Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Promoting Inquiry in the Classroom - Exploring Ecosystems

This is a great hands-on science activity that can promote inquiry and understanding of the scientific process.  Students can explore different ecosystems (forest, meadow, beach, mountain) and gather data and evidence at each site in order to compare environmental factors such as plant life, animal life, humidity, wind speed, temperature and amount of light.  It would be best if the ecosystems are close by, for instance a forest and a meadow, in order to have the data collected at the same time and under similar conditions.  Have students measure and record the conditions in different ecosystems.  They can choose to use instruments such as thermometers, pH Meters or litmus paper, hygrometers (to measure humidity), compasses and cameras.  If students have access to smartphones or tablets they can use many available apps for altitude, barometers, pH and other measurements.  Google Earth will also allow them to pinpoint the location of the ecosystem using latitude and longitude and there are weather apps and resources that can also use.  Students can record their findings and display them in graphs, spreadsheets or an annotation program, such as Explain Everything, to share their results with others.  I have curated a collection of Science and Math measurement apps, many of which can support these activities.  These activities provide opportunities for students to make curriculum connections to the processes of Science, using Scientific instruments, measurement, graphing, understanding ecosystems and the integration of Numeracy into Science.

Use inquiry questions to support and guide student learning.  These questions need to be both open-ended and ones that require investigation, experimentation and collaboration to answer.  Smarter Science has created a question matrix to help frame inquiry questions.  Some examples are:

•  What evidence do you have?
•  What did you expect to find and why?
•  How was it different than other ecosystems?
•  What patterns, similarities and differences did you notice?
•  How can you explain these patterns, similarities and differences?
•  Why did you chose these instruments to work with?

This type of activity helps students develop their communication skills and the ability to share their observations and results with others.  This lesson is one of 5 included in my iBook - 5 Inquiry Activities.  The iBook can be downloaded for free from iTunes.