One of the essential ideas we promote in Golden Apple STEM Institute is the importance of having students use factual evidence to make and support a claim. The demand that a claim be supported by evidence is at the heart of scientific thinking. By investigating an aspect of the world and gathering data of one kind or another, students figure out some things about how that piece of the world works. Gradually, they develop clearer and clearer notions of the way things function and interconnect. And that’s what sets science apart from, for example, personal opinion. Science, to be considered credible, demands demonstrable evidence for any claim it makes.
So when I claim that Tonti Elementary is a STEM-infused school, I ought to be able to prove it by presenting evidence. If you read my previous post, you’ve already seen some of that evidence, but posters and bulletin boards are only a small part of the equation, sign posts, if you will. What’s more important is the science that’s being done by students every day in their classes.
Let’s visit two of those classes.
Miguel Torres is a new teacher. On the day I visit, his 3rd grade class is working on an engineering challenge. Having already studied sinking and floating and properties of water, they work in teams to determine the best design for a raft made of pencils and two varieties of tape, clear and masking. What is evident is that the children are used to working collaboratively to solve problems. They are used to describing the properties of materials and comparing and contrasting them. Mr. Torres builds on their previous exploration of the materials and their investigation uses simple inexpensive items to help students arrive at a better understanding of how things work. The photos provide evidence that this is a classroom that is “hands on, minds on” and prioritizes science.
On the same day, Jose Frausto’s 4th grade class is studying magnetism. Before allowing students to explore with various kinds and strengths of magnets, he gathers what they already know and asks what they wonder about. His students keep science journals into which they record their own personal wonderings. When he turns them loose to investigate the question “How does the size of the magnet affect its strength?” it’s obvious that they are curious to figure out how magnets work by how quickly and purposefully they engage.
Mr. Frausto tells me that after they finish this investigation, he will have the students use the “I Wonders” they’ve written in their well-used science journals to frame their own essential questions and do their own investigations. He has them use the wheel of inquiry to help them better understand dependent and independent variables and develop investigable questions and shows me how he has laminated an inquiry wheel for each of his students, so that they can write on them in dry erase marker and reuse them throughout the school year. This is an idea I’ve already shared with teachers in other schools.
I featured Humberto Rodriguez, another Tonti 4th grade teacher, in an earlier blog post. Further evidence.
But wait, there’s more …
In my next installment, I’ll introduce you to Steven Walsh, a veteran teacher at Tonti, and his ingenious cabinet of marvels.
You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.