Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Re: Before Reading or Watching Videos, Students Should Experiment First by David Plotnikoff

Thoughts about this article: 

General conclusion:  it is more effective for students to experiment BEFORE learning about something through text or video than doing the same lessons in the opposite sequence (text or video first, then experimentation).

My thoughts:
I think this is true for a lot of science. When I was a kid (100+ years ago), kids had lots of active experience with science - collecting rocks, growing vegetables, building dams in the creek, using a teeter-totter. When they came to school, the science lesson used practical experience to build the theory on. Nowadays, kids have lots of virtual and digital experience, but much less hands-on experience - many have never hammered nails or fixed a bicycle or made cakes from scratch. So the theoretical lessons often aren't rooted in personal knowledge. 

In school, many teachers have found that manipulatives are difficult to manage with large classes, so those lessons have disappeared - at least it appears so to me. I am a sub and I often find unopened manipulatives and shrink-wrapped science kits in teachers' classrooms at the end of the school year. 

Many years ago, I was tasked to teach gifted classes, with no specific curriculum and few materials.  I did have a hot plate and some beakers, though, so I decided to teach a Kitchen Physics-like set of lessons - with sugar cubes, food dye, water, and the beakers and hot plate (and a thermometer).  The kids were skeptical at first.  They wanted me to tell them what to do.  So, I started with a simple experiment on how long it would take the sugar cube to dissolve in the water.  And I asked them what else they needed to know.  I helped them frame a group experiment in a scientific way.  Hypothesis, test, explain, discuss what is still unclear.  The first few times through the cycle, they didn't even know how to ask questions, but soon they caught on and were completely surprised at how interesting the simple system could be. 

Kids enjoy the hands-on lessons, but I fully agree with teachers that they are harder to manage with ever increasing class sizes and substantially less time that can be devoted to science. 

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