Where is "Awe and Wonder" in our curriculum? Students no longer have the time to develop a sense of wonder and curiosity, which naturally promotes questions. This invaluable space has been stripped from the curriculum. As a fourth grade teacher in the New Haven Public Schools, my students are strapped with the demands of testing; DRA's (Developmental Reading Assessments), DRP's (Degrees of Reading Power), CMT's (Connecticut Mastery Test), CMT prep, monthly CFA's (Common Formative Assessments), as well as district Math, Language Arts, and Reading assessments. Subjects compete for center stage, often squeezing the science curriculum to its bare bones. I would like to bring science back to center stage as students learn to ask their own questions through the exploration of the marine ecosystems of the Long Island Sound. Although questioning strategies have been taught since first grade, my fourth grade students continue to have difficulty formulating their own questions. I would like to infuse the curriculum with explicit instruction of student-driven questioning along with the time, opportunity, and classroom culture for this inquiry-based exploration. The content would reach across the curriculum, allowing students the opportunity to exercise and develop their curiosity and questioning techniques as their passion for learning ignites.
We want our students to develop a love, joy, and enthusiasm for learning. The feeling of surprise and awe as one discovers is engaging, empowering, and contagious. However, as educators we face many challenges in reaching this goal. Class sizes are large; student to teacher ratios are often twenty-seven to one. In addition, the urban setting offers unique social and economic issues as well broad populations of ELL students (English Language Learners). Furthermore, students vary widely in reading, mathematics, and science skills, and this range amplifies as grade levels increase. As educators, our ability to engage such a vast breadth of diverse abilities is a constant challenge. One strategy of instruction used to reach this diverse population has been through our tiered levels of questioning guided by Bloom's Taxonomy. Recently, however, Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana have proposed a simple, but far more complex and effective use of questioning; an approach that they argue will change the face of classroom instruction. This change is simply to teach our students to ask their own questions.
One's ability to question not only activates one's thinking; it engages one on a path of discovery through evolving knowledge. The relationship between the subject matter and the student develops through one's ability to question. Fearless, curious, thoughtful, critical; the ability to learn from one's own questions and answers is a characteristic that I seek to strengthen in my students. Furthermore, it is my hope to create a culture, which cultivates academic inquiry, collaboration, and confidence - strengthening investigative skill. As a result, I believe students will learn to ask their own questions and strive to find answers with purpose, wonder and an eye for the unexpected.
The aquatic life of the LIS will be our focus of study because of its relevance to my students and academic goals of this unit. The LIS is approximately two miles from our school and is an integral part of my student's lives, frequently visited and enjoyed. The subject matter, by nature is of high interest inspiring a sense of wonder and question asking. Marine life offers a venue through which students are able to experience a journey of discovery, driven by curiosity and wonder. Marine ecology provides an ocean of information for students to explore. Fully engaged, students will approach topics in their own way, in their own direction, at their own pace, as their own questions carve a personal path of discovery. This approach empowers students to drive their own learning, experiencing the joy and love for learning in its purest form.