Elementary School Visit

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Instructional Strategies
Preparation Fall 2009-Day 6
Fall 2009 Visit Fall 2009-Day 8


In Physics 111, the students, or future teachers, get to explore science topics in a very inquisitive and tangible way. When they visit an elementary school classroom, their new knowledge of science concepts and inquiry-based teaching strategies get to come into practice. This is a very engaging learning experience for the future teachers because they finally get the opportunity to implement what they've learned in Physics 111. They are able to plan, implement, and reflect upon teaching children about science in ways that promote complex thinking and the processing of ideas. This is a novel experience for the future teachers because it takes them out of the student role and into more of a teaching and guidance role. Although the future teachers are only working with the children for about an hour, they gain a plethora of learning experiences. They learn how to manage a class, how to phrase and ask questions instead of giving answers, how to engage children and make learning fun, and how to tactfully approach teaching a group of children who are at all different stages developmentally. By being immersed in an environment where they are responsible for instructing children, the future teachers gain a more structured and confident mind-set about science and teaching than they could have ever achieved in the physics course alone.

How it Happened

The group that I was in started out by asking the children what observations they made. The children explained that they liked watching the moon, especially when it looked like a crescent. We asked the students if they had seen any patterns while observing the moon, and they seemed puzzled. We quickly learned that we needed to break down the questions and simplify our dialogue. We had the students flip to the first few pages of their moon journals. They showed us pictures of the moon and that it appeared to be about half lit. Although most students had their drawing of the moon half lit on the right side, it was confusing because some of the childrens' drawings had the moon half lit on the left side. We found that we ran into this problem multiple times as we discussed the moon observations. We asked the students to skip forward in their moon journals a few pages. Most of them had drawings and brief explanations of what they saw. The moon looked more full in most of their observations. A few days later, their observations showed that the moon had begun to look smaller again. This time, most of their drawings had the left side of the moon lit. We discussed these patterns and talked about why we might be seeing these patterns.

We asked the students how we might be able to demonstrate the patterns we have been observing. They did not know. We explained to them that we could replicate what was happening by using a model. Some of the students did not know what a model was, so we first explained that. We wanted to use the styrofoam balls and a light bulb to demonstrate the shadows on the moon, but we had to explain a few rules first. Once the students understood that they were not supposed to destroy the balls, poke their neighbors, or toss the balls, or look directly at the light bulb, we began using the model. Each student stood around the table with the lamp on it and held their ball in front of them. We asked them to look at how much of their ball was lit up. They determined that this depended on where they held their ball in comparison to the light bulb. Next, we had them look back at their moon journals. For most of the students, the first couple of pages showed the moon half lit on the right side. We asked the students to see if they could demonstrate this using their moon model balls. Then, we had them turn so that all of their ball was lit up. This looked like the full moon. After that, we had the students turn and hold their balls up to show another half lit moon (but lit on the left side this time). Finally, we had them hold their balls in a position where they could not see any of the styrofoam ball lit up. The students knew the term for when they could not see any lit portion of the moon; it was called the new moon. As a group, we did this several times. We made sure that the students understood the pattern that they observed was the same as the model we were using now. Back at their seats, we helped the students come to the conclusions that the light bulb was like the sun, their heads were like the earth, and the styrofoam ball was like the moon. They enjoyed getting to try this out for themselves.

The next activity we did was in a different room. We used a basketball to represent the moon, and the light bulb to demonstrate the moon. We had the students stand in various areas around the light bulb and hold the sun. We had each student take turns holding their arms out and pointing one at the sun and one at the moon. We had them notice the angle between the sun and the moon and also take note of how much of the moon was lit up. This was a little bit abstract for the students to understand, but Sage Robertson, their teacher, helped us keep the students focused and on track. Also in this room, we went over the model that we had previously used again. The students gained a further understanding of the pattern that the moon went through and the names of the phases it went through.

At the end of the session, we had each student go around and explain to us one thing that they learned today. Everyone had fun sharing that they learned the word “gibbous,” and that they liked using the model. I think it made the phases of the moon more concrete for the students.

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