inquiry by stariya


									                               Inquiry Project Proposal
                                    By: Jane N. Schnack
                                     CEP 800, 801, 822
                                       Summer 2003

I.      Introduction and overview

     Kingsley Middle School is a 5–8 building and part of Kingsley Area Schools in

Kingsley, Michigan. Just south of Traverse City, Kingsley is a rural community which

is experiencing steady growth. As a third-year teacher of 7th grade, I will have five

classes of science and one class of forensic science each day. The science course

includes concepts from earth/space science, life science, and physical science. The

standards covered are determined by the board-adopted curriculum: the Kent County

Collaborative Core Curriculum, or KC4.

     As the only 7th grade science teacher, I see virtually all of the 7th graders in my

room each day. Classes are heterogeneous in make-up and include “504” and special

education students. A typical 7th grade class contains 22-28 students and is 55

minutes long. I plan to target one science class of “average” ability for this project.

     As a science teacher, I work hard to implement lessons that involve “hands-on”

activities, many of which involve models. Typically, these lessons require a variety of

“consumables”, that is a selection of supplies that must be purchased anew each year.

With district-wide budget cuts looming, all teachers need to be able to substantiate

why supplies are being purchased with district dollars. When approaching the

principal, curriculum committee, or school board, I’d like to be able to give greater

support to my reasons for using models, and for buying the supplies needed to make

      More importantly, I’d like to gain some understanding about how my students view

models. For example, what are their attitudes about models? Do they learn anything

from models? What makes one model more or less appealing than another? My goal is

to simply gather information about student perceptions of and reactions toward

models in my classroom.

II.      Problem statement

      When students use models in science class, I assume that they gain positive

benefits from these experiences. Hands-on activities help students take a more

active role in building their own understanding. More specifically, models help

students visualize information, especially about something that they can’t otherwise

observe directly. To better understand the general role of models in my classroom, I

pose the following research question:


      The words “model” and “affect” are identified as placeholders and merit more

detailed explanations:

         model – a physical representation of an object or system.

      At times, models are used to represent objects that are smaller than the model

itself, for example, cells and atoms. Other models represent items that are very large,

such as a rocket or Earth. Others still, represent relatively inaccessible realms, like a

broad view of time shown by the geologic time scale, or the characteristics of a sound
wave. Models typically have characteristics similar to those of the real object or


      affect – to influence in some observable or reportable manner.

   As students are engaged with a model, what does this engagement look like? How

does interaction with a model impact behavior, attitudes, and learning? Is the quality of

the student-model interaction influenced by particular factors: student grouping,

materials, difficulty level, type of representation, extension activities, topic, etc? If so,

how might I capitalize on such factors?

III. Proposed course of action

   I will focus my teacher-research around three different models during the 2003-

2004 school year. The first model is part of an activity from a unit on heredity, the

second represents aspects of plate tectonics, and the third model is of a nerve cell,

or neuron.

    In more detail, the heredity model is the product of a lab activity called “Bug

Builders, Inc.” Working in groups of three, students act as toy designers and build a

new toy, or “baby bug”, that is based on the combined traits of two existing toys, or

“parent bugs”.    Matched sets of alleles (slips of paper) are drawn randomly from

paper bags. These sets determine the “baby bug’s” characteristics, which include

number of body segments, antennae color, eye color, nose color, number of feet,

number of leg pairs, and type of tail (curly or straight). The students assemble their
resulting “baby bug” using marshmallows, pipe cleaners, plus colored toothpicks, map

pins, gumdrops, and pushpins.

      The plate tectonics model comes from an activity called “Edible Tectonics” and

involves the use of a mini-milky way candy bar. Each student uses a candy to simulate

how plates move about on Earth’s surface and to speculate how some geologic

features form as a result. Students are guided to draw detailed parallels between

features of the candy bar (chocolate, nougat, and caramel) and those of Earth,

including the asthenosphere, lithosphere, magma, faults, mountains, and valleys.

      The neuron model is constructed (by every student) from pony beads of five

different colors. Each color represents a different part of the neuron, including the

dendrites, axon, axon terminal, cell body and nucleus.      A total of 65 beads are

arranged on a string according to a pattern, provided in the form of a labeled

diagram. The finished model includes a ring, so it may be used as a key chain or

backpack ornament.

   Data collection methods include teacher observation during student engagement

with the models, a student survey directly following implementation of each model,

and student writings in their “sciencelogs”, or journals. Details are included in the

table that directly follows.    Please refer to Appendix A for a general timeline.

Appendix B features questions from the student survey. Appendix C shows writing

prompts for the student sciencelog.
       What?              How?         Where/From               When?                Why?
                                         whom?                                      (First cut)
Overall reactions   Student survey.   One average 7        Directly following   To identify,
   To model         (Appendix B)      grade science        3 models during      categorize and
  (positive or                        class                the year.            find commonalities
   negative)        Final log entry                        End of year.         in reactions.
                    (Appendix C)
Student learning    Student survey.   One average 7th      Directly following   To assess and find
about science       (Appendix B)      grade science        3 models during      commonalities in
topic shown via                       class                the year.            the nature of
model               Student logs.                          Following the        learning.
                    (Appendix C)                           second model,
                                                           again after the
Student             Teacher           Teacher notes.       During model         To identify,
behavior/engage-    observation.                           lesson.              categorize and
ment with the                                                                   find commonalities
model.                                                                          in reactions.

III.    Analysis and presentation

   Data collected from the student surveys will be in the form of numerical rankings

and written responses. Here I will get some feedback on both general trends in

student attitudes toward the models in question, and in relative degree of those

attitudes. By using the survey after the three models, I will be able to look both

within a survey and between surveys, this to expose commonalities/differences in

responses. Type and frequency of responses can be grouped, organized, and reported

in excel spreadsheets, with annotations as appropriate. This format will provide

organization and visual clarity.

   The “sciencelog” student entries will generate more qualitative information about

student attitudes and perceptions. The first targeted entry will give some feedback

on how the students compare/contrast the heredity model and the plate tectonics

model. Again, responses can be categorized and then presented in excel. The end-of
year entry will be open to students’ views about “memorable activities” during the

year. Do they even mention models? If not, what other activities do they single out?

   Teacher notes will provide ancillary evidence of behavior trends and may, in turn,

contribute important contextual information when analysis is being done. Here, I plan

to make note of the circumstances that arise during model work. How long does the

activity take? How long are most students on task? What characterizes exceptions?

Was there a fire drill? Is anyone talking about the model? If so, what are they


   The results of this project will allow me to identify factors of the student-model

interaction that contribute to positive experiences for the students. Other factors

may indicate needed modifications in the model activities. The implications are that

some factors may be within and others outside my control. Surprise information may

be among the most intriguing outcomes of this project. I’d like to focus my attention

and efforts, as well as district dollars, on areas that will maximize student learning

and build increasingly meaningful student-model experiences.

Appendix A

           September      Heredity Model              Student Survey
                          (Bug Builders Lab)          Teacher Observations
           October        Plate Tectonics Model       Student Survey
                          (Edible Tectonics Lab)      Teacher Observations
           November       Reflection                  Science Log Entry
           April          Neuron Model                Student Survey
                          (Beady Neuron Project)      Teacher Observations
           May            Reflection                  Science Log Entry
Appendix B - Student survey:

                            Science Model Survey

Part A – Please circle the rating that most closely reflects your view.
                Ratings refer to the model:______________________

Use to the following key:
        1 = Strongly Disagree 2 = Disagree 3 = Agree 4 = Strongly Agree

          1. The model was interesting.                        1   2   3      4
          2. The model was difficult to make.                  1   2   3      4
          3. The model was useful.                             1   2   3      4
          4. The model helped you learn something new.         1   2   3      4
          5. The model helped you learn more about the         1   2   3      4
             topic being studied in class.
          6. You are likely to tell someone outside of class   1 2 3 4
             about this model.
          7. You are likely to keep this model after the       1 2 3 4
             unit has been completed.
          8. The model showed me something the textbook        1 2 3 4
          9. You are proud of the way your model turned        1 2 3 4
          10. Mrs. Schnack should use this model in class      1 2 3 4
              again next year.

Part B – Please answer the following questions to the best of your ability.

      1. In your opinion, what was good about the model activity? Explain.
2. What about the model activity would you change? Explain.

3. What was the purpose of this model? Explain.

4. What, if anything, did you learn from this model? Explain
Appendix C – Sciencelog prompts:

   1. Write a letter to a 6th grade student, describing your experiences with the

      “Baby Bug” model. What can they expect next year when they are in 7th

      grade science?

   2. Which model is better? Choose either the “Baby Bug” model or the

      “Edible Tectonics” model. Write a letter to a 6th grade student about why

      you chose the model that you did.

   3. You have assembled a sample kit for the “Beady Neuron” and hope to sell

      them to science teachers around the country. To promote your kit, write a

      description about the model.

   Final: Out of all of the things we did in science class this year, which stand out

   as being most memorable? Chose at least two and describe why they were

   memorable to you.

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