Inquiry Based Science in a 1:1 Environment

Note: This is the third reflection on my experiences in a 1:1 environment.  The Qwest Foundation funded a grant proposal I submitted called ‘Science by the Netbook’ last April to help pay for sixteen Acer Aspire 1 netbooks (which arrived this summer).  This post is part of a 1st quarter reflection for the grant committee.

We’re now almost two months into our first year of 1:1 science classes.  After working out the kinks in the first weeks of school, the students and I have really hit our stride with the netbooks.  We’re using them for a wide range of activities from online labs (Blobz Electricity is my favorite), to Prezis, to Glogsters, and online assessments (using  The most important tool we use, however, is Google Docs.  We collaborate on class notes, use forms for assessment, and use the docs and presentation apps for all sorts of lab reports.  While the goals of the science program remain the same, the netbooks provide us with infinitely more tools to research, collaborate, and evaluate the topics we cover.

Most importantly, the netbooks have helped facilitate an inquiry based approach that was limited by a book based curriculum in the past.  This year, each lesson (or series of lessons) starts with a question.  Students do their own research to gain insight and formulate a hypothesis for a lab (the next step in the process).  While doing their research, they use Diigo to highlight text on webpages, save pictures, and add notes.  After completing their research and formulating a hypothesis, students complete the lab for the lesson and track their results.  Sometimes the results are done on the computer and other times they are completed on paper – it depends how messy the lab is.  Once everyone has their results, we often use a shared spreadsheet in Google Docs to compare all the numbers, temperatures, weights, or times from an experiment.  Below is an example of how this process was used in a unit on trash and recycling for my 6th grade earth science class.  (You may need to click through to see the video above – it’s pretty short and worth the click).

Step 1: Research

Question: What do people put into landfills?

Using Diigo, students highlighted a variety of things about landfills.  Initially, most students focused in on the parts of a landfill but as they got going many found a variety of statistics on the things that get thrown away each day.  Many had never seen pictures of a landfill before and it definitely got some reactions.  The students spent about 25 minutes highlighting before we came together as a class and reviewed some of their findings.  During this part of the lesson, I had all the students bring up their Diigo homepage to review the things they’d highlighted.  Check out student samples here and here.


Step 2: The Lab

In this lab, we collected the trash cans from all the teachers’ rooms and the students had to document all the items in the trash can and identify any items that could have been recycled.  This lesson was facilitated by a pair of student teachers in my room and went over very well.  Once the students got over the initial gross out (they all had gloves anyway), they dug through the trash without hesitation.

trashlabStep 3: Analyzing the results

After completing the lab, the students shared their results on a spreadsheet in the next class.  The key to using a shared spreadsheet is having a specific column or row for each student to enter their data.  Without a designated place for each sharedspreadsheetstudent to enter data, things can get crazy.  It’s important to create the spreadsheet (I have one that I just keeping adding new sheets to) before class and get it shared with everyone.  The first few times I did it, there was a little trouble with some students getting in the wrong cells, but by the time we did it for this lesson everyone had it down.  Once the students entered their data I summed the totals and we analyzed which teachers had the most trash, and who had the most recyclable items in their trash.  For homework, the students had to complete a full lab report and draw a conclusion about what sorts of things the teachers (and their classes) throw away at our school.  As part of another lab for this unit, we created a landfill out a shoebox and are keeping track of how much various materials biodegrade.  In the coming weeks, the students will create some signs and give some presentations to the younger students in the school about trash and the importance of recycling.


One thought on “Inquiry Based Science in a 1:1 Environment

  1. Thank you for giving us such a detailed look at exactly what an inquiry based science class looks like with the use of 1to1 technology! You clearly show that while technology is not essential to inquiry based learning, it certainly gives students more opportunities to interact with their learning and guide their own inquiry. I really like the idea of having kids pull trashcans from around the school, identify recyclables and then share the results using technology. Very neat!

    PS Blobz is a favorite of mine too 🙂

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