Think back on the scene from the movie Apollo 13, where NASA engineers surround a table holding the contents astronauts have available to them in space. Their task, collaborate to design a filter that would scrub carbon dioxide from the Lunar Module and offer the astronauts an opportunity to return home. Though that was not the only challenge of the mission, the engineers used their skills, strengths, knowledge, and voices to help return the astronauts safely back to Earth.
CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) identifies five areas of Social and Emotional Learning: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Responsible Decision- Making, Social Awareness, and Relationship Skills. Much like the situation in the movie, the science classroom offers students an opportunity to grow both academic knowledge and social-emotional skills through cooperative learning situations.
Often, science lessons include investigations conducted collaboratively. These situations are the perfect avenue for students to begin building the skill of self-awareness. As students work with others to complete their investigation, their strengths and weaknesses often come into clearer focus… “I do not need to be responsible for the group lab sheet as my handwriting is not good.” Or “I have a great deal of practice reading stopwatches at track meets, let me be the timekeeper.” Each experience, whether positive or negative, allows students to gain a better understanding of themselves and how to successfully interact with others.
During science investigations, students are often required to create plans that test hypotheses or allow observable outcomes. This approach requires a great deal of self-management for students. Roles must be assigned, materials gathered, steps planned, tests conducted, and results recorded, all while working with others in a cooperative manner. All of this is done to ultimately determine if the original hypothesis is correct. Or like Thomas Edison, we are forced to change a variable and try again. The autonomy that individuals and groups have in this situation serves to build behaviors that grow confident, independent thinkers.
The nature of science is all about responsible decision-making with regards to resources, determining how new technology will be utilized, or possibly the long-term effects of new discoveries. Science is based on evidence. Through investigations, students learn to draw reasoned conclusions related to observations and results. In addition, the interactive nature of the activities offers students an opportunity to evaluate their participation and recognize how their actions contribute to the outcome.
Science learning requires participants to predict, hypothesize, observe, and conclude based on their level of understanding. Often, students bring different background knowledge, understandings, and opinions to situations. It is during these times that students build the skill of social awareness. Different perspectives and understandings become evident during discussion. As a result, students must learn to listen to the thoughts of others and recognize how thoughtful actions and responses are important.
It is well established that a cohesive team achieves a better outcome. This also applies to situations where students are required to work in pairs or small groups. Scientists often share research in order to advance their trials and discoveries. Offering students opportunities that require effective communication and collaboration will increase their relationship skills. With each group effort, students must practice how to ask for help, communicate expectations, and cooperate to complete the activity. Each opportunity strengthens a student’s ability to relate to others in a positive manner.
When designing your approach for science instruction, take some time to think about how the right situation can foster both science inquiry and social emotional growth. While it is important to offer clear guidance and safety considerations, allowing students to plan and work through certain aspects of the lesson helps grow the whole child. And just like the group of engineers at NASA, your students will come to realize that with a bit of knowledge and cooperation, the cover of a flight manual just might help save a life.