Spring 2014: Teaching applications

In spring 2014 we explored a variety of active engagement techniques. Our plan for the term was to focus on putting teaching techniques into action in the classroom. Throughout the term we explored five topics more in depth; the first week we read about a technique, followed by a teaching experiment during the second week led by volunteer teams. This was a great (and fun!) way for journal club participants to practice facilitating new techniques in a low-stakes environment.

For this spring we selected the following topics based on ideas that came up in conversation during fall and winter terms:

  • Weeks 1-2 Science Writing Heuristic
  • Weeks 3-4 Case-Based Learning
  • Weeks 5-6 Music to Teach Science
  • Weeks 7-8 Classroom Demos
  • Weeks 9-10 Games to Teach Science

Week 1 – April 3 and 4

During weeks 1 and 2, we talked about Science Writing Heuristics. This week we read an article by Tom Greenbowe, visiting professor from Iowa State University:

Burke, K.A.,  Greenbowe, T.J., & Hand, B.M. (2006). Implementing the Science Writing Heurisitc in the Chemistry Laboratory. Journal of Chemical Education, 83(7), 1032-1038.  http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/ed083p1032

Week 2 – April 10 and 11

This week in Journal Club we built on last week’s Science Writing Heuristics reading and discussion. We ran a teaching experiment using instruction strategy based on inquiry (or the Learning Cycle Approach). To prepare for Journal Club, please complete the following ‘Before Class Exploration.’

1) Read Electrolysis_Lab_Context.pdf

2) Run through the Electrolysis simulation demo.

  • Read the Overview and Learning Outcomes tabs.
  • From the Experiment tab, select ‘Run Demonstration’
    • Follow the instructions on the left side of the screen to select the initial parameters for the simulation demo.
    • Answer the prediction questions
    • Run the demo
    • Review your results

3) Before our Journal Club meeting, think about the following:

  • Think about the chemistry being address in the readings and simulation demo.
  • What do you feel you understand about the topic to be discussed in the material?
  • What areas or concepts do you find difficult?
  • Have you discovered any misconceptions you had about the topic while you were working with the material?

4) We used the simulation in ‘Experiment’ mode in this week’s meetings. Come to Journal Club with your beginning question (refer back to last week’s reading for guidance on what a good beginning question might look like) and generate an idea for an experimental plan to investigate your question.

Week 3 – April 17 and 18

During weeks 3 and 4 we explored how to use case studies in teaching science:

Herreid, C.F. (Ed.). (2007). Start with a Story: The Case Study Method of Teaching College Science. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

There are several national clearinghouses for case studies that have been developed and tested by science faculty:

We invited participants to share suggestions for other sources for case studies to share next week.

Week 4 – April 24 and 25

For week 4 we continued exploring how to use case studies in teaching by participating as students in a case study classroom activity. Thursday morning included a physics case and Friday afternoon covereda case on Bonneville Dam, Salmon, and Sea Lions developed for Bio 150 Ocean Planet.

Week 5 – May 1 and 2

For week 5 we started our exploration of ways to use music to teach science:

Crowther, G. (2012). Using Science Songs to Enhance Learning: An Interdisciplinary Approach. CBE Life Sci Educ, 11 (1), 26-30. http://www.lifescied.org/content/11/1/26.long

We had an excellent week learning about ways to use music to teach science. One of the areas we explored was having students create their own song or music video. Some of the videos are listed here. If you have an example you would like to share, send us a link in the comments section.

Students in the University of Ottawa’s BCH3120 course were challenged to write a song about the TCA (Kreb’s) Cycle. William Lam posted his entry with creative rewrite of lyrics from Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”.

Wootton High School physics students wrote this original song and performed it on the last day for the school’s seniors.

2013 Summer Upward Bound students and Greg Crowther, the author of this week’s article, wrote the lyrics to “Polymerase”, a parody of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene.”

Students may not always be comfortable performing in front of the class. The process of making a video using an existing song can also be a useful tool in building memory and understanding of a concept. Here is an example.

Music can be used outside the classroom to promote learning. See the Cambridge iGEM Team for 2010 in their rendition of “The Gibson Assembly Song,” a parody of Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

There are some bands that write science based songs. They Might Be Giants is one such band. We watched their video for “Meet the Elements.”

Just make sure that the science in the song is correct before you use it in your class. We listened to a few songs to see if we could find the errors. Pick your forces with care. Which is the correct one: centrifugal or centripetal? Pick the wrong one and your song could be heading to the Graveitron.

Read about 5 Famous Songs That Prove Musicians Don’t Understand Science.

Week 6 – May 8 and 9

In Week 6 we continued our exploration of ways to use music to teach science:

Crowther, G. (2012). Using Science Songs to Enhance Learning: An Interdisciplinary Approach. CBE Life Sci Educ, 11 (1), 26-30. http://www.lifescied.org/content/11/1/26.long

This week was led by undergraduate and graduate students who created an activity, so we could experience one way to use music to learn and practice scientifically correct information.

In our meetings this week, we took turns working with lyrics. Each group spent 20-30 minutes working on a song or poem on the topic of their choice. Here are some of the final products.

‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ – with added science

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
how I wonder what you are.
Through the atmosphere your light
scattered, scattered, all the night.

When the blazing sun is gone,
my lenses may your light fall on.
White dwarf, quasar, neutron star
your light must travel from so far.

With a telescope we see
things we thought just couldn’t be.
Other suns, and other worlds
nebulae, quasars, galactic swirls.

Light so faint they’re hard to see
distorted when it reaches me.

Twinkle, twinkle little star
now I know more of what you are.

Natural Selection Rules! (to the tune of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’)

Variation in your traits
In your traits
In your traits
Variation in your traits
Is where adaptation starts

Competition happens next
Happens next
Happens next
Competition happens next
With survivors strong and smart

Traits must be inherited
Traits must be inherited
Through your DNA

Traits have different fitnesses
Traits have different fitnesses
Through time some go away

Song to remember some key characteristics of the phylum Cnidaria – sung to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’

Stinging cells
Pulsing bells
Corals in the cay
Oh what fun, the flowing tide, our tentacles can sway, hay

Song about the stages of mitosis – sung to the tune of ‘It’s a Small World

It’s a small cell, replicating
It’s a small cell, that’s dividing
It’s a small cell, separating
One cell is now two

Prophase, pro-segregating different organelles
Metaphase, in the middle all the chromosomes align
Anaphase, antagonistically pulling them apart
Telophase, two daughter cells start

Song about stellar formation and life-cycle – sung to the tune of ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’

Stars shinning bright above you
Dense gasses like a hydrogen and helium
Forged within a molecular cloud
This is how our stars are formed

Some alone and some in binary systems
Produce light and warmth for
Earthlings and aliens

Stars fading and spinning for eons
Collapsing under their mass
Expand out into the orbit of planets
Then you have a black hole


Week 7 – May 15 and 16

This week in the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club we started a two-week exploration of the use of demonstrations in science classes. This week Stan Micklavzina, Senior Instructor in Physics and the Physics Department’s director of instructional resources, led us through several demonstrations and talked about how to use them effectively in class.

Braddock, M., &  Bucat, R. (2008). Effectiveness of a Classroom Chemistry Demonstration Using the Cognitive Conflict Strategy. International Journal of Science Education, 30 (8), 1115-1128. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09500690701528824#.U3Ejm61dU7c

Week 8 – May 22 and 23

This week we welcomed Kelly Miller, graduate student in Eric Mazur’s group at Harvard University, who led us through a couple of demos and talked about her research around how demos can be used to support student learning.

Miller, K. (2013). Use Demonstrations to Teach, Not Just Entertain. Physics Teacher 51, 570-571. (http://bit.ly/slp_Miller_2013)

Roth, W.-M., McRobbie, C. J., Lucas, K. B. and Boutonné, S. (1997), Why may students fail to learn from demonstrations? A social practice perspective on learning in physics. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 34, 509–533. (http://bit.ly/slp_Roth_1997)

Week 9 – May 29 and 30

This week in the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club, we started our study of the use of games to teach science:

Reuss, R. L., & Gardulski, A. F. (2001). An interactive game approach to learning in Historical Geology and Paleontology. Journal of Geoscience Education49(2), 120–129. Retrieved from http://www.nagt.org/nagt/jge/abstracts/mar01.html#v49p120

Cooper, S., Khatib, F., Treuille, A., Barbero, J., Lee, J., Beenen, M., Leaver-Fay, A., Baker, D., Popović, Z., & Foldit players. (2010). Predicting protein structures with a multiplayer online game. Nature466(7307), 756–60. doi:10.1038/nature09304

Week 10 – June 5 and 6

This week in the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club, we closed by trying out some fun games that can be used to teach science.