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The Magazine Of Queen's University

2017 Issue 4: How we learn

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Teaching science

Teaching science

[illustration of Sana'a Abu Eid, a researcher in the Faculty of Education]
Christine Jamieson, RGD

Although a strong Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education offers a pathway to a brighter future, opening up a wide range of interesting and exciting career opportunities, more than 50% of Canadian students do not complete the grades 11 and 12 mathematics and science courses that allow them access to post-secondary STEM programs, apprenticeships, or entry-level employment positions.

For a project for her Master of Education degree, Sana'a Abu Eid set out to develop a technology-enhanced, inquiry-based chemistry unit for Grade 10 students. Her goal was to demonstrate how content, pedagogy, and technology can be integrated to encourage students to do further study in STEM subjects and ultimately pursue careers in STEM.

[illustration of a beaker]She drew heavily from constructivist theory, which posits that "an individual learner actively constructs knowledge and meaning from his/her own experience through an active learning process that integrates new knowledge into his/her own cognitive structures."

Her chemistry unit introduces acids and bases to grade 10 students. They conduct an inquiry into the properties of acids and bases; they conduct a titration experiment on different forms of aspirin; they design and perform an acid-base neutralization experiment to study effectiveness of antacids; and they compare a physical and a virtual titration graph and investigate the factors that affect their results.

Her project also provides examples for teachers to include different kinds of learners. In addition to the activities that make STEM relevant to the students, this type of approach helps all students feel they have a place in STEM.

"You can give instruction in different ways," says Ms. Abu Eid. "You can change the way you teach to meet the needs of all of your students. For example, I am a visual learner. I like to see visual evidence so I can understand a concept. If someone is just standing in front of a class and just lecturing at me, that's not going to help me understand the lesson. I lose interest. The idea is to use different instruction throughout the lesson.

"We also focus on self-assessment. After each activity, the students have a checklist, to check their understanding for each activity: they assess their understanding of the purpose of the activity, what they have done, what they are going to do, and what they need to review some more in order to proceed to the next activity, if there is information they are still missing."

Big ideas

In this unit, students are not just doing the activity for the sake of completing it. They have the opportunity to explore bigger ideas. "Before they even start the activity in this chemistry unit, students start with a question in mind," says Ms. Abu Eid. "First, they gather information online on the topic. Then they start to design their experiment."

In the final part of the unit, students who have developed and conducted a real-time experiment on measuring pH see a virtual simulation of that same experiment (developed for Ms. Abu Eid by a

group of students in the Faculty of Education). The high school students are asked to collect data from both and see if there are discrepancies.

"Here comes the big idea," says Ms. Abu Eid. "If there are discrepancies, then the students start to think beyond this experiment and think about what could have caused the discrepancies. What are the factors that affect the pH? Then they use the real data that they collected in the lab experiment to make a change in the virtual model so that it reconciles with the real model. They don't just accept the information the way it is: they think beyond that. This opens their eyes. They are thinking outside their assignment ... Through authentic lab activities, the students become aware of their developing knowledge. They are seeing how science is relevant to them."

[cover graphic of Queen's Alumni Review, issue 4-2017]