Thursday, August 27, 2015

"Doing Science" with Fortune Fish

I love the variety of courses I get to teach for pre-service teachers. The one I've been teaching the longest is "Teaching Science PreK-Middle School." I began adjuncting this course in 2007, and it has slowly evolved over time to the current state, after 15 or so iterations.

One of the key themes that has not changed, however, is that I have my science methods students "do science" on a weekly basis. That is, we aren't just learning about science; we are actively investigating, observing, inferring, experimenting, and communicating what we discover. I want them to experience learning science this way in the hope that they will carry this approach to teaching science into their own classrooms down the road.

So, when we began the new semester in science methods yesterday, their first assignment is an investigation...

I handed out a little plastic sleeve to each student:

What's in the package?
Inside the plastic sleeve, which is labeled "Fortune Teller Miracle Fish," is a thin strip of translucent red material cut into the shape of a fish, and embossed with gold accents:

A fortune-telling fish?

I ask students to place their fish in the palm of their hand, and to watch what happens. Almost immediately, their fortune fish does something like this:

Whoa! What just happened?
I then refer students to the back of the plastic sleeve, which supposedly helps them interpret their fish's movement to determine their mood, their disposition, their "fortune." (Someone always says, "My fish says I'm passionate!")*

Students are fascinated...and someone almost always says--usually under their breath--"How does it do that?"

And that is the question for the first investigation: What makes the fortune fish do...that?

We brainstorm for a moment...

Could it be the heat of your hand?

Could it be the moisture in your skin?

Could it be static electricity attracting and repelling?

How could we find out?

And their first assignment is born: play with your fortune fish, write down your questions, scribble some notes about the things you try as you investigate, and start to come up with a tentative answer. We'll share our thinking and the evidence we've collected in class next time we meet.

We will do science.


* If you are interested in fortune fish for your own class, you can get 144 of them for about $7 and free shipping with Amazon Prime... :-)

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