We’ve all heard the phrase, “curiosity killed the cat” which is a little unfair for the poor cat. Science teachers like myself at THS think that curiosity is a very good thing indeed. Rather than be the information source imparting facts to our students during class time, we instead leverage on the children’s innate inquisitiveness so that they become the driving force behind their science learning and us teachers facilitate student-centred, hands-on activities .
It all started with, “Can we have a class pet….pleeeease?” Somehow, we managed to skillfully dodge this plea from our Grade 2 students until the October mid-term break. Then came our answer in the welcome form of ten leopard geckos which we would care for as part of our science unit on food chains and food webs. In case you were wondering, ‘How do you look after a leopard gecko?’, so did we. But that is the point of our science inquiry curriculum.
As soon as our students discovered that they would be getting their long-anticipated class pet, our Wonder Wall was flooded with questions about what our geckos would be like and how we would look after them. Questions soon turned into research, which was followed by the preparation of the geckos’ terrariums (or gecko homes to non-gecko experts), and what we would feed them (live crickets, incidentally). Finally, the newest members of Grade 2 arrived, and the excitement buzzing among the students was matched by their eagerness to put their newly-learnt zoology knowledge and skills into practice. Over the last four months we have been able to see the interactions of producers, primary consumers and secondary consumers play out in real time. Our students have impressed us with their continued interest and passion for their pets, and their diligent efforts to keep them safe, well and well fed. Even now, many months down the road, the novelty of catching crickets and watching the geckos do their predator thing has not worn off for our students. Listening to their’ excited shouts, wonderings, and discussions about the eating habits of their reptile friends is a highlight of our teaching week too.
Our science curriculum does not stop after science classes. It extends beyond traditional subject boundaries, enabling authentic and meaningful cross-curricular learning throughout the year. It has woven into our Literacy lessons in Reader’s Workshop as we have explored how thoughtful and reflective nonfiction reading can help us to become experts on different topics, including scientific ones. We have also used the experiments conducted while investigating States of Matter as stimuli for learning how to write laboratory reports. The skills our students learned in Science regularly extend into classroom activities for other subjects. For example, where we have had to carefully measure and mix ingredients when making Lemonade in Math, or Pizza in Social Studies. We have also been able to blend our Science learning with our Social and Emotional curriculum in order to develop other important goals...nothing teaches responsibility and resilience quite like cleaning out gecko poo!
At THS, we are also fortunate enough to have three Centers of Excellence in which our students can further take their curiosity and learn in a hands-on way. On the Black Dolphin, students caught and studied microscopic producers in the form of plankton directly from the dockside, and jetted around Aberdeen Harbour to perceptively spot common Hong Kong winged predators and learn about how they hunt their prey. In the Foundry, we have completed various projects including creating a Bug Hotel and an innovative Food Chain gear toy. In the third term, we are looking forward to using our powers in scientific inquiry and observation on the inhabitants of the Marine Science Center as a gateway to learning more about the world’s oceans.
Whatever context or location our science learning at THS is occuring in, one thing is consistent - by taking this inquiry approach and placing natural curiosity at its centre ensures student enjoyment and engagement with the curriculum. The result of this is real scientific learning, and what could be better than that?