Category Archives: Physics

Can Phenomenon-Based Learning Help Students?

We are proud to partner with our suppliers to provide you with the best products for your classroom, and we are also please to share this blog post from our partners at GSC International. 

Can Phenomenon-Based Learning Help Students?

As someone with a lifelong love for science, I always did well in science class at school. I don’t say that to brag. Quite the opposite, actually. Recently, while writing some instruction sheets, I found myself struggling to recall subjects I had remembered learning in high school physics class almost eight years ago. I remembered drawing free body diagrams and being able to dissect each force like it was my job. I also remembered easily solving algebraic equations for any variable I needed. When it came time to recall these skills, however, I was getting things wrong left and right and finding it difficult to do my job and create a successful teaching aid to supplement our product.

This had me wondering: could I have learned these skills way-back-when in a way that left them more ingrained in my head and easier to recall? After some research, I found that the World Economic Forum has most recently ranked Finland first in “Quality of Primary Education” and second in “Higher Education and Training” in their 2017-2018 Global Competitiveness Index. Though I’m not saying Finland is the end-all-be-all of international education (their OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, scores have slipped in recent years compared to their past performance), this did give me some interest into researching what Finland might be doing right. One aspect of their educational program that piqued my interest was their recent addition to their educational system of requiring at least one “phenomenon-based learning” module. And, while I ultimately treasure my experience in the United States educational system, I can’t help but think that I would have enjoyed, and perhaps benefited from, a touch of phenomenon-based learning in my educational system.

Phenomenon-based learning, as explained by Helsinki’s city manager Pasi Silander, studies phenomena “as complete entities, in their real context, and the information and skills related to them are studied by crossing the boundaries between subjects.” This means that students will take a topic, say climate change, and investigate it from all relevant angles and disciplines. This differs from traditional subject-based learning where knowledge is divided by its individual components (i.e. math, science, history, etcetera). And, as pointed out by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), phenomena are at the core of science and engineering professions. People observe problems first, and then hypothesize ways to address those problems. They don’t walk around thinking about rote memorized formulas and concepts that fit into the problems they see in front of them. The NSTA points out that this sort of contextual, constructivist learning leads to “deeper and more transferable knowledge.” The NGSS have a provided a great jumping off point for understanding phenomena-based learning and how it is used to engage students in their scientific education here.

I remember my physics teacher in high school teaching a particular lesson as follows:

We walked into class and took our seats. There were a few formulas on the board and a free-body diagram. He sat us down and explained to us how these formulas would help us to properly assess the forces on the object in the free-body diagram. We would manipulate variables in the equation and do the math until we were able to plug in any values we wanted and could tell him which behavior the object in the free-body diagram would follow given its current state. I became pretty good at this and passed the tests fine. Applicable skills to this lesson like trigonometry and algebra were both separate classes that I took at different times in different semesters.

About ten years later, the memory of the experience is about the only thing I remembered from these lessons. After reading about phenomena-based learning, I wonder how well I would have retained this lesson had it been taught in a more engaging way. If the lesson were instead introduced to us by asking us to explain a car coasting down a mountain, or a tow truck lifting a car up into its bed, or something similar, would my investigation of the phenomena had yielded a more permanent grasp on the science behind the mechanical forces? After raising questions of our own relating to these phenomena, we could have simulated these situations in the lab to answer the questions we came up with. Could these lessons have been used to jump start or completely encompass my trigonometry education as well? I can never be sure. High school only happens once.

None of this was said to disparage my science teacher. He was actually one of my favorite teachers that year. That doesn’t stop me from questioning whether or not a different approach could have had a different long-term effect on my education. I can’t even guarantee that my retention would have been better and that the knowledge would have, in turn, helped me in my quest to write a useful piece of technical writing. It is fun to wonder, though, and I’m interested to see how its requirement in the Finnish school system effects student outcomes into the future. If you want a more in depth look at the changes to the Finnish education system, this article in The Straits Times, a publication from Singapore (who also does incredibly well in international education metrics) explains a lot of said changes.

Are you a teacher? Have you tried using phenomenon-based learning in your classroom? Or are you a student who has had experience with it? If you are either, I would love to learn more about your experience with this teaching method. Please comment below!

 

-Jacob Monash, GSC Go Science Crazy

Keeping Skyscrapers Steady

Skyscrapers blue sky Wallpapers Pictures Photos ImagesIf you’ve ever been perched high in a tree when a stiff breeze blows, you know how unsettling a slight sway from vertical feels. Imagine being in a skyscraper with 50 mile per hour winds, buffeting your glass-enclosed condo or office. Feeling queasy?

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Precarious Rocks Give Clues to Future Earthquake Movements

A new approach to predict the intensity and direction of earthquakes lies in an unlikely source — 10,000-yearold, improbably balanced rocks. You’ve probably seen pictures of these; they are astounding, seemingly impossible and a little scary. You certainly wouldn’t want to be standing downhill if they toppled over.

These geological features are called Precariously Balanced Rocks or “PBRs.” They are formed slowly when tectonic forces elevate granite rocks from below ground to the surface, and erosion whittles away the softer surrounding materials leaving the unlikely and amazing result.

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Color Changing Ice Cream?

ice-cream-color-changingIt’s summer! … full of pool parties, picnics, amusement parks and just all-around fun-in-the- sun. And along with all of the good people and times, always comes food! From that delicious burger on the grill to that potato salad to everything in between and all of the delicious desserts, we can never get enough.
And if things couldn’t get any better, there is now an ice cream that changes colors as you lick!

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The Science of Fireworks

fireworks7What are The Fourth of July, baseball games and New Years Eve all known for? FIREWORKS of course! The bright and sparkling lights from fireworks are so unique and beautiful and a great firework show can be unforgettable. But what are fireworks? How do they create those magical displays in the sky? Fireworks may seem astonishing, but the science behind them is easy to understand.

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X-Rays Reveal the Secrets of Ancient Scrolls

Scientists-use-X-rays-to-decipher-charred-Vesuvius-scrollsNearly 2000 years ago, the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed and buried under volcanic ash by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Despite the devastating destruction, hundreds of papyrus scrolls stored in a Herculaneum library survived. The scrolls were unearthed in the 1750s, but due to their fragile condition, researchers had not been able to unwrap and read them…until now.

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“BAMBI” BACKPACK DESIGNED TO BUILD BRIDGES FOR MILITARY

BAMBBridgemanToday’s U.S. Special Tactics Battlefield Airmen forces are highly trained, in peak physical condition and equipped with 150 pounds of gear, weapons and body armor to conduct rescue and assault missions around the world. Often these missions involve challenging physical obstacles such as scaling high walls, crossing waterways and rooftops, or quickly rescuing and transporting injured victims —tasks that require strong, versatile, portable tools. Traditionally standard 40-pound aluminum ladders have been used, but they’re a bulky and heavy burden for personnel already loaded with gear.

To solve this equipment challenge, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory issued the University Design Challenge to engineering students at 16 universities and three military academies. Their mission was to develop a portable, lightweight, multipurpose tool that could traverse a variety of obstacles over a 20-foot gap and was simple to deploy, reusable and able to hold 350 pounds. Each team received $20,000 and had nine months to complete their design. Continue reading ““BAMBI” BACKPACK DESIGNED TO BUILD BRIDGES FOR MILITARY” »