Practice in Action
Exploring Science Through Projects and Problems involves real-world learning experiences. Ideally, the problem or project comes from a community need or a case study based on students' interests. Problems and projects that students are interested in engage them, make science relevant, and encourage them to make decisions to solve the problem.
Begin by connecting with the school-day teacher to find out what science concepts, skills, and standards students are studying, and what kinds of activities might lend themselves to science projects. For example, raising fish from eggs can extend what students may be learning about habitats, species, and life cycles. Or, you can combine science and literacy activities by reading a book and developing an activity that builds on the story, such as building the bridge from The Three Billy Goats Gruff.
Work with students to select a topic or experimental question that interests them. Then discuss the project, identify what students will do, make a project plan and timeline, identify resources you will need, and conduct the project. Projects work best when students can work on them in a regular, ongoing way, as some projects can take several days or weeks. You will also want to determine how you and your students will present and evaluate their projects.
Investigating science through project- or problem-based learning works because students are directly involved in their own learning as they develop problem-solving skills, learn new content, and apply what they learn in authentic, real-world situations.
Planning Your Lesson
Great afterschool lessons start with having a clear intention about who your students
are, what they are learning or need to work on, and crafting activities that engage students while supporting their academic growth. Great afterschool lessons also require planning and preparation, as there is a lot of work involved in successfully managing kids, materials, and time.
Below are suggested questions to consider while preparing your afterschool lessons.
The questions are grouped into topics that correspond to the Lesson Planning
Template. You can print out the template and use it as a worksheet to plan and
refine your afterschool lessons, to share lesson ideas with colleagues, or to help in professional development sessions with staff.
Lesson Planning Template (PDF)
Lesson Planning Template (Word document)
What grade level(s) is this lesson geared to?
How long will it take to complete the lesson? One hour? One and a half hours? Will
it be divided into two or more parts, over a week, or over several weeks?
What do you want students to learn or be able to do after completing this activity? What skills do you want students to develop or hone? What tasks do they need to accomplish?
List all of the materials needed that will be needed to complete the activity.
Include materials that each student will need, as well as materials that students
may need to share (such as books or a computer). Also include any materials that students or instructors will need for record keeping or evaluation. Will you need to store materials for future sessions? If so, how will you do this?
What do you need to do to prepare for this activity? Will you need to gather
materials? Will the materials need to be sorted for students or will you assign students to be "materials managers"? Are there any books or instructions that you need to read in order to prepare? Do you need a refresher in a content area? Are there questions you need to develop to help students explore or discuss the activity? Are there props that you need to have assembled in advance of the activity? Do you need to enlist another adult to help run the activity?
Think about how you might divide up groups―who works well together? Which students could assist other peers? What roles will you assign to different members of the group so that each student participates?
Now, think about the Practice that you are basing your lesson on. Reread the
Practice. Are there ways in which you need to amend your lesson plan to better
address the key goal(s) of the Practice? If this is your first time doing the activity, consider doing a "run through" with friends or colleagues to see what works and what you may need to change. Alternatively, you could ask a colleague to read over your lesson plan and give you feedback and suggestions for revisions.
What to Do
Think about the progression of the activity from start to finish. One model that
might be useful—and which was originally developed for science
education—is the 5E's instructional model. Each phrase of the learning
sequence can be described using five words that begin with "E": engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate. For more information, see
the 5E's Instructional Model.
Outcomes to Look For
How will you know that students learned what you intended them to learn through this
activity? What will be your signs or benchmarks of learning? What questions might you ask to assess their understanding? What, if any, product will they produce?
After you conduct the activity, take a few minutes to reflect on what took place.
How do you think the lesson went? Are there things that you wish you had done differently? What will you change next time? Would you do this activity again?
Explore these resources to assist in implementing the Exploring Science Through Projects and Problems practice in your program.
Resources for Sample Lessons associated with this practice:
The Three Billy Goats Gruff
Galdone, P. The Three Billy Goats Gruff
. New York: Claron Books, 1981. [ISBN 0-90010-035-9]
Case Studies in Science, The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, State University of New York in Buffalo
Projects Ready for Participation:
Cornell University School of Ornithology, "Citizen Science" programs
Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE)
Handheld computers with probes, called "dataloggers," are great tools for students to collect and analyze data. In addition, the accompanying software enables students to write journal entries, create data tables and graphs, and use graphic organizers. Some battery-operated dataloggers are especially effective because they allow students to work in the field, gathering data instantly or over long periods of time. Many sensors are available for student use including motion detectors, magnetic field, voltage, temperature, pH, light, sound, air pressure, relative humidity, and more.
Check out the following sites for lesson plans and activity ideas:
ProbeSight! Taking a Closer Look at Computer-Based Probeware in Education