skills and also connects back to the short-answer reading skills that we were practicing for the CMTs. In the test, the kids constantly have to support their answers with examples from the text.
Here their support simply came in the form of observations and data that other classmates shared. In this model, the whole class may have missed out on the specific measurements and ruler readings, but they were presented with the same data charts that the experts were using. The analysis of the data was no different for the expert four than it was for the whole class. When considering how to operate within this time crunch, I approached it from a real-
ist’s point of view: Which is better, no experiments, or ones in which some students are not recording all the observations? I will take the latter any day.
The Experience of the Four
The four students were surprisingly amenable to working on this so much. Between the personal attention from our interns and the ability to present in front of the class, the whole group was more than happy to work on this during recess. As the experiment came to a close, Kate and Kara helped the expert four organize their data into charts that could be shared with the class. They planned lessons where each student shared an observation they felt was most important and explained the data to the class. It was in this way that my whole class was able to take part in a three-month experiment
over three thirty-minute lessons, two of which were run almost entirely by the expert group of four. In the past I have asked my first four expert students to train a new set of four. The sec-
ond set learns what to do from the first and then takes over. Then they pass on the duties to the next set of four. This model requires either very responsible students or several adults to monitor the switch. Due to the placement of the experiment station, the rest of the class would pass by nearly
every day on the way out to recess. This allowed them to make informal observations. They all knew that the Miracle-Gro tank’s plant was doing better than the others. They just didn’t have the hard quantitative data to back up those passing observations. Now that I have the experiment station started this year, I have had a huge interest in the
next experiment. I try to get two to three projects in a year. This one took us a while and then I decided to start some vegetables in seed trays for students because they were so excited to try to grow their own plants to eat. We will probably try to end the year with an experiment to see if we can feed the whole class a snack with just our tanks. We will be studying the effects of crowding in the plants. How many can we fit into one space before it becomes det- rimental to the plants? What is most surprising is that in this situation, although one group is conducting the
experiment for the whole class, the other students do not feel deprived. They are still able to participate in the experiment with the hypotheses and the conclusions. The whole class creates a hypothesis, records observations, analyzes data, and draws conclusions. They are able to com- plete all the steps of a major experiment with almost none of the time involved. Now every student in the class is lining up to be part of my next “expert” group. This
method of students-as-experts has helped motivate my students to learn, cut down on my lesson time, given my interns great experience with students, and moved my whole class through a long-term experiment without having to make time for twenty-two different obser- vations. It may not be suitable for all experiments, but it was a great way for me to get back to the science teaching that I love. !
Thomas W. Reed-Swale is a seventh-year teacher at Wolcott Elementary School in West Hartford, Con- necticut. He is a graduate of University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education. When he is not teach- ing, Mr. Swale loves spending time with his wife Elizabeth, a K–3 music teacher at the Foote School in New Haven, his son Teagan, and daughter Charlotte.
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The conversations that ensued when the expert group met back with the
whole class put my mind at ease.