2 schools, 50 students, 10 creative solutions….. the Group 4 project 2015

From 5 to 6 November, Year 11 IB Science students joined forces with 15 students from Al Zahra College to complete the IB Group 4 Project – a mandatory component of the IB Science Course. This Project allows students to gain experience testing out their scientific ideas and to work collaboratively with others across various disciplines – physics, chemistry, biology and environmental science.
This year’s Project looked at some of the challenges boys at our brother school, Tupou College in Tonga might face.

Year 11 student Eric Sheng (11/ME) said his group investigated clean water. “My group looked at the need for clean drinking water. We designed and made a model of a solar-based water purification system.”
Some other student initiatives included a solar water heating system so that students could have warm showers, turbine generators to create power, biogas collection, wind turbine generators and desks that also double up as hammocks.
Eric said that while it took two weeks of planning to be able to put their designs to the test, the results were not always what they expected.
“Not all the ideas survived this rigorous process [of testing that took part after the two weeks of preparation]; every group encountered problems and had to think of new ways to do things. Unlike most of what we do in classrooms, there are no tried and tested instructions or correct answers in the Group 4 Project,” he said.
“I for one found improvising solutions to unexpected problems the most exciting part of the Project… As the IB emphasises, the focus is on the processes rather than the products of the experience. The Group 4 Project was certainly a valuable learning experience.”
For fellow classmate Fletcher Howell (11/JN), the Project tested his ability to be open minded, flexible and caring towards the working styles of others in the group. “Students were also required to be good communicators, creating a short film for presentation at the conclusion of the day. This was aimed at outlining the processes and the methods through which any thinking was applied,” he said.
“For me personally, I realised that getting a group of five people motivated towards achieving a collective goal is difficult. There is a lot of work that goes into generating a solution, let alone ensuring it is practical in that it is cost-effective, safe and made out of the appropriate materials. The project was a worthwhile thinking exercise and outlined how the theory and skills we develop in class, actually apply to the real world.”
A 30 minute reflection task outlining the task and results marked the conclusion of the intensive two days of testing and discovery. The reflection allowed students to consolidate their thinking and consider their personal development. Being an entirely student-centred project meant that this was not only invaluable to the students learning about team work and skills of management and delegation, but also offered the students a chance to plan, test and reflect on real world solutions to real world problems.

Is ignorance more important than knowledge?

Scientific uncertainty is an accepted and important component of scientific research. It could be argued that it is an essential factor in the drive for research. We research because we don’t know everything. The results of that research then have to be assessed for validity and scientists make an estimate about how confident they are in the picture revealed. Their level of confidence in the picture depends on the level of uncertainty in the data.

But is this how uncertainty is perceived in the community? Does the general public regard uncertainty as deficiency? When making public policy, is uncertainty worrying and a reason to be cynical about scientific data?

What does the choice of wording and language in the following two statements indicate about the authors belief systems?

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It is also clear that some science is more certain than other science, and the level of uncertainty may vary even within one issue. David Stainforth speaks below about the topical issue of climate change. He maintains that there is some data on climate change that the world of science is very certain of and in which there is a great deal of confidence.

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Marlys H. Witte was a professor of surgery at a university in Arizona. She proposed teaching a class called “Introduction to Medical and Other Ignorance” in the mid 1980’s. She wanted students to work on interesting ambiguities. Her idea was not well received.

Einstein was skeptical about the value of knowledge and Voltaire about the value of certainty.

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Jamie Holmes authored an article for the New York Times in which he made the following claim:

“Presenting ignorance as less extensive than it is, knowledge as more solid and more stable, and discovery as neater also leads students to misunderstand the interplay between answers and question.

People tend to think of not knowing as something to be wiped out or overcome, as if ignorance were simply the absence of knowledge. But answers don’t merely resolve questions; they provoke new ones.”

You can read his New York article here : The Case for Teaching Ignorance

So what does this mean for you as students of science? Does it mean that teachers should engage with the subject matter in a more tentative fashion? Should they be less sure that they have all the answers to your questions? Should you view your own ignorance about your subject as cause for celebration? Will this ignorance allow you to explore curiously? Should the work of educators be more about ignorance and uncertainty and less about certainty in what we know?

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Stating uncertainties in scientific data that you collect is one way for you to communicate the level of confidence you have in your data based on the precision of the method you chose.  At least now though you can celebrate that uncertainty and rather than perceive is as a deficiency, embrace its power to keep you asking questions!



“Scientific uncertainty and global warming.” NAGT. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.

Website article: SENSE ABOUT SCIENCE MAKING SENSE OF UNCERTAINTY Why uncertainty is part of science’