Going into camp I was not nervous about the experience because I knew I would be working with four other classmates. Having to do this by myself would have been intimidating. Especially since this would only be my second time designing and implementing an authentic inquiry-based science experience. Never having learned science through inquiry myself, I have no experiences of my own to refer back to which makes it very challenging to teach others in a way that is unfamiliar to me. Even though I questioned my ability to design and implement an authentic inquiry-based science experience I felt confident in our ability as a group. Together, I knew we would be able to use each others ideas, build off of what each of us had learned from our experience conducting concept interviews, and incorporate information from our course readings to create an authentic inquiry-based science experience that would be memorable while at the same time meaningful, not only for our students but for us as well.
Concept Map of Student's Work Throughout Camp
The hardest thing for me all week was the unknown. By this I mean not knowing what ideas our students would come up with or how our students would respond to our questions. For example, the very first day of camp we had our students write a list of questions they wanted to investigate after they observed Charlotte Beach. Not having any idea what the students would come up with or how difficult it would be for them to come up with questions left us unsure about our plan for the rest of the day. Even thought this was the first time I witnessed the unknown it was not the only time. Throughout the week when our students developed a model, determined how they wanted to collect data, brainstormed ways to visually represent their data using graphs and analyzed their graphs to draw conclusions I again experienced the unknown. As the week went on I started to get used to the unknown and develop ways to approach it. One way we did this was by making sure we provided time for our students to write down their thoughts before sharing them with the group. This way not only did our students have an opportunity to think before they were put on the spot but we were able to prepare ourselves. While the students were writing each one of us would check out what the students were writing or if a student seemed to be struggling one of us would sit down with them and find out what they were thinking. Doing this helped us preview what our group discussion might look like. This took away a little bit of the unknown and gave us a minute to compile our thoughts. I learned very quickly that putting ourselves on the spot caused us to ask more leading questions. However, recognizing that we asked more leading questions when we put ourselves on the spot did not always help us avoid these situations. Later on in the week we realized that we could adjust this habit if we paused for a moment after a student shared their idea(s). Pausing allowed us to think about what was just said and phrase a question in our heads that would push the student for a scientific explanation rather than try to have them guess what we were thinking. For example, some of the questions we would ask included, “what do you mean by that”, “can you say more about that”, and “can you explain why.” After this week I realized that the unknown is scary but if you can roll with it it leads to valuable and deeper outcomes.
Everyday involved something different than the day before. I am used to being able to run through a lesson with one class and make immediate changes before I run through the same lesson with another class. This was not the case at camp. Each day we needed to accomplish something different and never had an opportunity to try the same lesson again. We did however have the opportunity to make changes to the way we structured the lessons. For example, we realized that we needed to assign roles to each teacher. During each activity there was at least one leader, one observer, one person in charge of taking pictures/videos, one organizer and sometimes one or two co-leaders. Not assigning roles left us with too many chefs in the kitchen. Our students did not know who to talk to or which question to answer first. We overwhelmed them when roles were not predetermined. Another way we changed the structure of our lessons was by taking advantage of our one to one student to teacher ratio. Recognizing that we had a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time while trying to meet the needs of each individual student presented problems for us at times mainly because we were trying to do everything as a large group. As soon as we started to identify activities that would best be accomplished if we took advantage of our one to one ratio we noticed that our students were taking more away from each experience.
This week long experience would have been drastically different had I not have four other amazing individuals to work with directly and many others to learn from. The five of us learned a great deal from each other along the way and approached each day with a purpose that related to our overall camp goals. At times I did not feel that we were as creative as other groups nor did we take advantage of all the technology that was available to us. Some examples of the other groups creativity included; wearing the same color shirts throughout the week not just on Monday and Tuesday, decorating signs for each individual student rather than one big sign for all students, making a video of their groups experience throughout the week, recording student reflections on the iFlip, creating a concept map using inspiration then having students add ideas to their concept map by writing directly on the SMARTBoard that was showing the concept map, and using a jeopardy game to get to know their students on the first day. Each day we tried to introduce our students to certain technologies that they may not have used before but thought would be useful for them to learn at that point in time. Students had experience with pH probes, labquests, Excel, cameras, iFlip, Google Earth, Keynote and SMARTBoards. We would have liked the students to do more with all of these but we struggled due to time restrictions. One of the things we did well when we incorporated technology was provide short focused sections of time in which the students could play with the tools. This way when it was time for them to use it in conjunction with their investigation they were ready to use it purposefully.
Overall, this week left me more exhausted than any other week I have experienced during the three years I have been teaching. However, it was a rewarding learning experience that I would regret not having been a part of. As the summer is coming to an end I am starting to think about ways I can use what I have learned from camp in my classroom. Seeing the excitement and pride on our students faces throughout the week, has refueled me with energy to start another year with a new bunch of students, helping them discover the joy of science through experiences that go beyond textbooks and worksheets while fostering an environment in which they learn how to “think like scientists.”