#modphys 1/180: Inquiry

On the first day of school, I did the mystery box with two classes: my grade 11 IB physics students, and my grade 6 science students. Although I presented the lesson at a development-appropriate level for the two classes, the crux of the activity was the same: could the student groups propose a model, devise appropriate tests, and revise the model?

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, a greater percentage of the older class came up with a workable model. What I didn’t expect, however, was that the grade 11 students were little better than the younger students at the iterative model-testing process (the same result was found with grade 7 when a colleague was compelled to try it in his class, too). In both groups, most students got “stuck” on a feasible-looking model, and were unable to suggest ways it could be checked/verified/falsified.

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There are two possible conclusions:

  1. Both groups are at the same Piagetian developmental stage (the concrete, rather than formal, operational stage).
  2. The older students have received little opportunity or impetus to develop their inquiry skills over the past six years.

In either case, my goal is clear: to deliver an educational experience to both classes that equips them with the tools to think like a scientist.

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I was delighted that one of my (grade 6) students tried to recreate the mystery box at home. As you can see, she was quite happy with the result.

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