Call Them Scientists

“Mr. Dolens organized the students into groups of four. He said that each group would have to come up with an answer to his original question. And they had to follow a few rules in finding their answers: they had to use data to support their arguments, and they had to base their decisions on evidence, either drawing on data from the chart or supplementing the chart with other data. Once they had come to a decision, they were to make a recommendation and record their decision and the evidence that supported it on paper. ‘Get started, scientists,’ Mr. Dolens said. The class (of first graders) went right to work.”  (from Ready, Set, Science:  Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms, published by the National Research Council)*

What if, like Mr. Dolens, we called our students “scientists,” and did this routinely, naturally, and with conviction?  How would it change their understanding of science and our understanding of them as learners?  How would we plan our science instruction with those young scientists in mind?  Would we teach science differently in our classrooms?

Science is a process.  Science is doing.  Would calling our students scientists mean we would be less likely to give them worksheets?  More likely to allow them to frame their own scientific inquiries?  Ask questions?  Generate multiple working hypotheses?  Collect data?  Make decisions based on the data they’ve gathered?    Collectively problem solve with their fellow scientists?  Report their findings with clarity?  Would their understanding of science increase?  Their enjoyment of it grow?  Their confidence and skill improve?

In calling Corey and LaTonya “scientists,” would  we be less likely to give them lists of science vocabulary to memorize for recall later on a test and more likely to introduce vocabulary in the context of doing science with them, even allowing them to invent their own terms at the outset of learning a new concept?  Would we be less likely to simply assign chapters in sequence from a textbook and more likely to have them keep a science journal of their own questions, their observations, the experiments they’ve designed, and their reflections on the meaning of all they’ve discovered.

It seems to me that calling our students scientists would respect the power of their young intellects to reason scientifically.  It would also send a powerful message to them about the possibility that they could actually choose to become a scientist when they grow up ~ maybe set their imaginations to work on a future life course.

So, let me propose a little experiment for this school year?  Let’s invite our students into doing science by addressing them as scientists?  I suspect that calling our students scientists would change both us and them, and both for the better.  We would become better teachers of science; they would become better students of science.

What do you think?  Could something that small make a difference?

~ Penny

* One of the books we give teachers in Introduction to Inquiry.

You can learn more about Golden Apple’s Inquiry Science Institute here: http://www.goldenapple.org/inquiry-science-institute

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