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 them. 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: HOW DOES THE USE OF MODELS AFFECT 7TH GRADE STUDENTS? 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 system. 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) th 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 third. 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 saying? 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 Timeline: 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 didn’t. 9. You are proud of the way your model turned 1 2 3 4 out. 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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