Posted by David R. Wetzel, Ph.D.
Vocabulary or terminology building is a difficult task for many students. A variety of teaching techniques and strategies are needed to help them develop a true understanding related to concepts.
Typical science and math textbooks introduce ten to 30 new vocabulary or terminology words every chapter. Considering curriculum requirements, students are faced with making sense and learning these new terms. Along with the need to make connections to concepts in a relatively short period of time.
These new terms must are also influenced by students’ prior knowledge and experiences (PKE). Unfortunately, their PKE is often laced with misconceptions regarding the meaning of science and math terminology.
The following techniques are designed to help students correct any misconceptions, develop a deeper understanding and make those all important connections with concepts.
Strategies and Methods
To develop a real understanding, students must encounter new vocabulary words at least six or seven times in different circumstances (Incidental vocabulary acquisition: The effects of task type, word occurrence and their combination, Batia Laufer, Language Teaching Research, 2011).
The following example techniques provide ways to use vocabulary terms in different learning situations.
- KWL Organizers
- Venn Diagrams
- Student Created Videos
- Hands-on, Minds-on Explorations
- Explaining Using Their Own Definitions
- Student Created Illustrations
Additional strategies include writing in math and writing in science. These two strategies involve students writing to incorporate vocabulary terms in a manner that helps them develop a better understanding of the concepts behind the words.
Now let’s look at some more strategies and methods.
Using Graphic Organizers
Two examples of graphic organizers you can use to help students learn science and math terms are:
Concept or Definition Map – begin by placing a new vocabulary term in the center of a graphic organizer. For example thermal energy.
Then descriptive words associated with this term are placed in the concept definition map boxes surrounding the term. For example – heat, energy transformation, etc.
Vocabulary Concept Cards (VOC) – in this vocabulary building technique students write the term on one side of a VOC (4 x 6 index card). Then divide the other side of the index card into for quadrants.
The left-hand side quadrants are:
- What the word is using own words
- What the word is not using own words
The right-hand quadrants are:
- Examples (next to what the word is) using drawings, words, or sentence
- Definition (next to what the word is not) provided by textbook or teacher provided resource
Students in all science and math classroom have a wide range of learning abilities, presenting differentiation challenges. The following strategies are designed to help you address these everyday challenges.
Differentiate Vocabulary Lists – addresses the needs of all students. For example gifted and talented or advanced students, struggling students and students with learning disabilities.
Required vocabulary terms are divided into three sections.
- Basic science or math terms all students must know in a chapter.
- Enrichment vocabulary words for gifted and talented students who need the extra challenge
- Essential words for students struggling with concepts and students with learning disabilities must learn to remain on grade-level
List-Group-Label - a form of structured brainstorming designed to help all students identify what they know regarding a concept and terms related to that concept, while provoking a degree of analysis and critical thinking. Directions for students:
- Think of all the words related to ______. (a key “big idea” in the text)
- Group the words listed by some shared characteristics or commonalities.
- Select a label for each group.
- Try to add words to the categories on the organized lists.
Why Use These Strategies?
Vocabulary building requires more than using the following traditional methods:
- rote memorization
- looking them up in the glossary and to copy definition
- writing a sentence without knowing the meaning
Why? Because they only lead to short term knowledge, with no real understanding. The goal is long term learning and retention.
If your students are having difficulty learning and applying science or math vocabulary, then these strategies and methods are ready to help. So give them a chance. Also share ideas you found that work in with your students.
Posted by David R. Wetzel, Ph.D.
What is the Digital Footprint in Your Classroom?
In contrast to the technology teachers use in a classroom for their professional use, what is the technology (or digital) footprint of your students?
Why the concern? Technology tools, both on- and offline, abound today in schools. When these tools are effectively integrated in science and math curricula, your classroom will transform your classroom into a learning community.
So what is your students’ technology footprint?
Building a Learning Community
Through optimizing the power of digital footprint in your classroom, students transform from passive to active learners. When incorporating technology within core curriculum, you leverage students’ prior knowledge and experiences (PKE) with content.
By leveraging students’ PKE with technological tools, they are able to build learning communities within and outside the classroom. These communities are known as personal learning networks.
Regardless of term used, when describing this technology, group work has moved into the 21st century.
Digital Foot Print Strategies by Grade Level
The following are examples of how digital tools support student learning:
Elementary – students work collaboratively and share their work or projects with others in and outside their classroom.
Examples include: Skype sessions, blogs, wikis, creating podcasts, digital storytelling, content specific interactive games and programs, VoiceThread, and presentations with Glogster.
Middle School – students work collaboratively and share data with others in or outside their classroom. Includes data and information collected during science and math investigative activities.
Examples include using tools such as Skype, online surveys and polls, Twitter, blogs, wikis, podcasts, presentations using Google Docs and Glogster, digital storytelling, content specific interactive games and programs, VoiceThread, Screencasts, WallWisher, Wolfram Alpha, and web-based learning centers.
High School – students work collaboratively and share data with others in or outside their classroom. Includes data and information collected during science and math investigative activities. Along with Middle School examples, a classroom’s digital footprint needs to include using technology tools for:
- reading content-related blogs to learn what scientists and mathematicians are thinking and doing.
- creating content-related student blogs focused on solving real-time issues and problems.
- creating podcasts for lower grade students designed as “How to’s.” This strategy helps high school students validate solve problems or investigative techniques.
- participating in online discussions and forums, such as Skype, focused on content-related issues. For example global warming, historic issues, data analysis, math challenges, literature, and finding answers for content-related problems.
- using social networks, such as Twitter and VoiceThread, for creating personal learning networks or learning communities. Examples include seeking advice and answers from content experts, reflecting on their learning experiences, and establishing their own digital footprint.
Tools Within a Digital Toolbox
Examples of digital tools may include and are certainly not limited to computers, iPod Touches, iPads, cell phones, online data bases, interactive offline software, productivity software (word processing, spreadsheets and presentation tools) blogs, podcasts, interactive websites, and many other Web 2.0 tools.
Additional benefits for students when optimizing the use of digital media tools, include:
- improving reading and writing skills.
- supporting differentiated learning.
- learning how to build a positive digital footprint of their own. This is an important attribute, because students in general do not understand the ramifications of some material they post on social media.
- working with peers to make connections within and among content concepts.
- building their confidence for learning.
- learning actively as opposed to passive learning.
- being more involved in research projects which stimulate critical thinking skills
- creating a personal learning network.
So if you are considering creating or expanding your classroom’s digital foot print — the time to take action is at hand!
Posted by David R. Wetzel, Ph.D.
Learning science and math is normally thought of as committing to memory facts and procedures. Because of this we tend to perceive the best way to teach is through rote memorization of ideas, theories, and models.
As a consequence, students experience little opportunity to develop a real understanding of what they are expected learn.
Our challenge is to craft strategies which allow student interactivity within lessons. Student involvement beyond memorization is an essential building block for learning science and math.
Using Technology and Hands-On: Real Indicators of Student Interactivity?
Not really, it all depends on how they are used in lessons. Regrettably, too often:
Technology is just used as an alternative attraction on the road to rote memorization of facts and concepts.
Hands-on is simply a synonym for following directions from work sheets, lab manuals, or textbooks with no thought by students (NSTA Blog).
Creating Student Interaction
Using technological tools and hands-on activities must focus on creating opportunities for students to ask what, where, when, why, and how.
To this end, we are obligated to craft student interactivity by challenging students in learning situations that require them to think.
This is accomplished by incorporating technology, math manipulatives, and science tools built around activities such as:
- problem solving situations,
Ways to Create Student Minds-on Involvement
Although there are many ways to create minds-on activities, the following is a sample of activities to create student interactivity in science and math lessons.
Stimulating Critical Thinking Problems and Investigations
Integrated science and math problems, case studies, projects, technology use include:
- What is the maximum number of eagles that can inhabit an specific area? (biology, fractions, decimals, percents, and ratios)
- How long will it take to repay the investment in a solar panel, based on local electricity costs? (real numbers, statistics, physics, and linear equations)
- What is the math behind a carnival ball toss game? (reasoning, communication, statistics, variables, nature of science)
- What effect does wind have on water evaporation? (nature of science, technology, charts, tables, variables, reasoning)
- Why do engineers use so many triangles in structures? (geometry, physical science)
- What is the biodiversity of your local ecosystem? (number sense, biology)
QR Code Quests
Students use an iPad, iPod, or Smartphone to follow a trail of QR Codes in problem solving situations. These Quests require students to solve a problem or complete an investigation. When complete, they create a QR Code to lead others to their solution and supporting evidence.
Create QR Codes using an Apple App or Android App. Then embed in your class blog, wiki page, Live Binder, or on science and math lab sheets.
An alternative method is to use existing QR Codes in magazines, newspapers, and websites.
Why is this Important?
Our students tend to find science and math a painful exercise in regurgitating information, with little understanding of what they are talking or writing about.
Often, their defense mechanism is expressed by stating:
- Why do I need to learn this!
Creating an environment in which students don’t need these and other defense mechanisms is important for building student confidence and understanding content.
Science and math teachers are always interested in best practices. Do you have a favorite problem solving activity or investigation, why not share it.
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