At the beginning of the school year, I find that I am especially cognitive about my own teaching and learning philosophy and what it means for a student to engage in my science class. I’m certainly aware of and attend to the content standards and preparing students for college. However, another huge consideration is how my science classroom can be a place where students become empowered citizens and gain agency. In my classes, these two goals are primarily rooted in students doing science as they learn the concepts. I find that when students engage in the process of science by inducing scientific principles from evidence and models, they begin to recognize their own ability to problem solve and establish conclusions.
I believe this learning environment is heavily rooted in scientific practices, especially including: building models, establishing conclusions on the basis of models and evidence, and engaging in argumentation and consensus-building with peers. Through a series of three blog posts, I’d like to share my thoughts about these scientific practices and how we might communicate about these practices to middle and high school students. I’d love to hear your thoughts along the way! Oh, and before we get started, let me emphasize that the best way to communicate these practices with students is by doingthem... but before we can build a classroom environment where students engage in the practices, we need to first establish our own ideas about what the practices entail.
Let’s start with model building…/p>
You may have heard the saying, “A picture is worth a 1,000 words!” Because science is full of things that are difficult to explain, scientists create and apply special types of pictures, or representations, called models to help them understand and explain new phenomena.
A good model can do two important things: (1) it can be used to explain observations from experiments already done; and (2) it can guide the making of predictions about experiments that have not yet been tried. After scientists make their predictions based on a model, they (or other scientists) perform the experiments. If the predictions are consistent with their new observations, scientists keep their model because it describes their new observations. However, if the results of the new experiments differ from the model-based predictions, scientists use the new evidence to modify their model so it can account for the new observations (as well as the previous observations). Their revised model can then be used to make new predictions. Scientists develop confidence in their new model only after it can be used repeatedly to make predictions that are confirmed in new experiments. The process of science is a process of developing, testing and modifying models that can explain observations of the natural world.
Whenever possible, we should not only emphasize learning about a particular model in chemistry, but also emphasize the process of how the model was (or is) used to explain particular observations and how the model could be used to make predictions. Within these realms, we can also have students think about the limitations of the model.
What does this look like in your classroom? How do you have students develop, test, and revise models in your chemistry classes?