This week’s Science Magic class was an interesting one for me, because I initiated three different activities to take place simultaneously. This was one of my efforts towards bringing one of iSchool’s core philosophies to life: individualized approaches to bring out the best in individual students. By now, several weeks into the session and towards the end of the year, I have a good idea of the strengths, weaknesses, and interests of my students. So I attempted to create activities that would engage everyone, and which I could (successfully) manage.
Our main activity for the day was getting plants into the ground. As students in the Fall and Winter sessions discovered, the atrium would benefit from more plants. To make planting more of a learning experience I turned the project into a design experiment. First we discussed environmental challenges faced by cities and learned about vertical gardens. Then it was on to the design phase – students were asked to design planters, half to be put horizontally on the ground, and half to be attached to a trellis vertically. Students had access to cups, plastic bags, recycled boxes and plastics, pipe cleaners, and tape, which they used to create a planter that would hold soil and seeds, drain water, and hang from the trellis. The planter for the ground had to be the same. When the designs were finished we headed out to the atrium to fill them with soil, a mixture of wildflower and chia seeds, and seedlings. We attached half to the trellis and placed half on the ground, and also got the rest of the seedlings into the ground. Most students enjoyed both the design phase and being outdoors – creative freedom and a little bit of dirt!
I say most students enjoyed the activity because of course not all my students are alike, and some prefer other things. One of my students really enjoys rocks, so I set up a station for him – which other students also used – to examine a small rock collection. I set out a small scale and the students weighed rocks and noted differences between various rocks and combinations. They also used a graduated cylinder to explore water displacement.
I have another student who seems to enjoy solving unknowns and answering questions. I set that student up with two data analyses. The first analysis was to look at the data we collected during last week’s water/oxygen experiment. Judging the Dissolved Oxygen concentration in parts per million (ppm) for the two vials was difficult, and my student first tried out online tools and Photoshop to scientifically analyze the color of the vials (which we had in photographs, see last week’s Science Magic posting for a refresher). Those efforts didn’t work, so we ended up surveying the class. By consensus, the class thought the sample WITHOUT the bubbler was a light orange – 4 ppm, and the sample with the bubbler was a darker orange – and estimated it to be 6 ppm. My student then did the data analysis, using both printed tables and online tools, to calculate percent oxygen saturation in both samples. He found:
– Sample #1: No Bubbler – Pre-experiment: 45% oxygen saturation
– Sample #2: Bubbler – Pre-experiment: 46% oxygen saturation
– Sample #1: No Bubbler – Post-experiment: 34% oxygen saturation
– Sample #2: Bubbler – Post-experiment: 68% oxygen saturation
Students were excited to find such a clear difference! We discussed whether this method would be viabel for increasing oxygen in the atrium’s pond, noting that it is pretty easy to set up and run and so could indeed by tried. One student aptly noted that we might have to use many bubblers given the size of the pond compared to the size of our sample.
Even out in the atrium we had multiple activities. Most students set up planters, some looked for rocks part of the time, and my one student continued data analysis, bringing the laptop with him. He used Excel to analyze the Eco-Project Voting Results (stay tuned!).
Along the way my student learned a lot about data analysis – including the need to “clean up” data (such as standardizing teacher names) and he learned about various tricks and tools available with Excel.
All in all I thought it was manageable having individualized activities for individual students. Of course, I don’t teach a full 20+ class full time, but for small enrichment courses such as those that iSchool offers, I think this is the right approach. For some, it was about experiencing and enjoying STEAM fields and being creative in science. For others it was about learning specific skills, tools, and knowledge. But for all it was an effective way to unlock their genious potential!