Fostering scientific creativity, before the IB years!

The lab is abuzz with activity. Various experiments are taking place at every lab bench in the room.

“Um, do you think I should use the large filter or the small filter?”

My reply is coupled with a smile, “That’s your call” Every subsequent question receives the same response.

It is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Internal Assessment (IA) time for seniors. At this point  in their educational journey, students are supposed to be independent enough to simply design and run their experiments. As teachers we are no longer allowed to provide input or guidance. Not even guided questions. And it takes a lot of control. Sometimes I literally have to bite my tongue and watch as obvious flaws in the experiment ensue.

Today, however, I had the grand luxury of giving some 10th graders freedom in troubleshooting a design for their lab on testing for photosynthesis.

Together we had studied the set-up of an initially faulty and cumbersome design. The students were given access to a cart of supplies from the lab. Their instructions were to come up with an experimental set-up that would work for them and provide the results they were looking for. Oh, how creative these students were!

“Do you have some sticky tack?” one student queries.  Well, that’s not on the cart but I love that he is thinking beyond the supplies on the cart and I rummage through my desk drawers to find the item he seeks. Upon seeing the huge glob in my hands he exclaims, “Oh yes, that’s perfect!” Triumphantly he bends over his plant with his lab partner and begins to assemble his idea.

When students asked for input, unlike with the IB IA experiments, I can actually provide guiding questions to help them reach the best decision. It’s so freeing and it reminds me why I enjoy teaching all levels of science. There is something absolutely thrilling about fostering scientific creativity in students.

Each pair of students deliberates and collaborates to come up with a unique idea. Questions abound. Cabinets are searched. Glassware is examined. Yes, it’s chaotic. Yes, it’s busy. Yes, it’s messy. However, how amazing to view the different designs that result! Clearly this is more constructive and interesting than telling the students what to do!

Don’t be afraid to free the students. It will take you and them on a glorious journey!