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Posts Tagged ‘student-centered learning’

Blue gak

Blue gak, part of a student demonstration

Last December right before winter break, my chemistry students prepared demonstrations to present to each other and to the elementary classes here at Walden School. This was their first attempt at it, and they received evaluations from me and from their peers with suggestions on how to improve. Now we have just finished the second round of presentations, and each team has added new features and made improvements.

Green slime

Green Slime

I had each team improve their presentations in four areas: first, their presentation skills, such as speaking with good diction, showing enthusiasm, and having a smoothly scripted and rehearsed narrative. The second area was improving the visual appeal of their presentation by adding some sort of poster or handout that could be used as an activity for the audience while the team sets up. Some of the groups made posters, some made paper games such as word searches or worksheets. The third area to improve was to add a multimedia component, such as a powerpoint slide show, a video, or a game. The final area for improvement was to make their presentation more hands-on for the audience, such as having more audience participation, or some sort of kinesthetic activity, or turn the presentation into an inquiry-based lab.

Girl with pH samples

Girl with pH samples

The results were very good; all the presentations have improved. Their science content was already good, but is deeper and more engaging now. By adding slide shows, posters, games, activities, and participation, they have gotten their audiences much more involved and excited.

Here are some examples: One group presented on the properties and uses of silver, and their demonstration was how to untarnish silver. They not only had a good slide show, but created a kinesthetic activity where the elementary students linked arms to form first silver sulfide (tarnish) and aluminum, then reformed to create aluminum sulfide and pure silver. This demonstrated the idea of conservation of matter in chemical reactions.

Sofia activity

Sofia leads a kinesthetic activity

The cabbage pH group turned their presentation from a demonstration into an inquiry lab by pouring samples of many types of household chemicals and food (such as grapefruit juice) into small clear plastic cups, then having the elementary students predict whether the chemicals were acids or bases, then use the cabbage juice to prove their guesses.

Marni and kids

Testing the pH of household chemicals with cabbage juice

My favorite improvement was in the saltwater density group; they had some difficulty during their last presentation with not having practiced enough and having things not work out as planned. This time it went smoothly, and they even created a computer video game called Salt the Slug. Jess created the graphics and Josh did the programming. The purpose of the game is to use the trackpad of the computer to shake a salt shaker up and down, shaking out salt onto a slug that is crawling across the screen trying to steal food. If the player can kill the slug before it gets back to its home with the food, he or she wins. Yes, the concept sounds a a bit cruel but it taught the idea of osmosis and concentration of solutions and besides, the graphics were hilarious. The elementary students were jumping up and down for a chance to play, so the team had to ask them some review questions to decide who would get a chance to try the game out.

Slug game

"Salt the Slug" game by Jess and Josh

Josh has become an excellent game programmer and created another game, which he has been working on for a year, where the player places towers that then shoot into a maze to repel invaders. He presented this game at the Charter School Science Fair for all of central Utah, and now has qualified to go on to the regional science fair at BYU in late March. I was a judge at the fair last week, and it was amazing to see the caliber of some of the projects.

Josh at science fair

Josh at the Charter School District Science Fair, Feb. 24.

One of my favorite things about doing these presentations is that many of my high school students have younger siblings in the elementary classes; what better way for my students to show off what they’ve learned, and how they can do science, than in front of their younger brothers and sisters? Dallas, one of the students in the group that demonstrated gunpowder had his little sister in the class. They kidded each other a lot, and Dallas had to tell her, “Don’t get sarcastic with me, I taught you sarcasm!” This group also included a nice demonstration of the “toast the runt” reaction, where potassium chlorate is heated to start it decomposing and giving off oxygen, then a runt candy is rolled down the test tube as the fuel source, resulting in a stationary solid rocket motor.

Toast the runt

Toast the Runt: A Solid Rocket Engine

We had to reform some of the groups, since a few students had switched sections at the semester, but the same presentations continued. Those teams that presented to their peers last time presented to the elementary classes this time, and vice versa. Each team has now presented twice and received feedback. Now they will present one more time at the end of the year at our Mad Science Night, where their parents and siblings are invited and we will take over four classrooms and run simultaneous sessions. It will be a lot of fun, and their presentations will be amazing.

Carbon dioxide and magnesium

Burning magnesium in carbon dioxide gas

Meanwhile, it has been quite a bit of time since my last post. I haven’t been ignoring it; rather, I’ve been so busy teaching, grading, entering competitions (such as the Explore Mars competition I mentioned previously), creating some video projects on the side for clients, presenting at the Utah Science Teachers Association conference (the Mars lessons again), and preparing for my trip to the NSTA conference next week that I simply haven’t had a chance to do many blogs. However, I have quite a backlog of student written blog posts that I will be adding over the next week, then posting each day from San Francisco, so you’ll see quite a few posts this month.

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The Five Elements

The Five Elements

As I teach chemistry and astronomy again for the first time in several years, I’m having a lot of fun getting back into the physical sciences with all of the lab experiences I’d collected and developed over the years before I started teaching multimedia exclusively. I’ve also added a number of excellent activities that I picked up from my experiences with NASA and from various conferences and presentations. It’s also a lot of fun to start incorporating my expertise in media design and technology in ways I never could before, as well as the materials I collected at Chemical Heritage Foundation in 2009. For example, I just finished teaching a Keynote presentation on Greek matter theories that I put together myself using photos, drawings, illustrations, and 3D animations (mostly my own) and information collected at CHF. I have all the files stored on various hard drives that all hook into my Mac Powerbook (about four terabytes total). Some of the images I pulled off the Internet at school using our wireless router and Airport technology, and once the Keynote was finished, all I had to do was hook my laptop up to a projector and give the presentation (complete with animations and audio clips) using an infrared remote. Here’s the presentation, in Powerpoint format. If you want to use it, be my guest:

Greek_Matter_Theories

To me, all of this seems remarkable, even miraculous. And here I am writing about it on a Blog, publishing my experiences instantaneously where anyone in the world can read them, and even sharing the presentation itself. Yet I feel as if I’m only just scratching the surface of what these new technologies can do. That’s part of why I’ve been working on this Elements Unearthed project for the past several years; there are so many connections between science practitioners and students that can still be made and which I hope to develop, so many innovative methods of teaching that no one’s thought of yet. I’m a digital immigrant; my students are natives. I’m always playing catch up to what they’re already using daily.

Engraving of Democritus

Engraving of Democritus

So far this blog has been written entirely by me (David Black) since it debuted in Oct., 2008. Now that I’m teaching chemistry again I am turning over much of the posting to my students, who will be taking turns once per week adding information about the research project they are pursuing. They have chosen between an element (such as copper), a material (such as cement), a method of generating energy (such as solar power), or a time period from the history of chemistry (such as medieval European alchemy) and are compiling notes into an MS Word document with references.

With each post, they are to include about 500-800 words of writing in their own words culled from all of their research notes and include relevant images or diagrams. They are also producing a nicely laid out document such as a newsletter, poster, or brochure that will be converted to PDF format and linked to this blog for download. It may take a week or two for the first few student posts to contain these linked files, but they will come. My hope is that any chemistry teachers or students out there who are reading this blog will be able to download these linked files and use them in your own classrooms.

Plato and Aristotle

Plato and Aristotle, Detail from The School of Athens by Raphael

During second term, the students will be developing and practicing a hands-on demonstration that involves some property or aspect of their topic. We’ll present these demonstrations to the elementary classes at Walden (I’ve already met with the teachers to plan this out) and the students will also present them to each other for feedback. During third term, we’ll create a more extensive project from their topic: a detailed Powerpoint or Keynote presentation or a three-minute video or a computer game. They’ll present these in class again, then fourth term put all of this together for a back-to-school science night for the public and their parents and siblings. We’ll videotape these presentations and share them with you as well.

I’ve done all of these things before in various multimedia or chemistry classes, but this is the first time that technology and opportunity have combined to allow me to put it all together. I am still looking to build partnerships with local organizations (museums, mining associations, etc.) that will combine my students’ media skills with their content. I’ll still visit mining towns, take tours of museums, and continue to post about how technology can be used in the science classroom. I also plan on writing more grants and professional articles. I’ll continue to create longer format videos to go with the student short videos (the Tintic Mining District is up next after I make some changes to the beryllium videos).

This blog has certainly been successful in what I’ve intended it to be. Last month (September) was the best month so far with over 2700 visitors to the site. I’ve had over 23,500 visitors total, most of them this year. I would love to hear from any science teachers or students that have found this site useful.

I look forward to seeing what my students come up with as they post about their topics. I’m encouraging them to do more than just a list of properties, to dig deeper and talk about the unusual stories and histories of each element or material. And now, I am pleased to introduce my chemistry students’ blog posts . . . .

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