Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lecture replacement fail & success

As part of our NGSSification this year I've tried to put more demonstrations into the hands of students. Before the beginning of each unit I will look at the lectures of previous years and the list of demos I plan to do. If at all possible, I will make miniature versions of the demos that students can do in lab groups. These miniature versions don't usually take long but engage the students. We can then follow up with a few brief notes that explain what they have seen.

At the beginning of our light unit I wanted students to explore the relationship between wavelength and frequency in the electromagnetic spectrum. I made a chart of eight electromagnetic waves, places they are seen or used, a wavelength and frequency (pdf or google doc). I printed the information onto address labels (pdf) and put them on blank cards from RAFT. I passed out a card to each student and asked them to find the three other students that have cards about the same electromagnetic wave. Students were to find their group and then share their information so that they got the "whole picture" for that particular type of electromagnetic wave. I asked students to look at an image of the electromagnetic spectrum on my projector and a different one in their textbook. I thought that between the two images and four students they would be able to match the name to the example to the wavelength to the frequency. I was wrong. Quickly it became apparent they didn't see the connections I did.

Students were looking for the exact frequency on their card to be listed on either the image in their textbook or on the projector screen. Instead images of the electromagnetic spectrum show a range of frequencies for different types of waves. It is very common for sources to have different frequency ranges for the same wave type. This lead to lots of confusion and meant I had to go from one group to another to make sure that each student was sorted correctly.

In the future, I'll only show them one image, the one below. I added red dots representing each frequency and wavelength combination that I had put on the cards. I'll tell students that if they use the wavelength equation they will find someone with a card with the exact frequency they calculated. It was also not obvious to students that they needed to use this equation. I'm hoping this illustrates to students that their specific wavelength is part of a range of wavelengths for that type of wave.
After students were properly sorted I asked them to write the information about their wave onto a whiteboard to share. The whiteboards were held up and shared with the whole class. I helped students organize the information in a more familiar electromagnetic spectrum. To make sure they got the correct information it became more "Write down what I'm saying," and less "Write down what was written down by your peers." By the end of it I feel like they understood the relationship between frequency and wavelength but it was not the clearest way for them to get the information. I don't know if I will continue this activity the same way again.

The second day I wrote an activity I called Light Phenomenon Lab (google doc or pdf with more teacher information) made of eight different demos I used to show as part of a lecture. Each group was given brief instructions about how to create the phenomenon to observe and given some time to play. There were great exclaims of "Oh cool!" and disbelief as students explored and shared their phenomenon from group to group. Some groups were asked to read a page or two out of their textbook that explained the higher level concepts.

Each group was instructed to make a whiteboard with the title of their phenomenon, what they observed, how it worked, etc. Each group had been asked a question that required them to apply what they had seen to a new situation. This question was to be answered on their whiteboard as well. Below are examples from my three classes:

Each student copied down the phenomenon name and the answer to the question posed after each group shared their board. This was much more successful than the previous day. Students took ownership of being the "experts" on their phenomenon and enjoyed wow-ing the rest of the class by showing it off. It lead to more questions, "playing" with the equipment to find out what they could discover. I was able to create a make-up lab (pdf or google doc) for students using YouTube videos of similar phenomenon.

On both days, students were hands-on with something or moving around. We still discussed a few things and I asked them to record some things in their notebook. One I would consider a #fail (or in need of some tweaking) but the phenomenon day I would definitely consider a success. Students still got the important elements of the "lecture" but it was much more engaging.

Soon I'll post more about NGSS Phenomenons ... after Finals Week.

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