Sunday, October 21, 2012

Keeping It Real

Having Fun at the Poster Session
Educators strive for that "real life" experience that pushes students to take their work beyond the classroom.   Communication is one of the  Twenty First Century skills that we are striving to incorporate into the curriculum.  This year we started the chemistry classes with a project to get the kids to design an original experiment and then communicate their results to the school community.

Working out the details of their procedure.
The topic was paper towel absorbency.  This is not a new project, but I added a few new pieces to the project this year:  I asked the students to get reproducible data and we added a poster session as the culminating event.  

They're measuring their sample size.
The first task was for each lab group to develop their own technique to measure how much water a paper towel can absorb.  The challenge was to fine tune their procedure until they could obtain reproducible data on the same type of paper towel.  This proved to be more difficult than it sounds.   My students learned how important each small detail can be to the outcome of an experiment.  By the end of the day, groups were using stopwatches to measure drip time, rulers to ensure samples sizes were the same, and graduated cylinders to measure volumes. 

The students had access to anything in the lab.
Once the techniques were consistent, they had to develop an experimental question to answer using their absorbency procedure.  Here are some of the questions they tried to answer through experimentation:

Does the higher priced brand absorb more water?  
Does the temperature of the water affect how much is absorbed? 
Does a folded paper towel absorb more than a crumpled paper towel?

Each group collected multiple trials to get enough data answer their question.  The results varied from group to group because of the range of questions they asked.  

Students are explaining their project to my colleague.
The final phase of the project was to communicate their results.  Each lab group created a poster with their results and conclusions which they presented to the community in a poster session.  When I explained the poster session concept to the kids, they responded by putting the extra touches into their work that would make their posters more interesting.  I recruited teachers to engage the students in dialogue about their work and then give me their feedback.

The students had to explain their choices in the project.

I wish you could have been there to experience the great energy in the room as the students defended their work.  They surprised themselves by giving in-depth answers to the "whys and hows" that the teachers asked.  The next day, many of the students told me that the poster session was a lot of fun.  The students in my honors section asked me when they get to do one!  

Peer review is a very powerful motivator for students.

Everyone had fun at the poster session.

This group got prime real estate in the center of the room.

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