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MUSE | Earth-Moon-Sun Dynamics | Course Overview and Materials | Introducing Scientific Models | Course Material 3A: Challenge Problems | Instructional Notes


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Intended Learning Outcomes

During this activity students will have practice with phenomena and tasks that will help them to:

  • recognize patterns in data
  • assess their explanations (models) based upon how well they account for data and how consistent they are with other ideas in science
  • use their EMS model to account for data in new situations
  • alter some aspects of their EMS model and predict the data that would result
  • communicate and defend their scientific ideas (on the basis of data/model match and consistency between model and other ideas)
  • practice presentation skills (including clear speech, organization, appropriate use of props, etc.)
  • demand evidence for knowledge claims made by peers and offer constructive criticism

Time Frame and Sequence

NOTE: one class period is assumed to be approximately 50 minutes long. However, the activities described here are readily adaptable to longer "block" time periods.

Allow at least two class periods for groups to work on their problems at least one period for the student groups to read and discuss the problems and one period to prepare for their presentations (including making, or assigning responsibility for making, the poster). We recommend distributing the challenge problems several days in advance to give students time to read them independently. Additionally, depending upon the format for poster presentations and the number of student groups, another one or two class periods should be set aside for presentations.

DAY 1:

The first class period should be used to explain the task to the students, making it clear that each group will produce a poster and give a presentation based upon the ideas represented in their posters. After explaining the task and setting a deadline for completion of the work, ask students to organize themselves into groups (or assign groups) and hand out a unique challenge problem to each group. Along with the problem, hand out a copy of the poster rubric that will be used to judge their work.

Allow the remainder of the first day for students to work on the problems. Stress that they might want to divide some work among themselves to be done as homework that night. During this day, attempt to spend a few minutes with each group individually, clarifying any questions and, if necessary, giving suggestions as to how to proceed (examples of this follow in the section on strategies).

By the end of Day 1, most groups will have answers to several parts of their challenge problems. However, the groups will generally not have given much thought to effective ways to convey their answers to their peers. This is the focus of Day 2.

DAY 2:

This should be another work day. Visit individual groups again to assess progress and make any necessary suggestions for work. It is desirable to provide some basic poster supplies (large sheets of paper, markers, scissors, glue, rulers, etc.) but students can be instructed on Day 1 to bring these themselves. By the end of the period on Day 2, students should either have completed their poster or have agreed among their groupmates who will be responsible for constructing various parts of the poster.

Before students leave class today, clarify when the posters are to be turned in and set a date for the poster presentations. Hand out the poster rubric so that students can plan accordingly.


Note: depending upon the format for presentations and the size of the class, it may require more than a single day to complete presentations. Also, we highly recommend that the scheduled day for presentations does not directly follow the second in-class work day. Students may need a couple of nights to complete their posters and prepare their presentations. Therefore, we recommend following Day 2 with a few days of other course work during class time and returning to presentations on Day 5 or 6.

We suggest using one of the presentation formats described below, although many others might be appropriate and beneficial.

Sequential Presentations: each student group in turn presents its poster and explanations to the entire class, solicits feedback, and answers questions.

Poster Session: divide the student groups in half. The students in one half of the groups set up their posters and stand by them while the remaining students circulate around the room reading and asking questions about the posters. Those students standing by their posters explain and defend their ideas to classmates as they circulate. Allow enough time for all the observer students to view each poster. Now, the groups should switch so that "observers" become "presenters" and vice versa. With this format, it is helpful to assign students specific posters to critique and provide them with a written critique form by which to do this.

Student Ideas and Teaching Strategies

Initially, students are likely to find the problems somewhat intimidating they may have difficulty deciding how to approach the problem. Assist students by asking, "can you tell me about your problem? What are you being asked to do?" and letting the students rephrase the problem in their own words. You can also assist students by asking questions that will:

  1. Remind the students how they approached previous problems, such as explaining the phases of the moon. They will need to:

    • identify data or patterns in data that need to be accounted for
    • identify the objects involved
    • identify the motions involved
    • create an explanation that can account for all the data using the relevant motions and objects

  2. Remind the students to look for similarities between the phenomena in their problems and phenomena they have seen before.

  3. Remind the students that it has been useful to them in the past to use three-dimensional representations and simulations to think through difficult problems and make these tools available for their use. Require the students to demonstrate their explanations using these props.

  4. Spend at least a few minutes each period listening to and questioning the groups of students as they work. Be prepared to challenge their ideas and point out data that is not accounted for in their explanations or occasions where their explanations or representations are unclear.

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