Saturday, April 28, 2012

Virtual Science Fair

Inspired by the Google Science Fair, I decided to challenge my Grade 6-8 students to explore their own scientific question by holding our own virtual science fair. The main outcome of this activity was to have students use the scientific method to solve their question and be able to present their research and experiment using scientific language.

We spent a lot of time exploring potential scientific questions and ideas as I wanted to ensure my students chose challenging bigger questions that required deeper thinking. In the end, those students who chose their questions carefully were much more successful in their projects than those who pursued a question based entirely on a simple experiment. In order to think big, I wanted my students to challenge themselves to find a larger question that they would only be able to solve in part. Like real scientists who spend their lives trying to answer one huge question, such as how to cure cancer, how to reverse global warming or how to find evidence of life on another planet.

Students presented their findings in the form of a Google website. I gave them the required basic template to follow and they made it their own after that. They were encouraged to take photos and to include video on their websites. They were also allowed to chose if they wanted to work by themselves or with a partner to build the website. Because they had a required off-line component involving research, were marked individually on their presentations and on their ability to answer questions after the presentation and on their blogs, it was relatively easy for me to give final individual grades that reflected individual efforts and understanding of the scientific method. Figuring out how to give individual marks that reflect individual efforts is often a challenge in a group project.

Although I was satisfied with the final demonstration of learning and I am confident that my students have a better understanding of the scientific method, I think that if I were to do this project again, I would provide more support to ensure all students had good visuals on their websites. Perhaps we would devote a bit more time to producing videos that demonstrate the different steps of the process or to allow for the students to record their explanations and thinking during the length of the project. I would also set minimums for length of text required for each page as some students put more effort into the writing component of the website than others.

Here are some examples of the websites produced during our virtual science fair:

Grade 8:
Howard and Lane: L'énergie des fruits
Zara and Erin: Pourquoi le ciel est bleu? 

Grade 7:
Ella and Brianna: L'électricité apartir de la nourriture
Hannah, Elizabeth and Victoria: Pousser les plantes avec des aimants

 Grade 6:
Daisi, Jenna et Maija: L'énergie éolienne
Matthew and Hudson: Est-ce que les robots peuvent prendre charge de la Terre?