A major stumbling block to inquiry method learning with my students is background knowledge. Using computer models they will be able to create background knowledge, which in turn will generate better hypothesis.
I agree that students need hands-on in the curriculum. But the computational models will allow for labs to continue even is poor weather, scarce resources, or teaching a unit at a bad time of the year. Learning about photosysthesis in winter.
I use many simulation programs in my classroom. Not only is it faster, but students can learn that they need to only change one variable for the system to change. When there are multiple variables, I can give each group a different variable and have students talk about the different outcomes. Students can then try to solve what variable was most useful or damaging to the system.
When we do labs in class we primarily test one factor due to time and resources. However, using a computer model we could test multiple factors to help further our research and answer additional questions beyond our original hypothesis. This leads to more inquiry, and solutions that we may miss in the traditional lab setting.
This would lead to some great discussion and collaboration as groups meet and discuss their findings and results. This could lead to even more questions to test.
Using models allows more student driven inquiry as they can manipulate and test many configurations with the model. In traditional science class experiments, they are limited by materials and time.
The comments about the cost of running multiple trials, and the lack of time that is available to do them is exactly the difference that I see in using computer models versus real-world models of experimentation. Another valuable difference is the ability to control the controlled variables to a greater degree. Also, there would a greater opportunity to change the independent variables to see how multiple variables alter the outcomes. However, with real lab experiments, you are better able to evaluate if there were factors that have not been considered when analyzing outcomes. In other words, with differing outcomes for each trial, you often need to go back and see if there were other environmental factors associated with those outcomes. This allows you to re-evaluate initial hypotheses and/or establish controls on those factors as well and obtain more accurate data. With simulations, you may end up unaware of all of the factors involved in an event as not every situation involves a closed system.
By using computer models in science, students will be able to model situations/run simulations that we would never be able to investigate in our classroom with tangible materials.
Trying to produces usable data in experiments can be hard and make interpreting data difficult for students. The in class experiments include human error whereas the the computer models will take this out.
In a lab experiment, students try to change only one variable while keeping everything else constant. That is not possible in reality as many conditions are not truly independent… Computer models can allow you to de-couple some variables that may be linked to other variables.
In many instances we are bound to the resources that are available to us when teaching experimental design, which even the kids struggle every year. This allows for testing of ideas that may not be available to test within the constraints of the classroom/school due to resource issues. It is also a great way to involve students as it allows for more say, relate to real life problems. They could come up with their own experimental design lab activities.
Repeatedly testing a scenario with a degree of randomness will allow students to form a more realistic hypothesis and conclusion. It is very different difficult to put science in a little box, run three trials, and form reliable conclusions.
Also, computational models reduce the amount of time needed to repeat an experiment. The need for a set up of the physical environment is not necessary with computational models. One simply can repeat the expirement with the click of the mouse!
The biggest difference for me would be the fact that students can repeat their experiments multiple times. Due to time and material constraints, we are usually very limited in the number of repeated trials we can run. With this, students will be have time to make mistakes and run repeated trials before coming up with final results for their experiments.
That is the truth. Usually I only have time to let students run an experiment once, maybe twice before they have to summarize their results and move on as a class. My hope is that this will help differentiate with my students better than I have been able to in the past.
With SOLs, we have such a time crunch to cram in a large amount of content within a limited amount of time. I see two places where computational models could be useful. First, students could do them at home (think snow day). Second, they would take much less time. Of course, the ideal would be to offer students a balance of both.
It has been said many times that computational models and simulations would reduce or maybe eliminate human error. There will always be the chance of human error as long as man(students) are involved. The computer will only provide an output based on your input. Students must still rely upon written down or annotating exactly they are doing in each trial. Computational modeling would be an asset to my current science setup.
I think computer models are bested used to show students concepts that we can’t do hands on it class. A variety of teaching methods are appropriate to keep student interests. I like to use computer simulations when material is not available or the experiments could be dangerous. For example, manipulating pressure, temperature and volume with 8th graders could become out of hand so to show it with a computer demonstration would work.
I feel like sometimes my students struggle following the directions on lab procedures and keeping safety rules in mind that they lose focus on the topic at hand and can miss the point of the exercise. Having computer models available could cut down on some of the confusion. I might try a computer model before doing the hands-on activity.
That’s a good point about having the ability to choose simulations of experiments that students are better able to relate to their own experiences. Increased interest is key to academic achievement.