|Vibrio cholerae (AJC1 on Flickr)|
In 6th grade science, we are currently finishing up a unit on bacteria. Because my 6th graders seemed to lack the desire to learn the different parts of the bacterial cell, I decided to focus this unit on 'interesting bacteria' instead of the details that make prokaryotes different from eukaryotes. My senior thesis research was on the infection process of the plant pathogen A. tumefaciens, so I was pretty excited about this unit and the kids knew it.
For one of the assignments, I created a list of pathogenic and beneficial bacterial species, split the class into groups of 3, and gave them the task of researching their species and making a presentation for the class over the course of 3 days. Tomorrow is the culmination of the assignment, when the final 2 groups will present their research, and here is what I have learned so far:
1. The students lack a lot of the fundamental skills required for researching and acquiring knowledge on their own. Next time, before I ask them to do an independent project, I need to present a tutorial on how to conduct research, gather information, and synthesize it.
2. They enjoy working in groups, for the most part, and really enjoy making projects and presenting them. While this may be obvious to some teachers, 6th graders (and likely all students) love doing projects and labs and other hands-on activities.
3. Some teachers argue that there is some fundamental information that is best provided through lectures, but I'm not sure the issue is that black and white. Are lectures ever necessary? For this 2 week unit on bacteria I didn't lecture a single day, and I think I was able to accomplish my goals for the unit, namely: to show that bacteria are ubiquitous, give an idea of what they look like, show that they can be beneficial and harmful, and demonstrate how critical they are in our daily lives. I accomplished this mainly through projects and activities where we discussed current events and talked about what we could learn from them. Students enjoyed reading through the articles, it helped them with their reading comprehension skills, and they really enjoyed the videos accompanying the articles. I actually learned a lot too. Tomorrow, for example, we will discuss the recent outbreak of cholera, an illness caused by V. cholerae, in Haiti and watch the related news clip.