It can be challenging to engage students in science activities, despite how exciting the lessons are. As an Education Technology Specialist at Vernier Software & Technology, I frequently receive phone calls and inquiries from elementary teachers looking for ways to engage their students with hands-on science experiments. Teachers are tasked with teaching an array of subjects, and as a result, many find themselves teaching science despite not having the experience to describe complicated and seemingly intimidating concepts in an effective and stimulating way. After years of attending and conducting workshops with teachers of all levels, and being a former science teacher myself, I know this to be an especially significant challenge for teachers.
Do you teach force and motion? Equipped with a load cell to measure force and both an accelerometer and gyroscope to measure motion, our Go Direct® Force and Acceleration Sensor is perfect for hands-on science activities. Drag a sneaker across the floor to study friction, or tie Go Direct® Force and Acceleration Sensor to a string and swing it around your head to investigate circular motion. Incorporate the sensor in your LEGO® machines and measure the mechanical advantage of levers and ramps.
Martin and his physics students at Hellgate High School in Missoula, Montana, used the VSMT to investigate the tensile strength of a variety of different pencils, as well as different kinds of popular fishing knots. Martin decided to use the local interest for fly fishing to introduce engineering applications for testing and design. After collecting data with the VSMT, students determined which knots for fishing were best to use in terms of strength.
“Vernier Structures & Materials Tester is truly a piece of engineering elegance. It looks amazing sitting in the classroom and no doubt will inspire innovation and creativity by its mere presence. And its good looks are just the beginning. The dynamics of operation also share the elegance. Using two sensors in tandem, the Vernier Structures & Materials Tester measures both force and displacement. The force sensor has a range from zero up to 1000 newtons with 1 N resolution. And the displacement sensor will measure at tenth-millimeter resolution a distance up to seven centimeters.”
“So now when I see interesting light bulbs and light sources, I try to imagine what the wavelength spectrum looks like. And given the rapid evolution of LED lights and light applications, I cannot easily think of a limit to the educational applications of the Vernier Go Direct® SpectroVis® Plus Spectrophotometer.”
In another investigation, Martin used the Go Direct® SpectroVis® Plus Spectrophotometer to teach his students about the transmission and absorption spectrum of a fluid. After preparing the liquid using isopropyl alcohol and a kale leaf, the class used the spectrophotometer to view and investigate the sample’s absorbance spectrum. Martin then engaged students in a whole-class discussion about the findings, in which he said:
“While running this analysis projected onto a large screen with a classroom full of students, I posed the question of what would the spectrum curve look like for transmittance, or reflectance, as we like to think of it. A student slowly approached the whiteboard with the giant projected absorbance spectrum curve and tentatively plotted some data points opposite the existing graph. As the mental gymnastics went into overtime, it was clear that the undeniable inverse within science was inescapable. The reflectance could be nothing other than the opposite of the absorbance.”
With the Go Direct® SpectroVis® Plus Spectrophotometer, students can easily and wirelessly collect a full wavelength spectrum—absorbance, percent transmission, or intensity—in less than one second. The spectrophotometer can be used in a variety of spectroscopy experiments including determining the peak wavelength to collect data on solution concentration for studies of Beer’s law or to monitor rates of reaction; collecting a full wavelength spectrum to measure absorbance, percent transmittance, fluorescence, or emissions; conducting enzyme kinetics experiments; and more.
Brain Awareness Week is March 11–17. This is an excellent opportunity for you to discuss the importance of neuroscience in your class using engaging activities. As a former instructor, I often found that teaching neuroscience could be challenging. Neuroscience is a broad field, and students need to understand molecular and cellular concepts, as well as brain anatomy and physiology. After years of teaching, I found several ways that seemed to make neuroscience easier for my students to understand. I’d like to share them with you.
Lacey Hoosier of Buckeye High School in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, was the 2018 recipient of the National Association of Biology Teachers’ NABT Ecology/Environmental Science Teaching Award, which is sponsored by Vernier.
Lacey’s students are active learners who participate in solving engineering problems, educate the community about vital environmental concepts, and volunteer their time to rehabilitate animals while learning about each animal’s characteristics and habitat. In addition to teaching, Lacey sponsors and coaches six extracurricular clubs/teams, serves as a Wildlife Rescuer and Rehabilitationist, and advocates for Environmental Science Community Education. Her passion for animals translates to her classroom as many animals surround her students as they learn to become knowledgeable and responsible proponents for the environment.
“Teaching is one of the most rewarding professions in the world,” she explains. “We have the unique ability to shape a mind and unlock passions otherwise unknown or unexplored. Our job is to prepare students from all walks of life for a variety of future professions. It is a privilege to be able to influence the next generation by igniting a passion in them for learning about the world around them.”
STREAM Girls, a new outdoor STEM program for girls, is a partnership between Trout Unlimited and the Girl Scouts of America. Using water quality testing equipment donated by Vernier Software & Technology, this watershed experience combines STEM education, recreation, and arts to explore a local stream.
Every person is a citizen of her watershed, and by visiting a local stream and having the opportunity to observe it as scientists, anglers, and artists, girls get the complete picture of what their stream could mean to them. Beyond science, Scouts were introduced to fly fishing, camping, conservation, and outdoor ecology. Trout Unlimited and the Girl Scouts of America hope to continue to inspire new leaders that will steward and conserve our country’s precious natural resources.
It can be challenging to engage students in science activities, despite how exciting the lessons are. As an Education Technology Specialist at Vernier Software & Technology, I frequently receive phone calls and inquiries from elementary and middle school teachers looking for ways to engage their students with hands-on science experiments. Teachers are tasked with teaching an array of subjects, and as a result, many find themselves teaching science despite not having the experience to describe complicated and seemingly intimidating concepts in an effective and stimulating way. After years of attending and conducting workshops with teachers of all levels, and being a former science teacher myself, I know this to be an especially significant challenge for teachers.
First and foremost, when it comes to getting students excited about science, it’s important to make sure science is hands on. Sometimes teachers have all the materials but don’t have the knowledge to explain the science behind the experiments. Some teachers struggle to find the time to set up investigations that are both effective and engaging.
Regardless of the issue, I have four simple methods I’d love to share that will help you get your students truly excited about science while keeping you sane.
1. Ask questions to involve students and keep them interested.
The best way to get students thinking like real scientists is to treat them like real scientists. By asking your students questions about science phenomena, simple observable events that drive student inquiry, and the concepts behind them, you can awaken prior knowledge and get students more involved in making observations, predictions, and hypotheses. With their attention fully engaged, you can apply their prior knowledge to a different reaction/phenomenon that students are less familiar with—extending this knowledge into new areas. By encouraging students to use existing knowledge for new discoveries, you help build student interest and motivation to find answers.
2. Learn alongside your students.
Show your students the fun of science experimentation by demonstrating your own interest and curiosity. You don’t have to be an expert to learn alongside your students, so dive in! Become involved by asking your own questions, taking part in investigations, and engaging in interactive feedback. When students see that you’re engaged in an investigation, their curiosity is piqued and they want to be engaged as well.
3. Save time with easy experiment setup and quick results.
Money can be hard to come by in schools; big experiments with delicate tools and complicated setups are often expensive and cumbersome, making them impractical for the classroom. One way to ease this burden is to simplify your roster of investigations and the tools used to conduct them. Instead of dealing with expensive and difficult equipment, invest in products that are cost effective, durable, east to set up, and designed with students in mind. Find tools that work with technology you already have in your classroom.
4. Make it a cross-curricular event.
Demonstrate to students that science exists in all aspects of their lives by overlapping other school subjects into discussions and investigations. Have them write ‘professional’ hypotheses; for instance, to practice writing—find a curve fit for their data to apply math concepts—or try exploring the history behind different science concepts to incorporate social studies. Whichever subject you choose to cross, have fun with it and use your creativity! This cross-curricular approach is not only a powerful way to stress the connection between subjects, but it’s exciting for students to better understand science in a real-world capacity.
With these four methods you’ll see more engagement from your students regardless of your prior experience teaching science. By asking questions, learning alongside your students, investing in products that help you save time, and doing experiments that can incorporate other subject areas, you’re sure to get your students excited about science.
At Vernier, we strive to equip teachers to not only teach science but to teach it in the most engaging way possible. If you’re looking for more ideas on how to engage students in the classroom, join Nüs for a webinar where he’ll discuss this as well as other cognitive teaching strategies and the impact of the hands-on approach to science. Watch as he uses a temperature probe to measure temperature changes during an experiment involving a reaction between common household products.
Darwin Day is coming up on Wednesday, February 12th. It presents an excellent opportunity to introduce or discuss the concept of evolution by natural selection with your students. While I’m now part of the Vernier Biology Department, I previously worked for 15 years as a university biology professor and know first hand how creative teachers have to get when introducing new concepts to a classroom of students. There are plenty of ways to get students excited about evolution, and here are a few ideas.
Introducing Evolution with Candy
Hands-on activities easily engage students, and when I was teaching biology, one of my favorite ways to introduce evolution was with a candy hunt. You can find multiple versions of this exercise online using different types of candies, but I like mixing together a bag of plain M&M’s® (the original kind with six colors) and several bags of candy corn (the original yellow, orange, and white type) in a large shallow bowl or tub. I pass it around and ask students to select a number of M&M’s® but not to eat them. You can vary the number they choose to match your class size.
Once the candy circulates around the entire room, we count how many of each color of M&M’s® were selected and graph it on the board. The results are always striking. Very few of the yellow and orange M&M’s® are typically selected, while more contrasting colors, especially blue and green, are selected in higher proportions.
Right away, students can begin picturing the forces at work in the natural world. We then talk about the variation of our “population” of M&M’s® and how some “individuals” might have a selective advantage by blending in with the substrate (candy corn) whereas others were easier for their “predators” to spot. The exercise makes a fun prelude to a more in-depth lesson on evolution and natural selection.
Deepening Student Understanding of Evolution
I found that incorporating a variety of interactive and informative activities resonated with my students. After introducing the concept of evolution through the candy hunt, I used a mixture of short videos and hands-on experiments. If you enjoy sharing media with your class, you can also browse HHMI BioInteractive’s evolution collection, where you can find a wealth of free activities and short films.
One of my favorite films is The Making of a Theory: Darwin, Wallace and Natural Selection. This half hour piece presents a compelling history lesson, telling the stories of both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, which helps students visualize the physical and intellectual journeys that led these two men to the discovery of evolution and natural selection.
Whether your lesson plan includes activities like the candy hunt, videos, or other approaches, engaging students through evolution-themed laboratory activities are highly effective, and Vernier has multiple experiments to fit your class. Our inquiry-based laboratory experiments include exploring the evolution of yeast, comparing the respiratory systems of different aquatic organisms, and many more. You can access more information about these experiments here.