Scientific Inquiry Workshop

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From the Principal
Scientific Inquiry Workshop

On Thursday April 5th, IES Uppsala hosted an all-day professional development seminar for around twenty-five science and art teachers within our company. This workshop was led by Mr Mark Baldwin, the director of education at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown, New York, USA. Some of you may be familiar with the name Roger Tory Peterson (interestingly of Swedish decent), whose notable achievements are for advancing the environmental movement in the 20th century and the development of the field guides, as we know them. Roger contributes his achievements and interest in nature to his teachers in his formative years of school in Jamestown. Mr Baldwin, our host, was thrilled to be in our new school in Uppsala, a town notable for Carl Linnaeus, the developer of how we define nature with modern taxonomy. 

With my scientific background and vision for a scientific profile for our school, I was very eager for this Scientific Inquiry workshop day so that we can learn how to further integrate science and discovery into our curricular.

Mr Baldwin received a Bachelor of Science in biology and science education from the State University of New York and Master of Science in Teaching from Antioch/New England Graduate School. He has taught science in Vermont, Alaska and New York. Mr Baldwin now works with teachers to help them gain skills and confidence to infuse nature study into their teaching. His special interest is in the professional development of teachers to promote teaching and learning that are outdoor-, nature- and place-based. We were honored to be hosting this event focused on teaching and learning skills, habits and attitudes that promote inquiry and discovery about the natural world. 

As Mr Baldwin described, a field journal is a simple yet effective way to record observations, organize data, and make sense of what you observe, and can turn any contact with nature - even in the schoolyard - into an opportunity to learn. This workshop engaged teachers in a series of exercises and field experiences designed to sharpen observation and visual note-taking skills. The aim of the day was to promote teachers to encourage their students to transform blank books into indispensable tools for scientific discovery and artistic expression, as who knows, we may have a young Roger Peterson in our midst.

With the weather being kind to us, we started the day by heading outside into our school grounds, which encompass the genetic gardens, to collect interesting natural objects that would be used in pure contour sketching exercises. The aim of this task was to have all of your attention fixated on the object itself, such as a pinecone, which launches oneself into the state of "discovery readiness", where you prepare the learner to inquire and then create. Following this exercise, we focused on gesture sketching, as this incorporates one to consider that nature is always in motion. Gesture sketching taught our participants that a few well-aimed lines can train the eye to see and recall this motion and the overall forms of objects as identified in nature. So the difference between pure contour sketching and gesture sketching is that pure contour sketching helps participants break out of symbolizing to a more active way of seeing, while gesture sketching further sharpens observation skills.

Mr Baldwin assisting teachers outdoors
Mr Baldwin assisting teachers outdoors
Mr Baldwin addressing our teachers
Mr Baldwin addressing our teachers
Dr Heimeier engaged in sketching
Dr Heimeier engaged in sketching

For our last exercise in the morning, participants were engaged in disciplined observational sketching, which is simply a modified form of pure contour sketching; instead of looking at the object the whole time you sketch, you look at it most of the time. In this way your sketch will represent the object itself not your biased preconceptions about it. Regular use of a magnifying lens is a great way to refine observation skills and make science connections to art and writing.

After lunch, we went outside again and focused our attention on sound mapping. Here, participants were taught that sound mapping is a way to record what you are hearing into your field journal because a lot of scientific and artistic observation of nature involves carefully listening and analyzing what has been heard. For example, listening to birdcalls, distinguishing between man-made and natural noises.

Engaging classroom discussions
Engaging classroom discussions

Warming up after fika indoors, we voluntary shared our field journal entries, which prompted questions about what each of us has seen and heard, what questions we have, and what lines of inquiry and creativity we wish to pursue. This naturally led to a discussion of what curricular/professional applications will allow us to reflect on what we have learnt during the day and how one may begin to implement these in the classroom. I was particularly happy to hear of cross-curricular developments among the sciences and arts.