Tag: classroom science

The Flipped Lab

Not too long ago a concept called “The Flipped Classroom” entered into the education jargon. The idea was to have students complete the direct learning activities at home (lectures, reading) and complete the student-led activities in the classroom (projects, labs, exploration activities). So much of this concept appealed to me when I was first introduced. I am a big proponent of changing our education delivery. What with google and other resources right at our fingertips, information is readily available. Learning to discern, comprehend, and analyze information is really the new frontier of today’s classroom.

The problem for me, however, came in the form of logistics. I have, for most of my career, worked in settings where a student’s access to online resources could be limited at best, and this, it turns out, is a fundamental component of the flipped classroom. Everything from hardware to connectivity meant at least half my students would not be able to access the at home segments of their education. Still, I wanted to explore this idea of student-centered instruction more and do it in a way that ensured everyone had access. That’s when I discovered an idea I came to call “the flipped lab.”

The concept grew out of an ELD/ STEM initiative I worked on. The program aimed to design highly effective STEM lessons that met ELD standards and sought to promote language development through science. One of the guiding principles of the program was that students needed opportunities to experiment with phenomenon before being provided with direct instruction. And this didn’t just mean seeing a demonstration or putting their hands on the equipment for a few minutes. It meant really engaging with the science, on their own, then discussing their observations and thoughts with each other and generating their own questions. Only after they had really delved into a phenomenon would they then be presented with information. To me, this was like becoming Newton or Copernicus, Mendel or Pasteur. Instead of reading about what great minds before them had discovered, they discovered it for themselves then turned to the experts to seek answers to their questions.

My first revelation on how to make this happen came when I was teaching about the xylem and phloem in plants. Normally my lessons would go something like this: Lecture on the xylem and phloem, view artistic renderings of the xylem and phloem online or in the textbook, create our own diagrams about the xylem and phloem, then conduct a (common) lab where we stick carnations into colored water and watch as the white flowers turn a bright red at the edges and finally dissect the stems to observe actual xylem and phloem. In all honesty, by the time we got to the last part (the most exciting part!) most of them were so lost and confused, the phenomenon had little effect! That’s when I decided to flip the lab.

The next time I taught this lesson, I started with the carnations. No explanation, no reasoning, just a simple “Let’s observe and see what happens.” Within a day the color began to creep up the stalk and into the white petals. Small streaks of red made their way across and pooled at the edges. The students were fascinated! How had this happened? Could they cut the flowers open and look at the inside? Could they view it under the microscope? Why was it only moving up parts of the stalk while other parts seemed unaffected? They discussed ideas, thoughts and theories with each other, each bringing to the table their unique language, background, and experience. Soon we had a collection of theories and a ton of questions… and a reason now to move with engagement to the books, diagrams, and online resources.

In many ways, a “flipped lab” is the underbelly of the Next Generation Science Standards. As humans, we are natural observers and questioners of the world around us… natural scientists. The science classroom should be a place where we can celebrate this innate curiosity within us!

Looking for lessons to help flip your labs? Check out these great resources:

Student-led exploration of plant and animals cells

Exploration of Newton’s Laws through race cars

An introduction to cells and the basic needs of all living things

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Making Microscopes

Did you know that you can turn your smartphone or tablet into a Microscope? Here’s How…

Light allows us to see objects. It reflects off an object and projects an image onto the retina of our eyes, which our brain then interprets. But, if we bend the light, we can change how the object projects. We can make the object bigger or smaller, or even distort the image completely. By using a lens (a curved piece of transparent material, usually plastic or glass), we can manipulate the light to make an object appear closer or larger.
In this activity, we will combine the camera lens already found in a smartphone or tablet, with a second lens to make a microscope (a tool to see (scope) small (micro) things).

Materials:
*Inexpensive Laser Pointer *bobby pin
*super glue *tweezers or small screwdriver
*wire cutters (or other scissors strong
enough to cut through metal)
*masking tape
*tablet or smart phone

Directions:
Disassemble the laser pointer until you are left with the light
and circuit unit. The small, silver barrel attached to the unit
contains the lens.

Break off the silver tube, setting all other pieces aside.

Using the tweezers or small screw driver, carefully remove the ring that holds the lens in place. The lens should fall out after the ring is removed.
If you are unable to remove the ring, complete the optional step below.

(OPTIONAL – only needed if step 3 was unsuccessful) Using the wire cutters, carefully cut notches into the sides of the top, loosening the hold on the lens (use caution and adult supervision here… alternatively, students can attempt to work the lens loose with the bobby pin and tweezers. It’s important not to scratch the lens, however.)

Turn the top upside down on a firm surface and gently bang the top against the surface until the lens comes loose. You can also attempt to work the lens loose with the bobby pin or tweezers. Be sure not to scratch the lens, however.

Once you have the lens, set it off to the side while you prepare the bobby pin.

Open the bobby pin slightly so that the opening is a bit wider than usual. (You want the lens to fit snugly in-between the prongs, without snapping out). Carefully place a small drop of super glue on both sides of the largest notch in the bobby pin.

Using the tweezers, carefully place the lens into the large notch of the bobby pin, being careful not to get glue on the lens. Allow the glue to dry.

Once the glue is dry, place the lens directly over the camera lens on your tablet or smartphone. Attach masking tape to hold the bobby pin in place. Your makeshift-microscope is now ready to use!

Turn on your device and access the camera function.

You will need to adjust the magnification and blurriness of objects in two ways, first by using the zoom-in function of your device’s camera and second by adjusting how far away you hold the device from the object you are attempting to view. (This is similar to using the focus knob on a traditional microscope).

Use your makeshift-microscope to explore the microscopic world around you! When you are ready to look at specimens, use a specimen slide just as you would with a traditional microscope.

Watch the process here!

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