This particular experiment is a really great one for learning about experiments and scientific thinking because of several reasons.
- Kids almost always think that heavier objects (of the same size, shape, and material) will land first. In fact, they basically will SWEAR that it is true. Last year a kid told me that his dad told him this fact and his dad is never wrong and that's how he knows. It is so fun for me (and really eye-opening for them) when their thinking is blown out of the water!
- Even kids who already know how it will turn out are challenged to organize the experiment in a way that actually proves what they already know. This is tricky as we are planning an experiment with 22 kids involved where everyone needs to have a job.
- We can have a lot of conversations about variables because kids have to get to the idea that the only thing that can be different about the objects being dropped is the mass.
- If you're a sixth grader, it is really fun to drop things off of the balcony.
- How many tests should we do?
- How many timers should we have per ball?
- How shall we record the data?
How is doing an experiment like this different from just doing any old science experiment, you ask? Well, I've started to see my role as the teacher really differently in this process, is one of the main things.
- The learning targets are very carefully chosen, named, and linked back to assessment criteria.
- Every learning experience in the unit links directly to the summative assessment task.
- The daily learning has been examined through the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model to determine how much teacher support is needed at that particular time.
Yes and no. Though doing an experiment in this open way with a lot of discussion might initially take longer, the payoff is worth it. This is a prime example of 'start slow to go fast' and because of the time invested in discovering how to plan/do an experiment instead of just being told, a lot less time has to be used later for re-teaching. This is a clear case of prioritizing content/skills in terms of time allotment. Understanding how to correctly plan and do experiments, assess results, and talk about your findings are foundational skills in science. And, as foundational skills, the large time allocation is important as this is the kind of thing kids will be doing for the rest of their school careers, including university level science classes. We don't 'discover' everything in my class, there are times when I do some direct instruction. Choosing the best instructional strategy for each target is part of the prioritizing. I know that students will remember things better when they construct meaning through inquiry (guided and open inquiry) and so for those parts that are in the 40 years section of the 40-40-40 model (what should we remember in 40 days, 40 months, 40 years), the increased time investment is completely worth it.
I'm excited to see how our second (and sometimes third) iterations of the experiments go. Stay tuned.