Friday, October 06, 2006

The Leaf
Learning Observation

“It’s Green.”

I’m sure that as that student ‘finished’ their homework assignment that they were confidently smug that THIS teacher was going to be a pushover. After all, his first homework assignment took just a little over the time it took to pick up pen and paper.

Others in the class went the extra mile and added things like, “It’s long” or “It’s big.” But, from experience I knew what to expect when I gave me first homework assignment to the Life Sciences students at my new school. The assignment seemed deceptively simple to a seventh grader. Pick a leaf off any tree and describe it.

It was no shock, as one by one the students read their papers, that most of the descriptions were amazingly shallow. It was always like that. But, no matter how shallow they were each was praised for having seen SOMETHING. After, all they HAD completed the assignment. But, now it was time for another. Describe that same leaf without using the observations you made previously.

At this point, the students that had made several observations about the leaf were thinking that they had made a BIG mistake. They could have used some of those observations for today’s assignment! What they didn’t know is that this was going to seem like a never ending task as day after day the assignment was the same… Describe that same leaf without using the observations you made previously.

The reactions were always the same. First the howls… then the resignation… and finally the realization that they were finally ‘getting it’. Where once they saw just ‘green’, they began to see different shades of green. Where once they saw ‘long’, they began to see serrated edges. Where once they saw ‘smooth’, they began to see tiny hairs. Of all the things that I enjoyed about teaching, recalling this transformation in my students is the most satisfying.

Repeating this assignment for as long as necessary was not a waste of time for it set the foundation for the entire year’s adventure in discovery. It also provided a framework for observation that would last them a lifetime… start with the macro and move to the micro.

The process they followed was to use their eyes to see the larger features and then expanded their ability to observe by using tools like magnifiers, low power microscopes and compound microscopes. But, as the teacher, I wanted to be sure that they did not move from each level too soon. It was important to see as much as they could by simply observing the leaf more closely with their naked eyes before moving to using a magnifier. Similarly, it was important not to move to the microscope from the magnifier too soon because one might not have a microscope available in the future.

Today, I would add one more tool. I would use a digital camera as one of our ‘scopes’ using macro photography and various 3D photo techniques to add to their ability to ‘SEE’ new things about them.

And, “Seeing” is what DiscoveryScopes is all about!

DiscoveryScopes is a trademark of Tom Meeks


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