Recently, I had the privilege of getting to work with some middle school students who are very new to DIY kits and community science. With their teacher, we planned to have them unbox one of Public Lab's DIY kits (Infragram Pi cam) to collect Near-Infrared images to process later for NDVI data. Students participating in this activity were 8th Grade Earth Science students with some background knowledge about GLOBE protocols, AREN, and foundational knowledge on climate and weather that had been taught in units prior to the activity.The goal of this activity was to introduce students to new tech and/or tools so that they would ultimately become comfortable with collecting images and processing those through Image Sequencer for analysis. The unboxing gives students a slower approach to new tools that allows them ask questions without the pressure of having to complete an assignment with the tool during that lesson, and it allows instructors or facilitators of learning to set appropriate boundaries around the use of these tools. Additionally, typically students want to jump right in to using exciting new equipment in a class that gives them a more hands-on approach to learning. While using a tool is a great way to explore its functionality, allowing students the time, space, and support on how to plan and learn before jumping in can prevent frustration or make fixing bugs down the line much easier (for both students and teachers).
Doing an unboxing activity also supports of some of the budget limitations that educators face... often, educators' budgets for purchasing or acquiring any tools is limited, and the process for approval can be time consuming. Doing an unboxing can give a class the time to explore materials in a way that keeps students safe, keeps the materials safe, and helps students take a more deliberate approach to data collection. In this case, students were reminded that one of the most important aspects of data collection is sample size, and that the preservation of tools within a smaller community is essential to continuing to gather meaningful data over time and across many researchers.
To take a truly emergent approach, students were only given basic information prior to the unboxing on a few things:
- A broad explanation of how NDVI data can be collected and utilized
- A broad explanation of Public Lab's purpose and available resources
- A chance to generate some connections with peers between NDVI and some of the topics they were currently studying (Urban Heat Islands, Invasive Species, etc.)
The students were given the package sent by Public Lab (the box had been opened by the instructors, but nothing had been opened and used beyond this) and instructed to discuss what they noticed and to document their questions. One thing to note about this case study is that this particular cohort is extremely well-acclimated to emergent learning. Due to their educational background in a Reggio-Emilia inspired instruction, they are comfortable, for the most part, entering an educational space without having all the answers and leaving the space still not having the answers to their questions. If your students are new to this type of learning, it may take extra encouragement, and restraint on the instructors part, to be comfortable with unknowns (and in the instructor's case, comfortable with not giving students direct answers), with the understanding that those unanswered questions will generate activities for later investigation and research.
The activity with this cohort took place prior to a kite flying lesson, so most of their inquiries were leaning toward ideas of how this would relate to the kites. By the end of the unboxing, students were confident that they understood the general purpose of the Infragram Pi tool and what it was used for, but they still had questions that required more deliberate learning about how to set up the camera and begin using it for their intended purpose. Students were not given additional time to research during this lesson as a way to sustain inquiry and interest across the week, but they were encouraged to document everything, either via digital recording or in their notebooks. This way, the questions they had for the next time they would try to use the item. In addition to the excitement around the actual DIY kit tools, students were very excited to receive literature to learn more about their community science resource at PublicLab.org.
Here is a graphic I hope people will find helpful for the introduction of any DIY kit in a classroom using an unboxing activity.
If you do an unboxing activity for DIY kits with students, please share your experience here! I am very interested and eager to see how other teachers might approach this style of student-led inquiry, especially in much larger groups and/or with older students.