Go to our new-look site, it combines the Biotechnology and Science Learning Hubs with a new look and new functionality. This is our legacy site and is no longer maintained.

 

Thinking and talking like scientists

Sinead Senek from Sts Peter and Paul School in Lower Hutt used the Rockets context to engage her year 5 and 6 students in thinking like scientists. She describes how student learning of the Nature of Science was progressed through students asking questions, using scientific vocabulary, investigating and then trialling and modifying their prototype rockets.

To think about:

  • How do we position learning from our mistakes within the classroom culture?
  • How could you assess students’ developing capabilities in areas like problem solving, critical thinking and resilience?

Transcript

SINEAD SENEK

A student stands on a skateboard in a school playground and throws a heavy object away from them – so they’re standing on there – and then throws a light object at the same force. Which action made the skateboard move the most? Which one do you think would make the skateboard move the most? Quickly share with your buddy.

SINEAD SENEK

We started the topic and I said it was a science-based topic, and I said it’s not just about building up lots of knowledge. That’s fantastic, and we are going to do that anyway, but it’s also about thinking and behaving like scientists do.

It’s going to be a hands-down session, so I’ll choose somebody to share what their thinking was and what their buddy’s thinking was about that. Let me see. Abby, would you like to share?

STUDENT

And it’s like a push. I was thinking it was a push and from like forces, and when you push, there’s a reaction, and it moves forward.

SINEAD SENEK

That’s great.

SINEAD SENEK

I did talk about scientists are really people who have the questions, and they don’t have the answers to the questions, and that spurs them on to try and investigate and find an answer to the question. And that they’re curious thinkers and that they often perceive and see things in the world quite differently from what we normally do.

For every force, there’s an equal and opposite force. What do you think this means when we are talking about rockets and skateboards? Share with your buddy now.

SINEAD SENEK

It wasn’t about building up their knowledge about rockets. It was also about building their attitudes and understanding of how scientists operate and think, because those are the sorts of skills or behaviours you want them to develop. Knowledge building you can do quite easily. You can just present them with lots of information and activities, but it’s behaviours as learners that takes a little bit more effort and deliberately responding and reminding them about that. So for me, it was very much about them thinking and making choices, having questions and then investigating that.

STUDENT

Did you know the Chinese soldiers filled bamboo tubes with gunpowder and fired them at their enemies?

SINEAD SENEK

It’s been a great opportunity to look at some ethics, because when we were talking about rockets and we looked at the history of rockets, we looked at the early invention in Chinese culture and how it was used for fireworks, and then people realised they can use it for military purposes, so it was used in warfare. And we know that we don’t really like the idea of warfare and killing other people is not really a good thing, but on the other hand, it did allow for the technology to develop, and that led to us putting a man on the Moon.

So we did a really good sort of ethical discussion around that, and I think that was important for them, because I think with science and technology advancing, that’s a side that I think they need to be aware of.

Right, you’ve had a good little think about that now. Kyle, what did you and your buddy think about which action? Do you think it would be the heavier object if you’re standing on the skateboard and throwing it or the light object? Would it be the same force you would move? What did you and your buddy discuss?

STUDENT

That it’d probably be the heavy object because it has more mass and weight.

SINEAD SENEK

Do you think so? It would create more force? OK. Tell me, what did you and your buddy think, Ailish?

STUDENT

I think it’s the bigger one, because it has more mass.

SINEAD SENEK

So the heavier object would create more force and move more?

SINEAD SENEK

I always encourage the children to use the correct terms, so if they were using a very generalised term, I said, OK, what’s the science technical term that explains all of that in one word? And often they’ll say, oh, it’s this word or that word. I said, OK, so rephrase that sentence now and use that technical word in there. They actually started talking more in those technical terms, which was fantastic. You really notice throughout the unit and the lessons, towards the end, you know, they’re saying things like, oh, because it has more drag or it’s got more propellant in it or the air resistance.

STUDENT

… around 21 centimetres …

SINEAD SENEK

We also talked about working as part of a team because I don’t think they understood that scientists really are team workers. They see the scientist in a lab coat in the lab by themselves, but they don’t realise that it’s actually a lot of collaborative work and that part of our focus was also going to be we were working as teams together on making our rockets.

So it was giving them the idea and a different vision of what scientists are and how they operate in the world. We talked about that, often when scientists are working in a field like this, their recordings have to be precise and accurate, because there’s a lot of trial and error involved, so when they will trial a rocket – and we talked about NASA had some failed rocket space shuttle attempts, they blew up just after launch – and I said they would have had to have precise information and data that they went back to to look at where did we go wrong? What possibly went wrong? What do we have to fix?

So when we were designing our rockets and drawing up our fins and measuring – and that was part of our maths focus – they had to be as accurate as possible. I’m preparing these children for a future, and as we always say in education, that we don’t know, but it’s more the thinking that is in the science process is the important part.

STUDENT

Great ideas, Josh.

STUDENT

Thank you.

Acknowledgements
Sinead Senek

Sts Peter and Paul School

Metadata