There is increased discussion and recognition of the importance of project-based learning in education (Chin & Chia, 2004; Krajcik, Czerniak, & Berger, 1998; Lam, Cheng, & Ma, 2009). In science education, full-inquiry science research projects develop science content and develop and assess all of the standards-based science process skills and inquiry skills. In the dawn of project-based learning moving beyond talk and into implementation, full-inquiry science research should be the gold standard of independent project work.
We propose that policy people, leaders, and teachers have the following three main goals for science fairs: (a) Winning Goal, (b) Quantity Goal, and (c) Quality Goal. These goals may not be explicitly stated but they do shape behavior. The winning goal is common but focusing efforts on elite students doing elite projects may limit the amount of students participating. For this research we selected programs that were exemplary in maximizing participation but yet were interested in quality research.
Case study analyses of science research programs in Costa Rica, Ireland, and Marlborough, Massachusetts were conducted. Interviews of leaders, supporters, and students were conducted. These interviews and supporting documents were analyzed. Each of these case studies is described and conclusions from comparing programs are presented.
Later today (December 7, 2012) I am presenting at the regional NSTA conference in Phoenix, AZ on the topic, “Critical Thinking through Science via Technology.” I’m listing the websites and resources I’m presenting about for the ease of access of the folks in my audience. This presentation was designed for middle grade science teachers.
Deep Conceptual Learning in Science and Mathematics
Peter Rillero and Helen Padgett
The Common Core Mathematics Standards ask learners to demonstrate deep conceptual understanding of core math concepts by applying them to new situations, as well as writing and speaking about their understanding (CCSS, Key Points in Mathematics 2010). Teachers need to provide opportunities for students to apply math concepts in “real world” situations.
The science framework that the Common Core science standards will align with also stresses deep conceptual learning. The framework narrowed the wide coverage of science and focused on fewer concepts so learners could achieve depth of understanding of the core ideas presented (Committee on Conceptual Framework for the New K-12 Science Education Standards, 2012).
While it is clear that deep conceptual learning is a desired outcome, just asking students to learn deeply is not enough. Teachers will also need help in this paradigm shift in teaching and learning.
Deep Versus Surface Learning
Deep conceptual learning has been contrasted with surface learning as distinct learning approaches (Chang & Chang, 2008; Biggs, 1999; Hall, Ramsay, & Raven, 2004; Marton, Dall’Alba, & Beaty, 1993). Surface learning is marked by memorization, rote learning, and unquestioning acceptance of textual information. Conversely, students seeking to join concepts or apply them to real life situations characterize deep conceptual learning.
Deepening Prior Knowledge
The goal of deep conceptual learning is to take what students know and deepen their understanding. A theoretical shift to viewing learning as “conceptual change” is sparked by recognition of the role of prior knowledge in learning (Strike & Posner, 1985; West & Pines, 1985). Prior knowledge may support or hinder learning new material. Well-sequenced learning experiences makes effective use of previously learned material so learners can connect concepts and deepen their learning. When misconceptions exist, learning can be slower. Rather than instantly rejecting prior knowledge and accepting instructed knowledge, learners tend to gradually refine and transform prior knowledge to accommodate new scientific ideas (Posner, Strike, Hewson, & Gertzog, 1982). Well-designed experiences in supportive environments help learners develop deeper and more accurate conceptions.
Deep Learning Environments
While people may have tendencies toward deep or superficial learning, the learning situation does affect the learning approach. Time pressures and cramming information to do well on exams leads to surface learning, as do assessments that focus only on superficial details (Elby, 1999). Learning environments with rich resources, warm classroom cultures, appropriate workload, and well-sequenced curriculum can promote curiosity about a subject leading to deep conceptual learning (Rodriguez & Cano, 2006; Trigwell & Prosser, 1991). Some authors call people who seek deep conceptual learning “learners” and those who skim the surface “students” (Lyke & Young, 2006). As might be expected, research suggests that deep learners have better retention of information and apply it better than surface students do (Booth, Luckett, & Mladenovic, 1999; Prosser & Trigwell, 1999; Ramsden, 1992).
The changes in math and science are not just about content but they mark a deep shift in teaching and learning approaches. We join others in the conclusion that one of the most effective ways to facilitate this change is through technology. Engaging virtual science and math experiences, such as the Activity Objects of Adaptive Curriculum, allow learners to experience more in less time and can thus provide more time for deepening understanding. While not only saving schools money, they allow students to explore concepts that otherwise couldn’t be presented in class because of safety concerns, or a lack of equipment, materials or lab space. Web-based systems are easily scalable from dozens to thousands of students school- or district-wide. They engage digital-age students in core concepts using real-world scenarios, compelling graphics, and an active learning pedagogy.
Deep Conceptual Learning Methods
To help teachers in this profound change it is important to go beyond generalizations. “The dramatic shift in teaching prompted by the common core will require practical, intensive, and ongoing professional learning” (Hirsh, 2012). Specific Deep Conceptual Learning Methods (DCLM) to turn students who learn superficially into deep conceptual learners are presented below. These methods can be used in many teaching and learning contexts.
DCLM1: Discovery Learning
Discovery learning creates experiences for learners to join concepts together. Hands-on science and math manipulatives create fertile grounds for discovery learning. For learners to join concepts together, they need to think about the concepts. Discussions with other learners and teachers can induce thought. The learning is also deepened because learners not only experience the content, they also improve their inquiry and critical thinking skills. This learning can occur with physical manipulatives as well as virtual experiences. Virtual experiences can allow more experiences to be done in the same time and might allow experiences that are too difficult, dangerous, or expensive to do in class. Consider Adaptive Curriculum’s “Conservation of Mass” Activity Object. Students measure the mass of reactants, burn them, and then measure the mass of the gas and residue remaining. They repeat it a couple times with one substance and then do it again with a different substance. Each time the mass of the reactants is equal to the mass of the products. Starting with their observations, students are led to the conclusion that mass is conserved in the chemical reactions. Not only is the content learned in a deep and memorable way, learners develop inquiry skills; they learn what is so often forgotten in science lectures and textbooks—how we know what we know.
DCLM2: Multiple Representations
Multiple representations can provide unique benefits when students are learning complex new ideas. Research on learning with representations has shown that when learners can interact with an appropriate representation their performance is enhanced (Bransford & Schwartz, 1999). The multiple representations could include graphs, tables, or written explanations that may help students to visualize the concepts being presented. Izsak (2003) and Pape and Tchoshanov (2001) emphasized the importance of using representations to build mathematical understanding. By giving the students these opportunities with using multiple representations, they become more competent as learners of mathematics.
Gardner (2006) suggested using “multiple entry points” to teach each concept. Multiple entry points also allow students to arrive at their understanding in more than one way. Having multiple representations allows students to think of the material like an expert, who can explain their ideas in many ways. Students can take those multiple representations and make connections to prior knowledge of other representations, which further expands their learning.
DCLM3: Deep Analogies
Analogies are effective techniques to help students connect new concepts to concepts already mastered. In a similar way to superficial and deep learning, there are superficial and deep analogies. An example of a superficial analogy is a teacher mentioning in a lecture that electrons orbit around a nucleus like planets orbiting a star. The analogy is mentioned but not explored. In science class as in life, these superficial analogies produce little or no thought (Venville & Treagust, 2002), just like clichés such as busy as a bee, the acid test, blow a fuse, or drink like a fish. Further an unexplored analogy can lead to misconceptions in learners (Duit, 1991; Gilbert, 1989).
Deep analogies, on the other hand, involve student exploration; they consider how the target concept is similar to the analogy and they also explore where the analogy breaks down. All analogies are imperfect, they do not perfectly reflect another entity and it is important to also explore where the analogy breaks down. Deep analogies help learners think deeply about concepts and join concepts to existing knowledge. Since scientists use analogies for scientific reasoning, discovery, and communicating (Hesse, 1966; Hoffman, 1980), exploring analogies also helps learners develop these abilities.
DCLM4: Challenge Based Learning
Challenge based learning builds on the successes of problem based learning, where students engage in self-directed work scenarios (or “problems”) based in real life. Mathematics teachers must teach students not only to solve problems, but also to learn about mathematics through problem solving (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2005). While “many students may develop procedural fluency…they often lack the deep conceptual understanding necessary to solve new problems or make connections between mathematical ideas” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2006). Research emphasizes the value of problem based learning for extending student thinking and creativity.
In challenge based learning, as in problem based learning, the teacher’s primary role shifts from dispensing information to guiding the construction of knowledge by students around a problem of global importance. Students refine the problem, develop research questions, investigate the topic using a wide variety of primary source material, and work out a variety of possible solutions before identifying the most reasonable one. Documentation of the process and a high-quality production of findings further serve to give the process relevance to the world of actual work (Johnson, et al., 2009). It is crucial for the challenge to actually relate to the real world and for it to have an impact on the students’ families, local communities, or school.
Deep conceptual learning is an important goal in education. It moves beyond rote memorization for a test and stresses learning due to interests and making connections between concepts and real world situations. It is consistent with the Common Core standards in mathematics and the framework for science. Discovery learning, multiple representations, analogies, and challenge based learning are methods for helping students move from memorization to become deep learners.
About the Authors
Peter Rillero, Ph.D. is an associate professor of science education at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University.
Helen Padgett, Ph.D. is the Technology Based Learning and Research, Director of Professional Development and Research at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University.
This was my son’s project for Tracing Matter and Energy at Boulder Creek High School in Anthem. He decide to make a video, as he is fond of doing. Less scientific videos he made can be found at youknowmeHy. He just uses a small Sony camera that is primarily for taking still photos and Adobe Premier. This Christmas he is hoping for an upgrade.
In a couple of days, a large meteor will pass between the Earth and the Moon’s orbit. The Asteroid named 2005 YU55 is 400 meters long and at its closest point will pass 325,000 kilometers from the Earth traveling 13 km/s (30,000 mph).
The Impact Earth website allows you to calculate the impact of various asteroids if they were to hit the Earth. In this case if the YU55 did hit Earth we could expect the equivalent of 8.49 x 1018 Joules = 2.03 x 103 Megatons TNT or a 6.8 size earthquake. If it hit the deep ocean, 45-meter Tsunami waves between 2.3 meters (7.6 feet) and 45.7 meters (150 feet) would be expected. But you will be happy to know that the average interval between impacts of this size somewhere on Earth during the last 4 billion years is 1.1 x 105years (and if you need a brush up on your scientific notation, just move the decimal point five space to the right so it is 110,000 years). And just to be precise about the vocabulary, when it is traveling in our solar system it is an asteroid, but when it crashes through our atmosphere and breaks up into pieces that hit the Earth, they become meteorites.
Impact Earth data for 400 m Asteroid
It is interesting to use Impact Earth to see the effects of various size asteroids on the Earth. Indeed, student exploration will allow them to realize some of the parameters that will affect the collision including speed, density of asteroid, and angle of impact. The Impact Earth calculator is a good start but it leaves me a bit flat. No matter what size Asteroid, the impact animation is always the same. The depicted size of the asteroid should resemble the number that was entered. But the data are useful, and students could ask and answer many questions about asteroid impact, producing deeper asteroid understanding and inquiry skills.
Famous Asteroids from Adaptive Curriculum Animation
When I was a doctoral student in Science Education in the 1990s at The Ohio State University, Vic Mayer (1933-2011) was on my committee. He was a fabulous science educator and a role model for all who were in the program. As a proponent of hands-on science, it perplexed me when he said one day, “All classroom hands-on science is a simulation of real science.” I could partially see his point: clearly many hands-on activities were simulations, especially when contrasted with having students examine real data sets that seem common in the Earth Systems sciences, which Dr. Mayer loved. Yet I wondered, why isn’t looking at cells through a microscope real science?
When it comes to air tracks and air tables for doing physics investigations, these clearly are simulations. They are also very expensive simulations with the cost of one group’s materials approaching $1000 when you factor in the track or table, air source, photogates, and other materials. So a class set of the materials can easily approach $7000. It would be great to have lab technicians keep the apparatus fine-tuned but alas that responsibility typically falls upon the physics teacher. The point of any simulation is to help students understand real concepts, such as momentum.
I was delighted to experience Adaptive Curriculum’s Activity Object “Conservation of Momentum in One Direction.” The Activity Object begins with an animation of two basketball players throwing a ball back and forth, and then being put on ice skates. Now, the players move backwards as they throw the ball forward (Newton’s Third Law). Students are now engaged by the question, why did the player on the left move more than the player on the right?
Instead of just sliding objects on an air table, the Activity Object shows clearly what each block represents in our basketball situation, as shown in the scene below. This helps students establish the real-world connection.
Then the rich scaffolding begins. First students join different orange blocks, the spring, and the red block, and set them in motion by releasing the compressed spring. Students have to examine the data for which physical property (mass or volume) is important in determining the block’s speed. The analysis of data indicates that the mass is important.
After the exploration, an explanation describes momentum, and explains the equation and units for momentum. In the elaboration phase, students now tackle the driving question of the basketball players. The students now join the orange and red blocks with a spring but also place the blue block on the table. When the blocks are launched, the orange block moves to the left, the red block to the right where it collides and joins with the blue block. Just as in the starting investigation, students see the actual motion of the blocks, so the data they explore is more meaningful. Then the momentum of each block (orange, red, and red joined with blue) is calculated, and all of these momenta are the same. This helps students to progress in their understanding of conservation of momentum.
This understanding is further developed with an animation describing conservation of momentum. Then students are introduced to other applications of Newton’s Third Law and momentum, including rocket launches, automobile-truck collisions, and Newton’s cradle. After the Activity Object, a ten-question multiple-choice evaluation helps teachers know which concepts students have mastered and where they may need additional work. There is a well-designed Enrichment Sheet for homework where students read a few paragraphs and then answer questions about momentum and solve problems. As wise of a man as Vic Mayer was, I’m still not sure that all hands-on activities are simulations but I do know that some simulations are better, more economical, and easier than other simulations. “Conservation of Momentum in One Direction” shows the power of a virtual simulation in scaffolding and developing deep understanding of concepts, using the 5E learning model, and helping students realize how classroom science concepts apply to their lives.
Today is Labor Day (thus the casualness of it all) and my son and his friend were shooting some video segments of, well, shooting as well as backwards slow motion (see http://www.youtube.com/user/YouKnowMeHy). I asked them to film a demonstration I did this week at an inservice professional development workshop I did for middle grade teachers.
My son filmed with his little Sony Cyber-shot camera (a still picture camera that also does video) and then edited it with Apple’s iMovie.
Margaret A. Honey and Margaret Hilton co-author this detailed description on using simulations and games to foster science learning. Among their conclusions are that the amount of research in this area needs to increase, but that “there is promising evidence that simulations enhance conceptual understanding, but effectiveness in conveying science concepts requires good design, testing, and proper scaffolding of the learning experience itself.” There is more evidence that simulations (as compared to games) promote science learning, the authors write, “The emerging body of evidence about the effectiveness of games in supporting science learning is much smaller and weaker than the body of evidence about the effectiveness of simulations. Research on a few examples suggests that games can motivate interest in science and enhance conceptual understanding, but overall it is inconclusive.” Regarding assessments, the authors conclude: “Games and simulations hold enormous promise as a means for measuring important aspects of science learning that have otherwise proven challenging to assess in both large-scale and classroom testing contexts.”
(A guest post by Seth. R. Hawkins, Besteiro Middle School)
Teacher: “Class, today we’re going to learn another important feature of the Moon called an eclipse.”
Female Student: “I love Eclipse! Edward is so hot!”
Male Student: “Oh sir, I hate that show. I wish I had a stake for that…”
Teacher: “No, no, wait! Not the movie ‘Eclipse.’ I’m talking about the scientific phenomenon in which either the Sun or the Moon seem to temporarily disappear.”
(Cue disappointed groan from entire female class population…)
Going into this lesson, I knew I couldn’t compete with a vampire that shimmers and a werewolf with abs that make washboards jealous, so getting my students to focus on the interactions of the Sun, Earth and Moon during solar and lunar eclipses was going to be a challenge. It’s not that eclipses are boring – quite the opposite – but they are definitely a concept that seems very abstract unless they are seen in person. Since I don’t have time to wait for June and July to view a lunar and solar eclipse respectively, I knew I had to find some way to model this for my students. Of course, the day I wanted to do this demo I couldn’t find my globe and my flashlight was dead. No worries, a teacher anticipates these little problems. I turned to my reliable friend Adaptive Curriculum and was thrilled to find a module on lunar and solar eclipses.
While I have a computer lab in my classroom, I opted to do this activity as a class, hoping to generate some discussion and clear up any misconceptions before they became firmly rooted.
My class is very familiar with Adaptive Curriculum. We do a module about once a week. When I told them we were going to use Adaptive Curriculum, they gave the obligatory “I’m a middle-school student and I’m going to complain about this even though I really don’t mind doing it” groan – you know the one I’m talking about – but any apprehension quickly melted away when they saw what the eclipse module had to offer. My students were instantly transfixed by the animated explanation of various cultures’ beliefs in the meaning of eclipses and were even more interested in the lab-like setting presented in the module.
Learners manipulate models of the Earth-Moon-Sun system to observe eclipses.
Using the SmartBoard, we first modeled the solar eclipse. By manipulating the variable of the distance of the moon between the Earth and Sun, my students clearly saw the result on Earth. By changing camera views, they saw how the eclipse appeared on Earth. The ensuing questions provided by the module were perfectly aligned with what I would have asked myself. We repeated the process for the lunar eclipse with similar success.
Not entirely sure how well my students grasped the concept, I headed into the quiz. After the quick, five-question quiz, I was amazed at how well my students had mastered solar and lunar eclipses. I remember how monumental a challenge teaching this concept had been last year and I never felt my students understood eclipses at a level I expected of them. No problem this year. While I attribute much of that to an especially bright group of students, I know the way Adaptive Curriculum presented eclipses was in a way that was easy to understand and remember. As I asked follow-up questions, my students answered them by referring to the demo in the module.
As a teacher, Adaptive Curriculum is an invaluable asset. Not only does it keep my students engaged and on task, it also hits the objectives I want covered. I especially appreciate how Adaptive Curriculum makes a focus to incorporate process skills that students constantly need to practice.
Another benefit of Adaptive Curriculum is in its modeling of labs. Labs can be expensive, time-consuming to prepare and clean up, and aggravating when students don’t follow procedures. While there is nothing that can replace the experience of an actual lab, Adaptive Curriculum provides many safe and secure lab experiences in which students can manipulate variables and quickly and accurately measure results. Now what’s more scientific than that? Even a vampire would agree.
About the Author:
Mr. Hawkins and his students dissecting a frog.
Seth Hawkins is a 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Besteiro Middle School of Brownsville Independent School District in deep subtropical South Texas. A member of Teach for America, Mr. Hawkins came to Texas to help students realize and achieve their full potential. A self-proclaimed tech guru, Mr. Hawkins enjoys everything technology and also teaches Technology Applications and Web Design courses. When he manages to squeeze away from the classroom, Mr. Hawkins enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife and brilliant daughter. Questions or comments can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
I had the great opportunity to hear Jim Gee and Lee Hartwell speak about very different topics this week, at different events, but one theme they both hit on was the idea of “Find Your Passion.” For Lee it involved asking questions in science inquiry that inspire you. This Nobel Prize winning scientist told his sustainability class to find something they are passionately interested in. For Jim, it was about electronic learning through passionate interactions. He told our entire college the story of Tabby Lou and the Purple Potty.
Perhaps the greatest roll in technology for science education is helping students find their passions in science. As both men point out, fantastic things happen when passions ignite.
From social interactions to simulations to blogs, there are so many elements that can contribute to this and help students to have multiple experiences with multiple voices.
Of course, passion can also come from looking forward to a career in science and getting paid for the work they will do. Speaking of which, there are now blog sites that can link you with an advertiser to get paid for your passion, such as Link From Blog. It is great to connect passion with future earnings, but Jim Gee really makes the point, that it is not always necessary.