A few decades ago, I was approached by the School of Education at the University where I taught introductory Biology classes. The request they presented was for me to develop a course to teach elementary teachers (primary grades) in the Master of Arts (MAT) program how to do science experiments in their classrooms, assuming no prior science knowledge on the part of the teachers, and assuming that most elementary teachers did not have enough confidence in their ability to do science to attempt even those activities described in the resource materials available at the time. I added the assumption that the typical elementary school budget for science was approximately $0.00, and the assumption that the use of scientific-looking equipment would be intimidating [the teachers should not be expected to know where to get such equipment even if money were available]! For my added assumptions, I designed all of my exercises using only materials and supplies available in grocery stores or discount department stores, at a cost the teacher might consider paying "out-of-pocket."
My recollection of having been, at one time, a student in elementary school led me to
the idea that experimental animals are rather easy to obtain - the teacher need only ask
the students to bring in some bugs, say grasshoppers. WARNING:
you do not want poisonous creatures, so tell the students NOT to bring spiders, bees, or
wasps. Also, some bugs bite [painfully], such as ladybugs; and stink bugs are called stink
bugs because, as the name suggests, they stink. I promise that you will soon learn to
recognize those bugs you don't want in your classroom [by discovery]!
One of my first students, in the course I developed, told me that she could not find grasshoppers in a suburban community during the summer, so she offered her 5th grade neighbor five cents for every grasshopper he brought her. After spending $5.00 on grasshoppers, she told the neighbor that she was no longer in the market for grasshoppers. My peer group, as students in the primary grades, brought numerous grasshoppers to school, put them in jars with holes punched in the lids, and set them on the window ledge until 'later.' When later finally arrived the grasshoppers always seemed to be dead. As a college professor of Biology, I was not impressed with this experimental design as particularly good science. Returning to my recollections of elementary school, I remembered that when we brought in caterpillars we were supposed to also bring part of the plant on which we found them, "... so they would have something to eat." Yet we never did this for the grasshoppers. why not? Perhaps we learned very little from the instructions for the caterpillars because it was instructions. So... What do grasshoppers eat? A simple question, suitable for designing an experiment suitable for the 3rd grade and up [has been tested by former students on 3rd to 5th grade classes, and the success reported in lab reports for my Biology for Teachers class]. My assessment expectation for this exercise is that the elementary students will have so much fun that they will accidently learn better than I did from the boring instructions I was given at that age.
For an actual classroom experiment, you would engage the students in guessing what grasshoppers might eat. You need at least two choices.
Again, in an actual classroom setting, you want the students to come up with suggestions for how to run the experiment. You may need to guide them more in the procedure than you did for the hypothesis.
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© 2004 TwoOldGuys