Aug
21

Teaching Science through Problem Solving and Team Work

Filed Under (cruise blog) by Ting on 21-08-2009 and tagged

The curious, the playful, and the lost!

Today the sea is strangely calm, not a ripple to disturb the water surface, and to the first paragraph as follows, the sky is overcast, the coast line is visible from our location of about 8 miles from shore; you can understand why, some many years ago, this ocean was named the Pacific.

As the cruise nears the end, I started thinking about how I will transfer, to my students, what I learned here on the R/V Wecoma. While surrounded by science researchers, science students, graduate students, and lab technicians, I wonder what the most important skills a young person should have before entering into college.

Chief scientist, Clare Reimers, says that young people need to have a variety of skills to be successful in college. Not only do students need to be proficient in reading, writing, and math, they need to have computer skills using various, up to date, computer programs, they need to have skills in problem solving and working as a team.

As I watch the teams work together I see them using many of the skills that Clare mentioned.

In my classroom I challenge students to work together, think through, and complete fun projects. I believe in letting the students make errors and learn by their mistakes. I know that by teaching young people to ask the right questions and solve problems on their own, they will become lifelong learners.

Several ways to emulate the science that happening here on this cruise.

1. Geology (middle level)
Core samples can be taken, using a straw corer or a metal can corer, from most any outdoor environment. Water environments lend themselves quite well to this experiment because the core will stick together better. Students taking core samples can measurement volume, weight, and length of the core. They can mix larger samples with water, shake it, let it settle, and determine, by measuring the layers, the percent sand, silt, and clay. Data from the core sample can be accumulated for different geographic areas and geologic maps can be drawn.

2. Engineering (middle/high level)
An excellent project for small groups is where the goal of the project is to design an underwater collection devise that will take a sample of water at a certain level below the surface. This can be done on the scale of an aquarium, a pool, a pond, a lake, or the bay. Students should be encouraged to do some research into how similar devises are designed. Students should be allowed only to use household materials and recyclables for their design. Students should draw a diagram of their intended design and plan on presenting the final product to the class for a peer review.

3. Chemistry (High School level)
A simple chemistry lab that I’ve done in class, using a balance scale and several other common items, is making a sample of water that has the same salt concentration as seawater. It’s easy to find the percent salt in seawater by searching on the Internet. Once the students have found this information they can use the balance scale to weigh out the salt needed per volume of water. There are several ways to students can get this wrong (for example, not taking into account the weight of the container) however, a group discussion beforehand can help to alleviate most of the common errors.

Rachel processing data

Graduate student, Rachel Holser, is processing the data.

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