent time in the arctic learning about the polar bears. Michael talked to the kids about what they can do to make a difference to help reduce their carbon footprint. He answered their questions and the kids tried the new TakingIt Global Commit2Act app on their iPads to track their personal/home actions. Finally the kids used the app Pic Collage to create posters explaining how we can reduce our carbon footprint to help Save the Polar Bears.
11.  What is the coldest place on Earth? – Using the iPads and the app NASA Vizualization, the kids learned all about Antarctica. There were pictures, video, and text describing the coldest place on Earth and how scientists used satellites to record the temperatures. We learned about satellites too. Next we used Google Earth to explore Antarctica and take our own aerial photos (screen shots) of the frozen land, icebergs, and water. The kids were now curious about icebergs. One of the students in our class had been reading about icebergs so he used the document camera to share some pictures from his book and he talked about how icebergs are formed.
12.  Where is the hottest place on Earth? – The kids used the NASA Vizualization app again this time to source our the hottest place on Earth. The 2 hottest places on Earth are the Lut Desert in Iran, and Flame Mountain in China. After reading about these places on our iPads, the kids used Google Earth to locate the Lut Desert and Flame Mountain. They took screen shots of the sand dunes, mountain ranges, and large deserts.
13.  What are the similarities and differences between the hottest and coldest places on Earth? – The kids are learning how to use the app Explain Everything to show what they know. We will share our presentations on our class blog once they are finished.
Bumps Along the Way . . .
Learning isn’t always pretty. To be honest, there were some days that were messy, loud, and a little choatic, but excitement always filled the air – even when things didn’t go as planned. Here are a lessons we learned along the way:
1.  Always check to make sure the website you want to use doesn’t require flash. This can be very time consuming.
2. Spend a lot of time asking a variety of questions. We had to go back to this several times throughout our inquiry. We played games on a Q-chart and used an app called QuestionIt Lite.
3.  Remind your students to check the battery life on their iPads.
4. Before pouring blue water into a ziplock bag to make a Water Cycle in a Bag, make sure the bag doesn’t have any holes in it.
5. When you tell a primary class they get to make a thunderstorm, be sure they understand they will not hear any thunder. This will save some tears.
6.  Don’t hand out glass thermometers to kids until they are standing on the grass.
7.  The next time I introduce primary students to Explain Everything, I will have them create different products using only one feature at a time. I thought since the kids had experience creating posters with pictures (Photos, Pic Collage), making videos (Camera), and using a whiteboard (Whiteboard), that Explain Everything only had one new feature for them to master – record audio. However, after spending 3 periods trying to help my students focus on the quality of information they were trying to share, instead of using all of the features in Explain Everything, I realized we were headed for a complete redo. And that’s ok. We will get it right this time!
What Next?
The only remaining to student inquires as of today, are:
a)  How does the water cycle work in the coldest and hottest places on Earth? 
b) Since people don’t live in the hottest and coldest places on Earth, where do other people live? Can we learn about other places in the world?
The students are excited to use their iPads to create videos explaining how the water cycle works in the hottest and coldest places in the world (which will be a great assessment piece). And following that, the kids will use apps like Google, Google Earth, NASA Vizualizations, Maps and Globes to begin learning about the world we live in.  As we virtually travel to different communities around the world, my class will be joined by Mrs. Regier’s class to video conference with children living in over 15 different countries.  
As I reflect back now on the science program I used to deliver, and compare it to the the science program my students created, not only did their inquiries lead them through the curriculum, but they were engaged, inspired, and motivated to learn. Their critical thinking questions led us to discover more than I ever could have imagined bringing into the classroom myself. Our collaborative environment helped bring out the best in my students. We are learning that when we solve problems, we create more opportunities to learn something new.
Leigh Cassell
Stephen Central PS, Grade 2
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