3. Organising open-ended project work

All land-living things need air for life processes such as respiration and photosynthesis. But many living things have adapted to moving in air (flight), or to using air in some effective way for survival.

Case Study 3 describes a teacher guiding the further investigation of a single group of pupils in a focused, but still open-ended, project. The Key Activity is much broader and involves pupils taking more responsibility for their own learning as they work together to meet a challenge. It builds on the skills of observation and deduction from the previous activities.

If there is access to the Internet in your community, your pupils could use it to find out more for their projects. See Key Resource: Using new technologies [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   for where to start in finding useful information on the Internet.

Case Study 3: Encouraging further investigation in a focused project

Peter Banda’s class had spent a term on a ‘moving through air’ project (see Key Activity), finding out about natural things flying, gliding, parachuting, floating and spiralling through air. They had also discovered that the importance of air carrying smells and odours.

Two boys and a girl came back from the holidays with a question: ‘How does a kingfisher bird stay in one place in the air before diving? It doesn’t have rotors like a helicopter!’

Peter did two things. First, he gave them time and encouraged them to find out what other living things hovered (dragonflies, hawks, bees, hoverflies and certain moths). Then he encouraged them to spend time observing these creatures in action. Oghenevu’s deduction was that they could move their wings round and round in a figure of eight pattern. She thought this might be true because that is how she used her arms to stay up in one place when swimming.

Then, Peter arranged for them to use the science textbooks in the nearby high school; one of the teachers helped them.

The wonderful thing is that they submitted their project to the national science club competition and won a flight to the finals in Lusaka.

Key Activity: Moving through air – a project

Take pupils into the open air to breathe and appreciate our ‘ocean of air’. Notice clouds, quality of light, dusty haze in the distance and evidence of pollution. Ask: What living things and parts of living things move in the air? Challenge pupils to find out all they can – this is a project to do over several weeks.

Back in the classroom start by brainstorming the question with pupils – perhaps display this as a list on the classroom wall (see Key Resource: Using mind maps and brainstorming to explore ideas). Resource 4: Questions on moving in the air gives some ideas.

Organise your pupils into groups of between four and eight. Each group should observe and anticipate one area – you could use the questions in Resource 4, giving one question to each group. You need to plan regular report-back sessions through the project. Keep pupils motivated with interested support, ask questions and give feedback.

Groups looking at animals could do drawings of different flight patterns (for example gliding, parachuting) and this could lead to drawings of comparative wing shapes. See Resource 5: Examples of flight patterns and wing shapes.

At the end of the project, each group gives a presentation to the class – think about what criteria you will use to assess their work. Could they assess their own work?

Did you and your pupils enjoy this activity? Could you use this approach for other topics and other subjects?

2. Thinking about adaptions

Resource 1: Mind mapping