Activity: Where do the ideas come from?

By Theresa Frost, Curriculum Leader for Honors Math, Science and Technology Program, Northview Heights SS, TDSB

(Using Scientific Papers in the Student Journal of Science and Technology to Stimulate the Development of the Scientific Method in Grade 9 Students)

Often times when students enter a grade 9 science class, their understanding of scientific investigation and inquiry comes in the form of completing lab activities from a textbook. While ¡°recipe¡± labs have value in helping students develop skills, they offer little in the way of helping them develop authentic inquiry and research methods. With a full curriculum it can be difficult for a teacher to find time to allow students to investigate their own scientific curiosities; yet, these curiosities are what drives change. It is imperative to help students formulate a genuine picture of the scientific community that shapes their daily lives. There is also a need for them to see that they are a part of that community.

The Student Journal of Science and Technology has become a wonderful tool for teachers and students interested in taking part in the scientific community. In the most recent addition, Tigist Amdemichael, wrote an article on using the magazine as a means of teaching students how to critique a scientific paper. Within the article, she focused on the idea of developing communication skills by having students examine scientific articles for sources of error in logic and procedure. This process allows for extensions in that it drives investigation of the sources of error found.

Within the grade nine science curriculum, the physics unit focuses on electricity. Expectations for the Science and Technology, Society, and the Environment portion of the strand places focus on alternative energy methods. This expectation, in combination with the article, Getting Involved: Environmental Outlook and Renewable Energy for Classroom illumination, written by Vlad Joukov in the first edition of the Journal is being used as a jumping off point for a group of grade 9 students. The students will critique and investigate the proposal for the alternative energy source that is proposed to be used in classrooms at their school.

Throughout the year in this non-semestered program, students have been scaffolding their critical reading skills. They have used articles found in popular science magazines relating to the biology and chemistry strands and have begun to investigate assumptions made, validity of research, and bias. The students will soon be using these same skills to investigate the aforementioned scientific paper. Prior experience with this skill and prior knowledge of electricity generation will assist them in understanding the new terminology and concepts presented in the article. Once students read and critique the article, they will be asked to investigate either an assumption, or an error in procedure or logic, and compile their results for communication with the scientific community.

Steps in Developing the Scientific Method from Science Based Articles of Interest

Article: have students choose an article of interest related to a strand of study within their science course.

Critique: have students critically read the article of interest using the technique outline in the Journal 2.2008.

Investigation: After the critique, students should choose either an assumption, or an error in procedure or logic, and develop a question to investigate.

Testing: Students should develop a method to test the question and a means of collecting data to validate their work. The testing should then be carried out.
Results: Students will compile their results and communicate their findings by means of a presentation or report.

Extensions: Students will develop a new series of questions based on their own findings and the input of peers during their presentation. A set of next steps for further investigation will be produced.

When students are assigned the task of completing a science project, the most common issue is not the skills needed to complete the assignment, but the idea needed to begin the investigation. The idea behind this grade nine project is to leave the students with the realization and understanding of how to formulate questions for investigation and the means by which the answers can be gathered. It also gives them the opportunity to see the feedback loop involved in this investigative process; that a lab report is not an end point- instead, it provides a new beginning, a new question.

As science teachers it is our goal to instil curiosity in students and to assist them in finding ways to answer their questions. The drive behind this activity is to create a student that understands the inquiry process. We desire for them to grasp that in science, answers to questions may change, depending on who is asking them. By beginning the process with grade nine students, an early confidence is established along with a sense of accomplishment. This becomes a jumping off point for self-driven, authentic investigation. We look forward to the future when these students will see their own work amongst the pages of this journal.