Blog has moved, searching new blog...

domingo, 16 de febrero de 2014

An atom is the thousandth part of... Or how many atoms are there on a roll of aluminum foil (Part 3)

In order to finish the whole how big is the atom week, I decided to challenge my students.

Adapted from "Avogadro goes to Court"
and without the storytelling I gave each of my students a chemistry textbook, a small piece of aluminium foil and the size and price of a roll of aluminium and asked them to calculate the number of atoms in it. 

They begun asking lots and lots of questions and I ignored them, telling them they knew more than they thought and they should try to figure it out with the aid of something called AVOGADRO'S NUMBER.

I know I gave them close to zero information and that the assignment was really really complicated for 15 year olds but I wanted to see them try. And they did for a whole our in groups of four they read about avogadro's number, they discussed ideas, concepts and challenged each other. 

Of the 12 groups that engaged in this problems 4 groups solved it by themselves without my help (YES I WAS REALLY AMAZED BY THIS!!) They only told me they needed to know the weight of their piece in aluminium in order to give me the exact number. Three groups just needed a little push, either making them realize they needed to weight the piece of aluminium first or by helping them understand what their textbook was saying about avogadro's number.  The other groups were as clueless at the end of the class as how they have started. 

I told everyone that the next day we would meet at the lab and they would have to give me a solution to the problem. 

I was surprised that the next day the same groups that were clueless didn't have an action plan for the lab. I couldn't believe they were honest enough or lazy enough to not ask their other classmates about how to solve it. Were they really lazy?? Or they were afraid of being seen as dumb or not capable of solving the problem? I know it sounds maybe unimportant but I really believe there's something to be analyzed here.
One reason might be they were really not interested in solving the problem, or the class so they really didn't care if they had an action plan or not. That's a sign that the problem wasn't engaging enough to everyone and that might be true. This problem didn't have any relationship to anything they could care about. Although there are kids and persons that the idea of solving a problem is enough to make it interesting. 

Another thing to ponder is why their discussion within the group was fruitless when other groups proved to be successful. Groups were made ordering everyone in alphabetic number and making groups of four, so they were not chosen by grade or friendships. What I can conclude is that there's something going wrong on this conversations. And it's really important to say so. 

This kids can spend hours talking and discussion about wether Justin Beiber is better than One Direction but five minutes after discussing a scientific problem they give up. And I don't think is only the engagement part that's causing this. This kids that gave up and didn't care might have tried a little longer if their chemistry language was better, if the patterns the other groups saw were as clear to them. But for them everything looks foggy. 

Making science relies as much on the discoveries made as on the discussions generated within the scientific community. We tend to teach this kids to memorize data and information, sometimes we are successful in teaching them how to apply it, but we rarely make them discuss and challenge each other.
The question is how to create discussion when they are barely learning the language of science. How can they have meaningful learning conversations when the language of science is not learnt yet? And that's something we are not doing. We are not teaching them the language, and making them learn formulas and the complete periodic table is not the answer. 

No matter how clearly one explains the concepts, creates meaningful activities in the classroom and makes them do hundreds of exercises, there's still a loss in translation. And there's something we are not seeing. I know this post might be confusing because I don't see it myself. Has it something to do with the language of science being so different from the language they are speaking in the real world? I don't know I'll sleep on this and probably keep musing about this in future posts.



I want to thank everyone reading for their patience (specially in this post) I know my posts need polishing. I've never written something trying to communicate my thoughts. I usually speak. English is not my mother language and yes I think so many things at the same time that even when I speak it's confusing and hard to understand me sometimes. But I believe the only way of getting better is keep writting, and there's an english composition course in coursera coming soon that I'm going to take, and probably an essay workshop for the GRE. So all I can promise is I'll get better don't give up on my just yet.

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario