Unique Assignments to Promote Inquiry and Learning Strategies
Several types of assignments that may be unfamiliar to students can be used very effectively to facilitate inquiry. The Jigsaw Method, Journals, Predictions, Prediction Reflections and Peer Review are powerful tools that can enhance the learning experience for students in any inquiry.
The Student Observation Network is ideally suited to the Jigsaw approach. With the Jigsaw approach, small groups of students become 'experts' on one part of the larger question (or puzzle). The small, expert groups come together to share their expertise and to solve the problem. Different groups of students in the classroom could become experts in different parts of the module. The breadth of SON also allows students from other schools and other parts of the world to be experts in one or more parts of the Jigsaw. Additional resources about the Jigsaw method may be found on the Internet.
Journal assignments are short writing assignments that can engage students in the problem to be investigated and can reveal students' preconceptions about the concepts before instruction. Journal assignments can be used as pre- and post-test evaluations of student understanding. Teachers can assign intermediate journal entries to monitor student progress and to help students organize their thoughts. Many teachers use journal reflections as a regular part of the daily schedule. Students enter the room, retrieve their journal from a central location, and respond to a question the teacher has provided. The question is connected to the day's activity. Students begin work immediately, and the teacher completes administrative chores while the students are working. For journal assignments, teachers give simple instructions and ask general questions, such as "Draw a rainbow. What colors are in a rainbow?" "What is the order of colors?" They then allow each student time to write his or her own response.
Journals are evaluated on the basis of careful thought. The emphasis should not be on the correctness of an answer. The teacher wants to know what students are thinking, not what they think the teacher wants them to think. If a journal assignment is designed to reveal prior conceptions, the teacher needs to read each student's entry. For other entries, the teacher can decide to read each, or read one from each team. In some cases, teachers have asked each student to identify one entry for each week she or he wants the teacher to read. Teachers can then scan the others.
In each SON module, students are asked to make predictions based on evidence. It is important to stress that the correctness of the prediction is not important -- but the rationale is. Students may not have much experience making predictions formally. The teacher can encourage students to think about what they know and what experiences they have had to guide them. Physics Education Research, or PER, has shown that student performance and investment are enhanced when students make predictions. Educators should stress to the students that their predictions will not be graded except for completion and the thoroughness of their answers. Educators should stress, however, that the predictions are important.
Students may make incorrect predictions just as scientists can make incorrect predictions. If a student makes an incorrect prediction, the student can use this as a learning experience to improve his or her understanding and ability to make better predictions. Research indicates that students can learn to learn more effectively if the teacher asks them to reflect upon their predictions. A Prediction Reflection assignment is provided that can be used after any exploration in which the students make predictions. The teacher should introduce the Prediction Reflection to students before they start the prediction. The teacher further explains that a Prediction Reflection will be an assignment later on, and asks students to be aware of their reasons for making each prediction in preparation for this assignment.
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Many scientists, engineers and businesspersons use peer review to improve the quality of their efforts. Some review is evaluative. One person or team presents and defends a business plan or the results of an investigation to peers who critique the work. Many groups use a more informal review to assist in the planning stages. It is this formative review that is very useful for inquiry. Students can use peer review to improve the design of their inquiry. A description of the peer review process is provided.
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