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This group's info/question has resonated with me in a struggle I've been experiencing all year - how to incorporate as much tech as possible without sacrificing the hands on. I think maybe I have set up a false dichotomy by asking that question. Are there certain topics that have to be done via hands on or can it all be done via a well done simulation? Just for the record, I teach 6th grade science.

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Science should as hands on as possible, that's what makes it fun! I think we should be using the tech stuff to make the theory more interesting, for the "How science works", for the areas where you cant do the practical for real.
I think science labs should be about the process of doing science, and not about following a "cook book" lab manual. It should be hands on whether it is digital or analog, and collaborative tech tools can be useful in almost any situation. A fun lab I did that was tech-heavy but still hands on was about the nervous system. We talked about how neurons transmit signals and then tested reaction times using the BBC Sheep Dash: Of course, all the students loved playing the game, and we used a Google Doc spreadsheet to enter the averages for each student (if you shoot too soon you get penalized 3 seconds, so we only used the averages when a person completed the round of 5 shots successfully). We then plotted data together and talked about things that might influence reaction time (age, gender, sleep, caffeine, athletic ability, etc). I had the students work in groups to decide on a hypothesis and then they collected data to test their hypothesis outside of class (by having subjects play the game), followed by a report wherein they did rudimentary analysis of their data.
I completely agree with you about DOING science and not following a cookbook recipe. And I really like your nervous system sheep dash! What age level do you teach?
I teach college students--I did the sheep dash with a non-majors biology course. I'm not sure I would be allowed to "get away with it" with a majors course, since so much of the curriculum is set. I mentioned the sheep dash since I think it could be adapted to just about any age.
At the 6th grade level I think as much as possible should be done with real materials. I think this about my freshman students, too. A huge part of my goal is to keep them as excited about science as possible. I know I have the frameworks that they will be tested on, but the frameworks are fairly straightforward so I never hesitate to take the time to do a lab that might take a couple days. As far as incorporating tech, well the reporting can be done using so many different technologies that you should be able to accomplish both your objectives.

There are some virtual labs that may be very useful, particularly with regards to saving lab material money or doing labs that involve materials that the students don't have access to. I do have a problem with the fact that virtual labs are so cookbook-structured and the results never vary. Structures on organisms are always picture perfect, the chemicals are perfectly balanced, and variables are controlled. Virtual labs have very little basis in reality compared to when a young student does the lab.
This is one of the problems that I'm struggling with this year as well. I teach at a "technology" high school, and I am piloting a new method that we are learning through PD. It is called "The Student Centered, Technology Infused Classroom." I'm lucky because I have plenty of technology access for my students, and they are all pretty tech savvy. My only worry is that they're spending too much with the tech and it's taking away from the science content.

I currently run a learning portal on Google Sites. My students all have logins to access all of the class materials (PowerPoint notes, worksheets, videos, etc.). The instruction is largely self-paced with periodic direct instruction. With 16 laptops in my classroom, I can afford to be computer-based. In addition, I use online quizzing. The kids all laugh because they're technically open notebook, Internet, etc. But, in my opinion the joke is on them because they're forced to go through the material and use their resources. Besides, it's only a quiz grade. My school also subscribes to Explore Learning for virtual labs which are great for the experiments that we can't create in the lab. I also encourage my students to use Google Docs for collaborating on lab reports and projects. My next two tech toys will be integrating my new Smart Response units and Google Wave if possible. I'm always looking for new ideas.

I think that there's room for both. I try to incorporate technology with the hands-on. For example, right now my students are covering cellular transport. I do two demos to introduce diffusion, just basic perfume diffusing through the air and food coloring in water (nothing special). This gives kids the chance to see it first hand. They also do the typical egg w/ vinegar, water, and corn syrup...and absolutely love what they get to see! They get really into it by naming the eggs, disecting them, etc. Unfortunately, though, they can't actually see the movement. So, I have them go through virtual labs that show the basic motion of molecules during diffusion and osmosis. The whole unit is tied together with an overlying problem. It is introduced on the first day of the unit, so while they are learning the material they are actually learning how to solve the problem. Then at the end of the unit, when they have figured out the solution, they create a project to demonstrate their understanding.
I have another demo for diffusion that I start a week or so into the school year and run all year. It is the "levitating golfball". Get a huge graduated cylinder, pour in a good stack of salt, add a golf ball, fill with water, then seal the top with parafilm or plastic wrap. Golf balls are more dense than fresh water and less dense than salt water. Over the next week or so the golf ball will gently lift off the salt and throughout the year it will continue to rise. I recommend making grease pencil marks to plot its progress.
Very interesting! I've never heard of the levitating golfball.

Another thing that might be fun in a 6th grade class (or older) would be growing plants under different light/soil/fertilizer conditions and making stop animation films of the plants' progress. I'm not sure how much rigor the stop animation would add to the process, but you could do some good math exercises to figure out how many pictures you would need to take in order to get a 15-30-second film covering 1 month of growth. Plus you would get to play with some video editing software. I'll bet a fast-growing plant would be really interesting to watch in stop animation if you changed the direction of the light source every few days just to try to figure out how it responds to light.

Another possible stop animation--maybe you could put pill bugs on graph paper and photograph them from above every two or five seconds (it would be best to have a camera that could be set to do that exactly, but even just pushing the shutter rhythmically would work). Then students could look at the photos, trace the path of the pill bugs, and hopefully calculate maximum speed (in cm per second). If not bugs, then go outside, measure 100 m along the road, and time how long it takes cars to cover the distance to calculate their velocity.

I'm starting to feel like I should be working with younger students--there are so many fun science activities!
I love it! I may try to set this up next week and let the kids collect all year too.
Sandra - the levitating golf ball - I love it! I think we're going to start that next week and let it be a year long scientific method example.

Kevin, stop animation for the plant growth is another great idea. I'm always looking for ways to use my flip cam.

Thanks for the input.
As a 6th grade science teacher in NC, I have to sometimes be creative with labs for the SCOS. We are in the middle of a unit on rocks, minerals, and soils so the students are getting lots of hands on time with the rocks and minerals. However, when it comes to talking about the rock cycle, I've found some really cool animations that make it so much clearer (click here). I'm hoping to start incorporating some virtual lab environments for our ecosystem unit coming up just because the time factor allows quicker results, plus our required pacing guide places this unit in the middle of winter - not the season for some of the stuff we're trying to teach.
The big push that I'm getting ready for is video analysis in physics class. I hope to buy Casio Exilim High Speed cameras and along with my Vernier Logger Pro software, we should be able to analyze everything!



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