I saw a this quote from John Dewey on Twitter this week: “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” This quote helped crystallize something I’ve been thinking about for a while as it relates to the science classroom. As a middle school science teacher, I strive to build my class around high quality, hands-on activities that demonstrate the content that my students need to know What I continually realize is that hands-on activities don’t always translate into content mastery (or even learning). I guess this is similar to handing someone a recipe and expecting him to become a chef. The true learning comes only when students have time to reflect on their experiences or to continue to experiment on their own, just as a cook begins to develop skills when he experiments with the recipe, truly making it his own.
The question then becomes, “How will I leverage this understanding in the classroom to improve student learning?” Over the course of this year, I’ve worked with having students write reflections after each lab activity, but I haven’t found a format that guarantees student ownership of the content. This week, I tried having the students write a 4 part summary using the prompts below:
- Restate: What was the “main idea” of this lab activity? (This gets to the heart of the content we want students to learn.)
- React: What parts of the lab activity worked as you expected? OR What parts of the lab were unexpected?
- Remember: How does this activity connect to my life?
- Respond: What questions do you have after completing the lab activity? (This encourages students to think like scientists and to wrestle with the content beyond the lab activity of the day.)
While this may not be the perfect answer, it does force students to look for the science behind the lab activity and to continue thinking about the lab as they develop questions during and/or after the lab.
As I had my students use this format this week, they gave me very bare-bones answers to each question. However, I think that as I consistently use this reflection guide, students will anticipate the questions at the beginning of each lab, and they’ll develop the habit of asking questions like a scientist. I’ll get better answers, but more importantly, students will deepen their knowledge of the science behind the lab.