In-class discussions are important to engage students and get them to reflect on their activities. Activity-based learning can be captivating and most memorable, but it only results in good education if students learn from their activities. Your role as teacher is to help student understand the relevance and generality of what they observe in their activities. Discussions are an essential way of achieving this learning. Don't just jump into the experiments, start with a discussion that frames the questions to be addressed, primes students for what to look for, and provides some answers to "why are we doing this?" End with a discussion to help students reflect on what they have learned and how it can be generalized.
It is important that EVERY student construct his or her own understanding. A whole-class discussion can help, but it can deceive you, too, because only a few students who respond may be doing all the thinking. More students are involved in reflection if you break the class into smaller discussion groups. Ask all groups to answer a question or undertake a task. To save time, you might just call on one group to report and then ask for other opinions or additions.
One task that helps students think about their observations is a drawn concept map. Concept maps consist of circles representing concepts connected by arrows that represent relationships. For example, "friction " and "force " or "energy " and "heat " are concepts that might be connected by an arrow from the first labeled "is an example of. " You might assign each group to draw a four-concept map of an investigation. This would encourage students to debate about the concepts illustrated, which were the most important, and how they were related. While there is no right answer, this exercise forces students to review, generalize, and look for relationships, which is your goal as teacher.
Another task that encourages reflection is to have students summarize what they have learned by creating an illustration or cartoon. One powerful way to do this is to provide students handheld computer, allowing them to take and IR beam Notes while performing the investigation. In addition, providing dry-erase markers and a small whiteboard to draw on per group would aid in further collaboration. A 1/8-inch thick plywood sheet that is 12x18 inches (30x50 cm) painted white will do nicely. Its small size naturally generates debates about what should be presented. Both the use of handheld computers and whiteboards encourage students to collaborate by trying out their ideas, debating them, and modifying them.
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