At the start of the school year, my 8th graders grouped up and began work on an inquiry project of their own design. The campus where I teach has a small pond, a highly manicured green strip, a miniature soccer field and a little garden space. Either individually or in groups of up to three students, they developed a question of interest and worked out a means of collecting data. Final reports and presentations are just coming in.
I like to turn to the reflection section of the report first to get the feelings of students as they wrap up large projects. A few quotes:
- “I’m not sure in this short amount of time we can find out the answer.”
- “It’s really hard to make a thermometer but I still enjoyed the process.”
- “The year is almost ending and through this yearlong project I learned a lot. I can feel how hard it is to be a scientist. You need to go through a lot of procedures in order to know the answer. And you often need to face problems, errors, failures and wrong hypothesis. Admired those who survived these.”
- “I learned that the scientific process was difficult to accomplish and stick to.”
- “I was really surprised at the end that my hypothesis was totally the opposite of what our data collection showed, but I enjoyed discovering these mistakes or error to help us improve in the future.”
- “Some variables that are included in your project might seem minor and not important to you, but they actually affect the whole result of your experiment.”
- “Through the research I learned about a species I had little knowledge of, and since I live with mosquitoes all the time it is a good thing to know about them.”
- “Even though our experimentation failed scientifically,our group nevertheless learned a lot. In my opinion, experience is also as important as data because a person can use past experience for the future.”
- “In addition to being able to learn the importance of being consistent, I’ve realized that accomplishing such a huge project provides a satisfaction unique to long-term projects.”
- “I would suggest next year to stop the inquiry project and just concentrate on learning things from projects that would have short term results or have immediate results. Although I have definitely learned things from our inquiry project the knowledge acquired was not proportional to the time spent doing the inquiry.”
The majority of students lamented the small amount of time devoted to data collection. This year, I picked the first Friday of each month for students to collect data, upload it onto their web pages and plan for the next data collection outing. The shout-out for more time has me thinking to double the number of outings next year. One student disagrees by saying, “I would suggest next year to stop the inquiry project and just concentrate on learning things from projects that would have short term results or have immediate results. Although I have definitely learned things from our inquiry project the knowledge acquired was not proportional to the time spent doing the inquiry.”
I lean with the majority on this one. I worry that students spend too much time working with discrete bits of information and want them to expand their focus. I want them to look for patterns and to spend time connecting with the seasons, to see trends and find relationships. This takes time but I think that I need to continue carving it out.