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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Posted by David R. Wetzel, Ph.D.
Encouraging students to use critical thinking is more than an extension activity in science and math lessons, it is the basis of true learning.
Teaching students how to think critically helps them move beyond basic comprehension and rote memorization. They shift to a new level of increased awareness when calculating, analyzing, problem solving, and evaluating.
Another way to view the power of critical thinking – as students learn how to apply and use higher order thinking skills, they learn how to question the accuracy of their solutions and findings.
Students wonder why they got the results they did and not another outcome. This in turn leads to internalization of concepts, along with all important point of making connections with related concepts.
Teaching Critical Thinking
Some students have the natural ability to ask higher cognitive questions. Specifically when evaluating experimental findings in science or solving math problems. However, many students do not have this innate skill and need to learn how to ask higher order questions.
An important point for encouraging students to use critical thinking is by modeling these skills for your students. Students will inherently follow their teacher’s lead; this is why it is important to practice what we preach.
The following are examples of questions to ask your students to encourage them to think critically (Richard Paul).
- What additional information do you need to solve the problem?
- How does the data relate to your findings?
- How does the evidence support your conclusions?
- What would you need to do to determine if the solution is true?
- How can you compare this with other problems?
- Are their alternative solutions to the problem? If so, what are they?
- What else may be true if this is correct?
- What effect would _______ have?
- What do you mean by that statement?
- How could you ask that question differently?
- What did you learn from solving this problem?
- Is this the most important question to ask when solving the problem?
- What questions need to be answered before answering this question?
These questions all have one purpose – keeping the train on the track by guiding students through the critical thinking process. When you ask these and similar questions, you are encouraging your students to move from passive to active learning.
Avoiding Questions Easily Answered on the Internet
Questions and problems easily answered through a quick query on the internet are not an effective strategy for teaching critical thinking. Students need questions which require them to create a product to show what they learned. The following examples are referred to “Google-Proofing” in some circles.
- Construct a data table and graph to display a comparison of cost of three competing cell phone companies.
- Design an investigation to determine the best materials for building a hurricane proof house.
- Compare the organs in the human body with other mammals.
- Create a board game based on geometric shapes.
- Redesign an existing product to reduce its carbon footprint.
The goal is to help students learn how to develop higher level questions and make connections when solving math problems or analyzing experimental data.
Quality Thinking In order to support quality critical thinking, the frequency of questions is not as important as the quality of questions. Also, increasing wait-time between teacher-student-teacher is important to success with teaching quality thinking. According to Kathleen Cotton, the following are factors to consider when asking students questions.
- The average level of questions asked by teachers are 60 percent lower cognitive, 20 percent procedural, and 20 percent higher cognitive.
- Increasing the frequency of higher cognitive questions to the 50 percent level produces superior gains in middle and high school student achievement.
- Asking higher cognitive questions does not reduce student achievement on lower cognitive questions.
- With predominate use of lower cognitive questions; students tend toward lower achievement.
The use of higher cognitive questions tends to elicit longer student answers in complete sentences, quality inference and conjecture by students, and the forming of higher level questions. This in turn results in increased student use of critical thinking and classroom participation. There is never a wrong time to begin encouraging your students to use critical thinking skills, so why not start today.
Cotton, Kathleen, Classroom Questioning, North West Regional Educational Laboratory.
Paul, Richard, Critical Thinking: How to Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing World, Foundation for Critical Thinking.
The Best Resources in Teaching & Learning Critical Thinking in the Classroom
Posted by David R. Wetzel, Ph.D.
Science Discrepant Events
The following are discrepant events that does not turn out as expected.
These anomalies challenge students’ beliefs and makes them more receptive to learning what you want them to learn.
Alcohol and Water Miscibility: Discrepant Event
Miscibility means how completely two or more liquids dissolve in each other.
Materials Needed per Group: two 50 mL beakers, 0ne 100 mL beaker, 100 mL water, 100 mL ethanol
Students complete the following:
Add 50 mL of water to 50 mL of water. They
Add 50 mL of ethanol to 50 mL of ethanol, you get 100 mL of ethanol.
However, when 50 mL of water is added with 50 mL of ethanol?
They get a 96 mL solution.
The water and ethanol molecules are different sizes, with the ethanol molecules are smaller. Some of the ethanol fits in the spaces between the water molecules.
Think about two other materials: a liter of sand and a liter of pebbles. If you pour the sand into the pebbles, the total volume will be less than two liters, because some of the sand fills in the spaces between the pebbles.
Bernoulli’s Principle: Discrepant Event
Materials Needed per Group: two empty soda cans, 23 straws, one metric ruler
Students complete the following:
Place 22 straws side-by-side 1 cm apart.
Place the two empty soda cans on the straws 5 cm apart.
Two empty soft drink cans are placed on several drinking straws. Air pressure forces the cans to roll toward each other.
Using the remaining straw, blow between the cans.
The cans roll towards each other until they collide.
As the velocity of the air between the two cans increases (being blown away), the pressure the air it applies to the inner sides of the cans decreases.
This allows the air on the opposing sides of the cans to push the cans towards to the area of lower pressure.
Ensure students understand that the air pressure on the outer sides did not increase, rather it was the decrease in pressure between the cans that allowed the cans to roll towards each other.
The cans were not “sucked” together. They were pushed together.
Teaching Science using Discrepant Events
Mysterious Floating Cork
May the Force Be With You
More Discrepant Event