Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cell Phone Science

Observe→ Diagram→ Describe→ Question→ Research→ Explain→ Simulate.

As I work with schools that are adopting the Next Generation Science Standards, I’m often working actively to shift the perspective from the building of content knowledge through reading about it versus experiencing it. In order for Science learning to happen, science must be done, actively, so that through observation and discovery, students are able to explain their thinking and build conceptual knowledge. In the new science standards, there are engineering practices - skills - that students must demonstrate in their roles as students who think and work like scientists. When it comes time for students to demonstrate their understanding, these same verbs are part of the performance expectations. In many of those performance expectations, the words I started this blog post with are represented. I tried to come up with a catchy acronym for them but ODD Q. RES isn’t exactly ROY G. BIV.

While reading about science is still important, the real building of knowledge starts with what we notice, what we observe, rather than stoic reading about the same information with little or no interaction or context. In the new Science standards, there’s a lot of observation going on and from that observation, students are expected to diagram, describe, ask questions, define problems, analyze, model, research, explain, plan and carry out investigations, and argue a claim with evidence.

In reading through the new standards and the associated dimensions: Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas, it dawned on me that I had captured quite a bit of observable phenomena on my cell phone. I’m always taking pictures of interesting phenomena around me, both when I travel and in my own backyard. Many of these pictures are well suited to launching a scientific investigation using these new dimensions.

I made a folder on my phone to collect all of the science related images I had captured and I posted some examples on my website here:

I’m very interested in the notion of phenomenon-based teaching and using what’s around you as fodder for launching a research quest. With the proliferation of devices that students have access to, it just makes instructional sense to send them out into the world around them and create collections of their own local phenomena so that they can Observe→ Diagram→ Describe→ Question→ Research→ Explain→ Simulate.

Let’s look at the first picture on the Phenomena Website I shared, of the Luminescent Scorpion. That picture was taken at my colleague and friend Janet Hale’s house in Tucson, Arizona several years ago.

As a lifelong student, this observation launches my quest to discover why a Scorpion glows under a blacklight. There are many questions to ask, diagrams and descriptions to draw and write about what is happening, research to explain what’s going and perhaps creating a simulation or a game to test my claims.

On the phenomena website, I included a series of questions to launch the learning around the pictures I shared and/or the observations and images you or your students collect:

  • What questions could you ask about this image? (Good questions tend to lead to other questions that expand or refine the initial query.)
  • With whom could you share your questions or theories?
  • How could you use Social Media to evaluate and communicate information?
  • How could you explain what is happening in these pictures?
  • How could you model or simulate your descriptions and/or explanations?
  • How could you engage in an argument around a claim you could make about the phenomena in these pictures and the evidence that supports your claim?

Besides discovery level explorations for Science students, answering these questions leads to the added benefit of opportunities for developing content-area literacy: written descriptions of phenomena, written explanations, communication orally and in writing, reading supporting documentation, navigating and translating domain-specific language and vocabulary, etc.

If you’re interested in joining this conversation, specifically about modeling, descriptions, and explanations, please join me in a Curriculum Spark webinar on May 5th at 3:30 PM EST / 12:30 PM PST, courtesy of Rubicon Atlas.

Register for free here:

I’ll be talking more about capturing phenomena on your phone and using it in the classroom to launch discussions, quests, and research!

Mike Fisher
Ditch The Daily Lesson Plan, available now from ASCD
Upgrade Your Curriculum, available now from ASCD

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