Students who are given full responsibility to oversee their own experiment or prototype design, execution, data gathering and conclusion forming are actually in the roles of scientists and engineers. Conversely, students who follow prescribed courses are not fully enmeshed in these roles.
Giving over responsibility absolutely creates a setting in which the challenge exceeds the skill. That means students are going to be engaged in analyzing their data and developing plans which they carry out themselves. This creates a very authentic environment. Remember that rigor is not about repetition and masteryis not about recall. Mastery is about being able to generalize, synthesize, create, evaluate and analyze in a novel scenario. In order to do that, two of the most important tools are the scientific process and engineering design process.
The scientific and engineering design processes are based on eight steps each, mirroring one another but adjusted to reflect whether students are trying to answer a question or solve a problem.
These processes are referenced in the new standards, although they are largely silent on what the process should specifically entail. If you talk to anybody in the STEM industry, however, they will tell you that they use processes and that they’re critical to their work as scientists or engineers. What those processes look like will probably be very different from what you see above, but there will be a lot of parallels. The ones you see above have been developed and refined here at KnowAtom over the course of a decade, and we’ve found them to be very successful at helping students learn to adopt the roles of scientists and engineers.
At its most basic, the process for science exists in the context of answering a question, while the engineering process is used in the context of solving a problem. The scientific process details how we unpack the question, which we do with the goal and direction of actually answering it. Ditto for engineering, with the difference that the goal is creating a prototype that solves the problem posed. Moreover, when using the processes, we should be answering and solving in a replicable way using our science and engineering practices. Through these processes, the science and engineering practices are reinforced and applied, all with the goal of getting to an evidence-based conclusion.
In a highly effective classroom, that's what's going on. That's why you need that release of responsibility. A teacher who gives the question, the research, the hypothesis, the experiment and everything else to students is not allowing them to develop any skills of their own. All students are going to do is follow directions, repeat, parrot, summarize and fail to increase their level of skill.
Full release of responsibility means trusting students to use these skills by themselves, which in turn dramatically increases their ability to practice and hone those skills.
When you look at these practices, it's the student who must be able to develop a model. They must be able to plan the investigation. If you give all of this to students, you have done them a serious disservice, yet that is a very common move teachers make. That's why you need that full release of responsibility. It is a tool for mastery in its own right, just like the processes and practices. Now, what does that look like practically in the classroom?