Using Technology to Teach Variables

This week in CEP 800 we were to select a technology to aid in the instruction of a topic in which students typically struggle. I chose to use TouchCast to aid in the teaching of variables in my sixth grade science class. Below are seven aspects of the lesson in which technology has been integrated.

 

Lesson Plan:

Content:
SC.6.N.1.1: Define a problem from the 6th grade curriculum, use appropriate reference materials to support scientific understanding, plan & carry out scientific investigation of various types, such as systematic observations or experiments, identify variables, collect & organize data, interpret data in charts, tables & graphics, analyze information, make predictions, and defend conclusions.

This standard falls under the big idea of the practice of science–within this big idea, students need to understand that science inquiry is multifaceted and includes investigations of questions, through the use of observations and inferences and collecting data on such investigations. Students traditionally learn this through the scientific method, but within the big idea of the practice of science, students should understand that there’s not only “one” method to science inquiry.  This particular standard contains a lot of information on scientific investigations. It works best, for sixth graders, to break down this benchmark into smaller chunks and work through each aspect of science investigations. This particular lesson will focus on identifying variables.

Essential Question: What makes a scientific investigation valid?

Pedagogy:

This science class will be flipped, meaning the main pedagogical strategies I will use is flipped learning. This requires the direct instruction to happen outside of the classroom. Then, while in class, students will use what they learned from instructional videos and go deeper with their learning through interactive activities (TouchCast video) and hands on experiences. Constructivist learning theory is used throughout this lesson as students have an understanding of what is “fair” and what is “unfair”. This will be used to introduce the topic of variables in science. As the lesson continues, students will interact with scenarios that will either fit with their existing schemas of science investigations, or may not. If students struggle with assimilation of the new information, then over time as more and more examples are given students will adjust their thinking accordingly and therefore have a deep understanding of how variables are identified in science investigations.  Learners have a variety of characteristics, which is why the information is presented in a way that meets the needs of all learners. Students will watch videos that will include audio and visuals, as well as an interaction piece. In class, students will interact with manipulatives as they gain deeper understanding of variables.

Content & Pedagogy:

Students generally struggle with identifying variables in science investigations, which is why an entire lesson is devoted to this one aspect of the standard. Often students will simply memorize the definition of each variable, and may very well be able to regurgitate the definition. However, when students are designing their own experiments, very often students will try to test WAY more than one variable, and they have a hard time understanding the difference between the independent and dependent variables. By teaching the students what a variable is first (through a rubber band shoot activity), then introducing the definitions of each variable (through an instructional video watched outside of class), and then spending time interacting with variables in specific examples (through the TouchCast video), and finally designing their own experiment where they identify the variables, students will have a deep understanding of which variables are which and the reasoning behind the importance of testing only one variable at a time.

These strategies are used because of several reasons: first, by having a short activity before the content allows students to become interested and engages their prior knowledge of variables (or the concepts of variables, even if they are not yet familiar with the term yet). Second, flipped learning as well as the TouchCast video allows students to work at their own pace–since many students struggle with this content, it is important to allow time for students to fully grasp the ideas being presented. Lastly, students will be able to use what they have learned and design their own experiment where they identify the variables tested.

Technology:

The technology used in this lesson will be a flipped learning video and a TouchCast video. The use of these particular technologies is not absolutely necessary to achieve the learning goal. However, these content-general technologies allow students to interact with the material at their own pace to allow time for understanding. Also, the TouchCast video in particular will allow students to interact with science experiments they would not normally have a chance to explore (due to lack of resources in the classroom).

Technology & Pedagogy:

Because the pedagogical strategies I am using, technology is a key aspect of achieve the goals with these strategies. Flipped learning requires students to learn a basic level of information outside of class, thus, videos are the best way I have found for student to learn this content. Similarly, while in class, the pedagogical strategy I will use is having student interact with the material which will be done using another technology, TouchCast. These technologies will be used to help introduce the topic, and for students to go deeper with their knowledge of the topic.

Technology & Content:

The use of technology to teach the practice of science helps the students engage with the material, interact with the content, and also provides a way to formatively assess the students. The technology also allows students who are struggling in certain aspects of the practice of science to work at their own pace so they are truly given enough time to understand the multiple pieces within this big idea. Similarly, it also allows those students who are catching on quickly to move on and be challenged at an appropriate level.

Assessment:

By the end of this lesson, I want students to not only know the definitions of the different types of variables, but be able to identify them in any investigation I give them AND be able to identify them in their own inquiry with science. I will know students will understand this if they are able to design their own experiment and correctly identify the independent variable, the dependent variable, and constants. To reach this point, technology plays a role in allowing me to formatively assess students along the way (to see if they are correctly identifying variables in given scenarios) as well as summatively assessing student (students could make their own TouchCast videos to demonstrate their science investigations where variables are correctly identified).

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