Make: The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory (2015)
Making the Classroom a Research Laboratory
The most efficient learning of our day comes in the research laboratory. It matters little whether this laboratory is sponsored by industry or is a part of an institution of higher learning. The organization that produces this efficiency in learning is much the same in both places. The research approach to learning can be applied from kindergarten through college.
Organization of the Research Laboratory
A key figure in the research laboratory is the director. This person does not know the answer to all questions and problems, but he does have a good background in the particular area in which his group is working. Because of greater experience, he can channel the efforts of his fellow workers into what is seemingly the most profitable direction.
The research team is comprised of people with various talents and abilities. Some are specialists, while others have a broader background. There are those who head up smaller teams and direct operations on a particular aspect of the larger problem. There also are those whose duties are to provide services so that the group as a whole can function more efficiently.
Organization of the Classroom Research Laboratory
The teacher occupies the role of the director in the classroom. The teacher, like the research director, does not know the answer to all questions and problems that will arise. In the case of the research director in the laboratory, it would be foolish to work on a problem to which the answer is already known. In the classroom, where the primary purpose is education, the problems need not be original so long as they are not known by the student. The teacher should not provide the answers. Rather, the answers should come from the student’s research and experimentation. The teacher’s role is that of giving counsel, pointing out areas that might be profitable to explore, and co-ordinating the knowledge gained by student groups so that all may share the knowledge and have greater understanding of the basic problem, or “big idea.”
The class as a whole, or the teacher director, selects a major problem. An example of such a major problem might be: What is the nature of magnetism? The teacher’s role in the selection of the problem is to be sure the students are properly motivated to want to find out the answers to the problem suggested. Motivation may come from other students, for instance by the bringing of magnets to the classroom. The teacher is not completely at the mercy of chance happenings, however. The good teacher knows how to arouse interest in an area that should be studied. A teacher starting a unit on magnetism might arouse interest by passing around a box containing a mystery item. Each student, by shaking the box, could try to identify the hidden object. Eventually the “discovery” would be made that the object in the box attracts pins or paper clips. Interest is then aroused to find out more about this mysterious force that penetrates the box.
Problems can come from the students. However, the director again should decide the order in which the problems are attacked and perhaps the most efficient method of attack. The director should have in mind problems whose solution will insure that the students will gain the understanding the teacher feels the students should get from the unit.
The director divides his workers into committees. A chairman is selected for each committee. This chairman meets with the director and the other chairmen regularly in order to share findings and problems that arise.
Smaller aspects of the major problem are assigned to each chairman. The groups then meet together with their individual chairmen and plan the experiment or method of attack. Students should be encouraged to attempt to seek the answer first by experimentation. If the solution is possible by experimental effort, the students should plan, set up, carry out, and finally arrive at their own conclusions. Sometimes references are needed in order to enrich upon the experiment or to provide background information so the students can plan the experiment to test their theory and hypothesis. This is the place for the classroom science library.
Obviously, the experiments and the findings of the groups should be shared among the class as a whole. This can be done through reports, projects, classroom experimentation, artwork, stories, dramatics, and many other methods not used in other subjects.
The class should be encouraged to challenge findings and point out areas in which the findings are not valid. In other words, the students should be conditioned to the scientific method.
Chance for Pure Research
While the research laboratory as a whole attacks a major problem, there is always a specialist group carrying on research and experimentation in areas of personal interest. These areas mayor may not be related to the work of the larger group; yet from this undirected research comes many future “big problems.”
The classroom should contain this feature of the research laboratory. While the group as a whole is working in one particular area, some students with a strong interest and ability in another field should be encouraged to carry on research and experimentation apart from the others. It is through this pure research group that the gifted or academically excelled youngster can realize his full potential. It is through this method that the average youngster with unusually strong interest in one field can develop his full potential and gain learning in depth.
All students should have the opportunity to work with the pure research group sometime during the year in order to gain the experience of working individually on a project of their own interest.
Laboratory Tools and Equipment
In a research laboratory many pieces of equipment are specially designed and built by technicians in order to facilitate the work of the scientist. In any classroom there are many students who are handy with their hands and can be employed in the technician role. These students can collect, design, and build up classroom laboratory equipment. This book will help those students to collect the materials that will be needed as the year progresses.
Storage will be a problem. A room in which students participate in learning is always a greater problem to keep neat and clean than a room in which the teacher imparts knowledge and the students assume the passive role.
All students should assume responsibility for the equipment they use, but the over-all job of maintenance of· supplies and equipment should fall to a technician or service group. Small kit boxes for related items (shoe boxes) make it possible to keep the jumble of odds and ends needed in the classroom and yet make them easily accessible. As much as possible, there should be a place for everything.
Reference librarians will be needed to order the books and collect magazine articles and other materials likely to be needed by the group. Files built up by these student librarians during each year thus benefit the classroom research facilities for following years. These librarians should come from students specially qualified for this role in the research laboratory. Reference material is as much a part of the tools of learning as the microscope, and as much care and effort should be given to this phase of the entire program as any other.
Selecting the Problem
At the end of each chapter is a section containing common problems whose solutions are necessary for an understanding of the whole area. Problems are listed in a developmental order. Some are designated for primary grades (P). This is the grade level at which they can be introduced, but not the only level where they can be taught. Those problems designated with an (I) can be introduced in the intermediate grades and then retaught in the upper grades. The problems designated with a (U) should probably not be introduced before the seventh grade. These are challenging activities and generally require students with high abilities.
Each area of science is broken down into major problems which can be a source for a unit. Listed under the major problem are the minor problems whose investigation will shed light on the study as a whole.
Answers to Problems
There is seldom any one answer to a problem in science. If you asked the question, “What does the horizon look like?” you would find as many answers as people answering. Your view of the horizon depends on where you are standing. In the same way, your answer to a problem in science depends on what you observe and conclude.
There are no listed answers in this book as there are no listed answers for the scientist. You must make the investigations and plan the experimentation. You must do the thinking, observing, recording, and concluding. Your findings represent your answer. The findings of others represent their answer. You are free to challenge the findings of others as they are free to challenge yours. It is in this way that science progresses.