If you were going to learn how to bake a loaf of bread, which would you prefer to receive: a fact sheet with information about bread or a box containing flour, water, yeast, salt and potential recipes? Of course, the answer would be to get flour on your hands, experience the act of making bread and experiment with tweaking the recipe until you found the perfect taste and texture.
Traditionally, education has focused on content (giving students facts they should know) as opposed to process (helping students learn how to learn). However, a process-oriented focus gives students the opportunity to develop practical skills for the future. This is particularly true for science. If students learn how to observe and analyze data, they will possess a skill that will be useful for the rest of their lives.
Smarter Science is a framework for teaching and learning science in K-12 that emphasizes the process aspect of education. This inquiry-based approach builds upon the natural curiosity of students and helps them approach a question in the same way that a scientist would. Smarter Science motivates students to ask key questions, try out different possibilities and analyze their results. Students truly get “flour” on their hands with this approach.
The process begins with a spark – an event which surprises in some way, and causes a student to ask questions. For instance, students might be given a white, grainy substance called sodium polyacrylate. Based on previous experience, they would likely assume that if water were added, this substance would dissolve. When water is added, they would observe that it actually grows! When students see this, they ask “why?” and “what if?” kinds of questions. These are fabulous starting points for inquiry-based learning.
Smarter Science gives teachers the tools they need to engage and inspire students. Most of the resources available for inquiry-based learning focus on the why and what of it, but Smarter Science truly provides the how. It is a framework rather than a program, so it enables teachers to adapt it for use with other subjects. Teachers learn to recognize and cultivate process skills that are necessary for critical thinking in any setting. These skills include everything from observing and predicting, to calibrating, inventing, contrasting and communicating.
Educators across Canada who have been trained in Smarter Science receive a boost in confidence for teaching science, as well as a better understanding of inquiry-based learning overall. The training for this involves attending a total of three full-day workshops. In the first workshop, teachers are introduced to thirty-five process skills and they learn how to help students plan and implement their own investigations. The second workshop explains how to assess and evaluate these skills, and how to focus on the process itself. The final workshop helps teachers apply this overall strategy to transform existing lessons or create new ones that develop inquiry skills and cover content. It also includes activities that inspire creative and critical thinking in students. Once a teacher has used this framework in the classroom for one year, he/she is eligible to be trained as a district certified trainer for their school district/board.
I am one of two nationally certified trainers for Smarter Science, and I regularly travel across Canada training educators on how to use this amazing approach in their classroom. I also train teachers who are ready to become district certified trainers. If you are ready for your students to think like scientists instead of just studying them, give me a call!
To book a Smarter Science workshop with Dominic, please call Youth Science Canada at 1-866-341-0040 x 236 or email him at dominic.tremblay (at) sciencesjeunesse.ca.