Science, Education, and Science Education

classroom applications

Archive for the ‘Investigations’ Category

October 15th, 2012 by Luann

The Learning Brain

Dr Chris Jernstedt from Dartmouth on Learning and the Brain synthesized something that I’ve been trying to apply for a while, now.  He breaks the goals of learning down into four areas:  knowing (facts), applying (classroom learning to life situations), recognizing (what classroom things are related to a given “life” situation), and extrapolating.  If all this student does is sit in class and “soak it in,” I think he/she will have tremendous difficulty doing anything but knowing (if that). Yet, it seems most students seldom progress past the “knowing” stage.

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May 24th, 2012 by Luann

Scavenging For Science

Many years ago, I needed something engaging for AP Chemistry students once their exam was over.  I found a scavenger hunt, hard copy as this was the olden days, handed out by the late Dr. Cliff Schrader at a conference.  I’m forever grateful to Cliff for so many things he gave out freely to anyone who asked.  Among so many other things, he taught me to share.

I reworked the list a little to reflect some things my students knew or in which they had shown interest.  The first few years, the kids worked in groups and competed to see which group could collect the most items the most quickly.

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December 17th, 2011 by Luann

Crystallization of a Supersaturated Sucrose Solution

Research: Solutions

Recipe:  Supersaturated Sucrose Solution

Response: Documenting the Process


October 10th, 2011 by Luann

Writing and the Lab Report

Oregon requires students to complete an inquiry work sample (here’s the one we will use this year) at some time during high school.  Our classes function on an inquiry basis at some level almost daily.  I’ve played with many strategies to help students write about their work in a manner that facilitates their learning while documenting their work in a manner that survives the scrutiny of a scientific peer review.

Most recently, I’ve incorporated the work began with Linda Christensen (from Lewis and Clark) and the Oregon Writing Project. Freshmen begin keeping all lab and inquiry work in a bound theme book, AKA fondly as “my lab book.” My vision for the appearance of student lab books has morphed over the years.  Some things change very little, though, because good science is good science and good science writing is good science writing. At my current school, I’m blessed with like-minded colleagues who have helped me refine my vision as it is shared in this post. Here’s our current plan…..

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August 14th, 2011 by Luann

Collaboration, Lab Work and Student Roles

Group Roles

Neurology Students in Berlin, a long, long time ago.

My introduction to assigning student roles in group work came in 1994 at a Project Discovery summer workshop. I didn’t question the value of this practice. More experienced teachers and university professors shared their expert guidelines.  As teacher participants in the workshop, we used these canned roles as we worked our way through canned labs intended to inspire student discovery. They appeared, we decided, to be a pretty effective method for managing students in lab settings and for facilitating student communication about their work. The checkpoints added strategically to canned procedures helped me check for understanding while students were working.

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February 15th, 2009 by Luann

One Ringy-Dingy…….

The smartphone industry is making a pitch that cell phones belong in the classroom. (You have to register to read the NY Times article, but it is free.)

Students could write experimental questions and hypotheses in 140 characters or less on Twitter and 160 characters or less on their cell phones as txt messages.  Steps in their experimental design, photos of their setup would be workable.  Data tables might be a challenge though unless there’s software I’m not aware of.

My experiment with phones in Physics and Marine Biology this year will be public soon.  I’ll probably have my wrists slapped by admin because having the phones is a blatant violation of school policy.  We call them ‘cameras’ and ‘blog posting devices.’  The kids are so involved that I really haven’t seen anyone txting.  Nice.  They are learning as well.  Later today, I will go get my own photos of their work to share.

January 1st, 2009 by Luann

How to do “half a lab .”

This post is dedicated to special education professionals everywhere, with my apologies that you have to work with science teachers.

Many students in special education have IEP’s specifying a reduced work load.  This specification was perhaps meant to minimize the frustration from an overwhelming number of practice math problems or with essays of unmanageable length.  Doing ‘every other question’ isn’t practical when the task is a laboratory investigation.

To better help students learn scientific investigation, I started to focus on just one significant part of the actual investigation and report at a time.  Here are the components of the lab write-up:

  • Experimental Question – what you want to know and can find out with an experimental design
  • Hypothesis – possible answer to question; testable, potentially falsifiable
  • Introduction – background information needed about the topic to be investigated
  • Materials (written as the investigation is designed)
  • Procedure – written in short steps as a set of directions.  Include everything on the Score Sheet list, linked below.
  • Safety – apparel, MSDS info on any chemicals used, equipment cautions.
  • Data table
  • Data analysis – includes graph or other alternative representation of data, and discussion of hypothesis as supported or not
  • Calculations and calculations table – calculations done in format of describing what is to be calculated, an equation, and a sample of the math.
  • Conclusion – answer the experimental question, use data to support your answer ( numbers! use high and low average of 3+ trials) and explain how the data answers your question.

Now if this looks suspiciously like the standard for investigations in some state’s standards, I will agree.  Students must write in this format to receive a high score on the high-stakes test.  It’s also not bad science, overall, so we just do it.

How to do half of this?  We start the year with a lab activity to which pretty much everyone knows the answer:  How does exercise affect your heart rate?  We walk together through all the parts and everyone writes each component into his or her lab book during class, working in groups, over 4 days.  During this time, we talk together about the variables that might affect heart rate, such as the type and speed of exercise and what variables we can keep the same, or control, for everyone.  We also talk about what we can’t control, such as the food eaten for breakfast, body size, leg length.  We decide on an experimental control as a student who does not exercise at all yet whose heart rate we record at the beginning and end of the exercise time, with everyone else’s.

Examples of the student handout for our Photosynthesis lab, with directions for the introduction and data analysis are here.  The score sheet checklist is here.  I copy the documents back to back and hand to students as we begin the lab write-up. It;s the 5th investigation we do, so most are pretty good at it.  Help yourself; I’d love your feedback.  I know the score sheet is labeled “rubric” when it is really more of a student checklist, but it’s progress….

The focus for this lab is the design, or procedure, itself.  Options for students needing a reduced assignment include:

  • writing the hypothesis to a given experimental question
  • reviewing the introduction material with teacher or lab group and writing a statement telling the purpose of the lab
  • safety must be written by everyone, period
  • writing the procedure and materials together with the lab group.
  • directions on how to re-work the data, or interpretation of a ready-made graph of the data
  • analysis questions are easy:  select depending on the student’s needs and focus.  Perhaps the student is already good at identifying variables, so select other questions.  Perhaps the student needs to learn to identify variables, so select the variable questions and one other.
  • the conclusion is pretty basic – if the student has had guidance with the data, the conclusion is surprisingly easy.

Maybe this isn’t exactly half a lab.  It’s a ‘reduced assignment,’ though.  It’s been my experience that even struggling students will accept this version if given guidance and the security net of a lab group at first.  Can they go through life with a security net?  Probably not.  This one is just a step in the direction of self-sufficiency and using one’s resources.  We don’t all walk that direction at the same pace.

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