Setting the stage for learning
Golden Apple recipient moves students toward scientific independence
By Kris Leonhardt
GREEN BAY – Golden Apple Award recipient Michael Smits is setting the stage for his students to gain independence in scientific study.
The eighth-grade physical science teacher at Ashwaubenon School District’s Parkview Middle School works to create a classroom culture where science is fun and hands-on.
“We explore concepts by asking questions, measuring, collecting data, graphing and coming to conclusions that lead to the curriculum,” he explained.
“You can walk into my room almost any day and find exciting science-related things, and students will have stories to tell.”
Smits said that it makes him happy when parents relay that their child has talked about what happened in his classroom.
“Students literally spend half the year doing science. The process of science (scientific method) unit establishes the hands-on expectations of the classroom at the start of our school year. Early labs have been developed to scaffold expectations on getting and returning lab equipment, cleaning up, quality measurements, collecting, organizing, & graphing their data.
“By the end of this unit, students know independent and dependent variables, constants, controls, and modeling lab design.
“All of this is done using the topics of motion with a summative assessment at the end that really surprises students. The surprise is that students didn’t realize how much they learned while doing these labs.
“Once the stage is set, we dive into developing student-created labs using the GRR technique.”
The Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) technique provides instruction to move students toward independence.
“We start off with creating an ‘I do’ lab as a class – exploring the science of a scary short film, testing lighting, audio, or other variables to test the frightening experience of the viewers (just in time for Halloween).
“Next is a ‘we do’ lab where students develop their own questions targeting how their mobile devices can distract their measured reaction time (a life lesson for students in the dangers of texting and driving).
“Finally, we reach the ‘you do’ part where students ask any open-ended question they want to design and test.”
“Students’ labs are a sight to be seen, ranging from cleaning methods and bacterial growth to paper airplane designs, to testing students from younger grades on labs removing one of their five senses in taste tests, or heart rate experiments.
“Students create a lab poster of their results to display in the hallway throughout the year to share student accomplishments and get students excited about what is great in science.
“I love how eighth graders remember being tested in sixth grade and how excited they are to now be the scientists doing the tests.”