The Power of Pondering

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 “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” This is one of my favorite quotes from Carl Sagan and perhaps one of the most important things I know to be true about science. As a former science teacher and student myself, it’s probably something I’ve experienced in the lowest capacity in a science classroom.

When I was younger, I was constantly getting into trouble for staying in the woods too long.  I vividly remember the stick forts we built, discovering roly poly bugs under logs, and the entire universe that seemed to exist in my backyard. I was fascinated with what went on around me and truly lived to learn new things. When I was ten, I would ride my bike in search of new ‘secret’ off road places to ride, and tried to create bike loops where the local neighborhood kids and I would race.  With the same fervor that young people desire to travel to Europe to make discoveries, scientists work to make discoveries each day in the world around us.

Speaking of discoveries, I will never forget the mystery box lab Mrs. Austin had us perform when I was in eighth grade. We investigated a series of closed boxes and had to figure out what was inside the box using all senses other than sight. As far as I remember, this was one of the only true open-ended inquiry based activities I got to delve into as a student. I later tried to use a variation of this experiment as a science educator, only to find that nothing truly measured up to the mystery box in Mrs. Austin’s class.  This, by the way, is still a mystery today as she never did tell us what was in each box. Sometimes students need to be left on the edge of their seat to foster creativity and innovation in the classroom.

When I discovered IQWST (Investigating & Questioning Our World through Science and Technology), a middle school science curriculum designed using driving questions and a storyline approach, it got me excited.  I knew I had to be a part of it.  Driving questions such as, “Where Have All the Creatures Gone?” are not only at the center of all units, but provide students with the mission to investigate and discover. Teachers act as facilitators while students grapple with concepts to explain a central driving question.  This process lasts 8-9 weeks and is in stark contrast to my student experience of teachers saying, “This is why,” and moving on to the next concept after three days.  In a world dominated by smart phones and Googling for answers, this pedagogical shift provides an important framework to allow students to ponder and achieve greater depths of knowledge.

To this day, I still wonder what was in the mystery boxes Mrs. Austin put in front of us, and am excited by how IQWST is offering new mysteries for students to ponder.

Dan Toberman, Regional Manager - West