Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Don't Crush Creativity!

In my Biology classroom, creative and critical thinking is important to teach our students to become “good scientists”. Whenever we set up a lab, I try to let the students do as much as possible of the experimental setup and design. We recently introduced a decomposition lab where we wanted to study the effect of yeast on a banana’s decomposition. It was not necessary for them all to actually do the lab, so I decided we would go through the process of setting up the experiment together in class. I began by telling the students that I wanted to find out information about how fruit decomposes and I chose a banana because it was convenient and I noticed that they decompose quickly in my house. I then asked students what might affect the decomposition of my banana. My students are sometimes afraid to share ideas so I made it clear that in science, we often must come up with many ideas that fail before we find one that works and that it is OK to be wrong. By creating a safe environment for my students to share ideas without being afraid to fail, I was able to get a lot more class participation. Students shared many ideas of how decomposition may be affected and how we should set up our experiment. I would ask students why they chose that design or why we would do it one way and not the other, and their answers surprised me and were able to make connections. I would love to incorporate this type of activity more in my classroom because it was engaging to the students and really made them use their creative and critical thinking skills in a safe environment.

Another way we foster creativity and critical thinking is to give students options. Recently, we assigned a Nature Scavenger Hunt assignment where students had a list of things they had to find in nature, but could present it in whichever way they wanted. We wanted to foster their own interests and creativity by not limiting presentations to powerpoints or poster boards. While some students stuck with what was safe and comfortable to them, many students made scrapbooks, drawings, poems, and creative poster displays. This allowed students to be more engaged and excited about what we were doing in class and how to relate what we were learning with what they found in their own neighborhood!

As support of their critical thinking and problem solving, we often have students use technology and scientific resources to provide evidence for concepts in class and to expand their learning. For example, every two weeks a current event science article is due where students must make connections with what we are learning. It has been an important step to insure the quality of their learning from this assignment, to teach students to assess resources and decide if they are quality and reliable resources for science. We must teach our students how to identify what reliable information looks like. Teaching students about the credibility of the author was the most effective way of doing this. What qualifies this person or organization to write about this subject? How does their perspective and background affect the quality of information? This also relates to how media uses information. We also addressed this when discussing graphing population changes and how scales and graphs can be manipulated to fit different agendas. By teaching students how to find quality information and how to analyze its quality, our students have been able to find accurate information for their most recent project on biomes and the environmental issues it faces. Students made a website with this information, and showed how they used their resources to create a quality, reliable resource as well.

Our students gain a lot of time and experience working in groups and developing social behaviors. It is important for high school students to interact with different peers and use them as sources of information and feedback. My classroom uses a lot of group lab work and projects. We also use the Think-Pair-Share strategy in class almost daily. We try to change up the groups often so that students get to work with different people and fill different roles in the group dynamic. This group work, especially in labs, allows students to also be self-directed. They are given instructions and must learn to budget their time and work as a peer team to get it all done.

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