Oh, Bloom, why do you haunt me? I’m sure that the world of science teaching was easier when you could just pop on a movie, hand the kids a worksheet, and sit in the back doing a crossword puzzle. Since that was basically my eighth-grade year and I have literally no idea what we were studying that year, it is safe to say that we need a better plan for educating young people in our country.
I long for a classroom full of kids who can effectively analyze and interpret their data, but getting to that point feels like an insurmountable task. When the vast majority of resources available today leave kids at the knowledge and comprehension steps it is difficult to help students get to the point where they can truly look at a table or graph and construct an analysis that actually makes sense. I have to be honest that even though I am well into my second decade in education, this is the area where I struggle the most. Given enough time I can help the large majority of my students learn to construct a testable hypothesis and record their data, but teaching the kids to analyze and interpret their data has remained a task that only a minority seem to master.
The first time I completed an Inq-ITS virtual lab with my students the data was more than a little embarrassing. Their hypothesizing skills were low, data collection was even lower, and the score for analyzing that data was so low that it basically just looked like an empty white bar. After my students completed their second virtual lab I saw a huge improvement in hypothesizing skills and the data collection scores saw a marked increase as well, but the analyzing numbers were still embarrassingly low. It wasn’t until the fourth virtual lab that I saw a huge spike in my students’ analyzing scores. It was right after this activity that my students needed to write a paper analyzing arguments in favor of, and against transporting coal by rail through our community. I was absolutely astounded at the difference in my students’ papers. Students on both sides of the argument were pointing to data instead of just making assertions. Students in favor repeatedly quoted from statistics regarding unemployment in the area and the number of jobs that the coal could bring to the community. Students against the transport of coal consistently referred to data on the number of railway accidents and the impact of burning coal/CO2 in the atmosphere. Witnessing the huge transformation that took place in my classes caused me to contact Inq-ITS and find out how I could use it in my classes again the next school year.
In the third phase of Inq-ITS virtual labs, students are called on to not only construct a claim but also to warrant that claim with evidence. This is a key piece of the puzzle that is all too often missing in many scientific investigations.
For Example: If I change the plate type, then the formation type will change. (Divergent Boundaries)
Working with Inq-ITS over the last four school years has helped me to realize that these steps of analyzing and interpreting data had become second nature to me. It was precisely because these skills are so innate in my own thinking that I was in fact struggling to teach these practices to my students. Using Inq-ITS virtual labs with my students has enabled them to learn these valuable skills as those practices transfer to hands-on labs, their ability to analyze data in their writing, and their critical thinking skills regarding the world around them.