The idea of the lesson is to develop a Socratic dialectic between teacher and student about evaporating water and clouds. The dialectic is not to reveal a priori knowledge but critical and analytical reflections on their daily experience of the water cycle. In tne process, students would come up with some answers to problems posed that could then be tested by devising a simple experiment. From the results of this simuiation, students would have an immediate experience from which to understand some of the dynamics of what happens when vast quantities of water rise up from the oceans tc the clouds. It is far more intellectually stimulating event than reading about it in a book.
Why would such a lesson plan not work? There is nothing wrong in principle but to realise its objective it needed much more than one or even two 50 minute classes. Cutting it down to one class meant that it became too teacher centered and students did not have time to learn from their own mistakes or achievements.
Creative lesson plans of the sort envioned by Dewey, it seems to me, may well take a week to achieve. Monday, can as it were, be the initiation and introduction, perhaps including a video. Tuesday and Wednesday can be used for briefing and getting ready for the exploration. Thursday is the day for the formal exploration or experiment. Friday then becomes the time for debriefing, integrating of ideas, evaluation and closure.
The problem with the initial lesson plan is that it did not anticipate or take into account the amount of orientation, planning, clarification of background ideas and prior experience needed by students to successfully ‘make the journey’. Furthermore, my most common problem was failure to have enough time to ‘debrief’, i.e. to critically reflect on what the results meant, which of course is the most important, and for my self, the most fun part of the whole enterprise. Had I done so, I would still have robbed myself of real satisfaction since students, (mine certainly), needed time to develop technique and time to reflect on the best way to set up an experiment. Their lack of technique severely diminished the likelihood of having good results. Pre-lab is then much more than just about intellectual discussion and anticipation of lab safety procedures.
The unportance of adding preparatory days helps give the student background from which to maximise their ability to learn from the lab experience. Building up that background does not mean that one merely passes on information but that one makes sure prior experiences and understandings of them are in place. It is recommended for this lesson plan that many simple problems and hypotheses be tested and experiments carried out so as to build up an understanding of transpiration, evaporation and so forth as described in the ‘94 unit.