Using Wikis for Knowledge Building in Science

Grade: 7

Subject: Science

Our two grade 7 science teachers are starting a research project for the “Plants for Food and Fibre” unit of the grade 7 program of studies. The plan for the project is to have students examine a number of variables to determine which plant need has the greatest impact on plant growth.
In pairs, students have selected a variable to examine, and over the next month, will begin to design ways test the impact variable on plant growth, and to collect and document data along the way.
To collect the data, the teachers have decided to set up a wiki (using for each of our four grade 7 classes. On the wiki, each pair of students will create a page for their particular variable.
This is the first time these two teachers have used a wiki in class and they’re excited because it allows for a number of authentic extensions to the project.

First, using a wiki means that the data collected by each set of students becomes public. This means there’s a more authentic audience for the student work, increasing the potential buy-in by the students.
Also, at the end of the data collection period, the teachers can now build in a synthesizing task. Right now the teachers are thinking of asking the students, “Which of the different plant needs has the greatest effect on plant growth.” While this final question might change, still the power of the wiki is that all the different groups’ research now has a meaning and purpose, for all the other students, not just themselves. Each pair of students in now relying on all the other students to accurately produce methods and data to benefit the whole class. While the teachers could have had each group present their data, building a collaborate wiki means that greater analysis of others groups findings can occur.
This means that additional conversations and expectations need to be had around the presentation of student data. The teachers are planning to build a rubric with the students around how best display the data. The quality of the communication now matters significantly more because other students need to be able to interpret and understand each groups findings. What these wikis create in a knowledge building environment, where the quality of each groups’ findings directly impacts the collective experience of the whole class.
They’re getting started later this week – we’ll keep you updated with the process!

As always, if you have feedback/suggestions/other ways to take this project, please do comment below. We know we don’t have all the answers, and are always looking for ways to improve the work we design for our students..

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