Most science teachers have been doing hands-on science for quite some time. Science textbooks come littered with hands-on projects and quick laboratory experiences for students to complete. However, these hands-on activities often do much of the thinking FOR students rather than encouraging THEM to think. Even the kits that come in so handy often end up being step-by-step directions to follow rather than a means to meaningfully engage students in thought about nature. Below are a few ideas on how you might retool these resources to help students learn rather than just follow directions.
1) Ask students to write or comment on why each step is necessary. This is probably the easiest way to infuse some thinking into the cookbook labs, but it is better than nothing.
2) Have students predict what would happen if they removed a step or changed the order of the steps. If safety is not an issue, you might even have different groups of students try the various modifications and compare results.
3) Provide student with only the first few directions and and have students decide how to finish the investigation? This is a nice scaffolding technique as students will be aware of the goal for the investigation and how to start, but they will be responsible for parts of the investigation.
4) Provide students with the goal of the investigation and the materials. Have student groups then decide how they will achieve the goal. Afterward, students can reflect individually or as a class on how various efforts worked.
5) Provide students with the materials from the cookbook lab or kit an have them as a class or in groups generate testable questions about the materials. Then provide some time for students to complete their investigation. While this idea is often met with resistance such as “where’s the content”, you will find that oftentimes you can use what students investigate to link to the content you are required to teach.
What activities do you think you could modify this year? What concerns do you have?