Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Physics Learning Cycles

Last week the kids and I watched a great PBS NOVA episode called Einstein's Big Idea, about the discoveries which led up to E=mc2. I'll be giving my review in another post, but I wanted to mention the wonderful companion website with activities you can do at home. We'll be doing the energy activities later this week.

However, as sometimes happens, one of the activities looks too subtle to be worth the set-up involved. And in looking for another activity I could substitute to demonstrate the same concept, I found an archive of physics activities at the Arbor Scientific catalog website. I really like what the author, Chris Chiaverina, has to say about introducing science concepts using something called "Learning Cycles." It seems to describe exactly what the NOVA website activities are designed to do:

Introducing Newton's Laws with Learning Cycles
As many of you know, the Learning Cycle is an approach to science instruction developed by Atkin and Karplus in 1962 while working on the SCIS (Science Curriculum Improvement Study) project. This approach puts the phenomena first. Names and numbers are brought into the picture only after students are allowed direct contact with the phenomena. Although there are a number of variations on the theme, the essential learning cycle consists of three phases. These phases include exploration, concept development and application. The "Learning Cycle" method may be used to teach virtually any topic in physics.

Here is how Chiaverina sets up a Learning Cycle activity:

  • An exploratory is a collection of introductory science activities that relate to a single topic or concept. Exploratories provide students with a common experiential base while igniting their interest.
  • The activities are arranged as numbered stations around the room. Manipulatives at each station provide opportunities for exploration and discovery.
  • The exploratory uses a guided inquiry approach. The guidance is provided through instructions and questions that accompany each station. The teacher remains in the background and assists only when asked.
  • The activities may be done in any order.
  • A non-judgmental approach is used. At this point, the teacher should be focusing on the quality of a student’s reasoning, not whether an answer is right or wrong. The teacher is given an opportunity to listen to students dialog with peers and formulate explanations. Student pre-conceptions are revealed during this phase of the learning cycle.
  • Exploratories encourage student engagement. Intriguing manipulatives tend to get even the most disinterested students involved. Since discrepant events leave the students with a need to know, the class discussion that follows an exploratory is teacher led, but student-driven.
  • Exploratories provide qualitative experiences. Quantitative laboratory work is done later.
  • Placing instructions at each station eliminates duplicating costs. Laminating the instructions allows them to be reused.
The Arbor Scientific physics articles archive is in the sidebar. If it is as good as it looks, we'll be doing some of these activities as well.
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