Reflection on Science Teaching (Order vs. Chaos)

Unfortunately, due to budgetary concerns, the middle school I helped develop will be closing after only two school years. This news, delivered not long after we all returned from Winter Break, came as a shock–not just to me, but also to the middle school students who have been pouring themselves into making our programme great.

To say that I am heartbroken would be accurate; however, I am now moving forward, hopefully in a direction that will allow me to provide support for my students and continue the innovative, inclusive brand of education that I so enjoy.

I’d like to dedicate my next few posts to BALANCE. Balancing teacher and student control. Balancing classroom tidiness with creative chaos. Balancing new technology and old technology. Balancing behavioral management styles. Teachers deal with BALANCE all the time.

Order vs. Chaos

I work in a open learning space with one or two other classes always occurring at the same time as mine. I oscillate between teaching mathematics and science.

At any time, my students have to navigate themselves around a number of ongoing experiments for their science classes. We try to keep them out of the way, but space is finite. Currently, we have a wave simulator (giant bin of water and sand), semi-working Mars rover robot, and pinhole cameras made from matchboxes. Science is a subject based on recorded experimentation. Outside of their lab notebooks, where they practice orderly application of the Scientific Method, the kids focus on proving the various scientific theories and facts that they find in their research.

 

My classroom can look like chaos, and I like it that way. I want them to catch their moments of inspiration and run with them, even if it doesn’t directly feed my plans for the unit. For example, in our Mars unit, the kids are choosing materials to represent the types of terrain on the Red Planet. We found two bags of perlite rocks, and I asked the kids how they want to dye it.

This led to a discussion of the different liquid solvents we have in the classroom: water, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol. From our experiments making soap, candles and molecular gastronomy, the kids already know that the solvent is important.

Now, I could’ve told them how to dye the perlite best to get them back to the project, but this tangential experiment still serves the central purpose of science class. It is inspired, engaging and allows the kids to practice the application of the scientific process.

From the chaos, we find avenues of order. From the explosive forces of creativity and experimentation, we can derive meaning.

This, I think, is authentic learning. What I teach my kids rings true to my experience in lab work and field work. Science is the making of ordered thinking from observed chaos.

The science classroom should reflect that!

 

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