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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom
Attention is extremely important to learning.
We hang a weight on the spring scale, put it under the jar, and seal the edges, and I ask students to “place their bets.” This keeps students motivated and engaged. “How many think the scale reading will increase?” Hands go up. “Decrease?” Many hands go up. “Decrease to zero?” A few hands go up. “Stay exactly the same?” Several hands go up. I start the pump.
It is important to give students opportunities to apply (without being told, if possible) ideas learned earlier.
The result surprises many students. The scale reading does not appear to change at all. Some students give a high five. I ask, “What can we conclude about the effects of air on the scale reading?” Some students suggest, “Air doesn’t do anything.” Sometimes to get past this response, I need to prime the discussion of implications of the results by asking, “Do we know air has absolutely no effect?” A few students are quick to say, “We don’t know that it has absolutely no effect. We just know it doesn’t have enough effect to make a difference.” I ask, “Why do you say that?” They respond, “Remember about measurements, there is always some plus or minus to it. It could be a tiny bit more than it was. It could be a tiny bit less, or it might be exactly the same. We can’t tell for sure. Maybe if we had a really, really accurate scale we could tell.”
I also want the students to see that conclusions are different from results, so I often guide them carefully to discuss each. “First, what were the actual results of the experiment? What did happen? What did we observe?” Students agree that there was no observable change in the scale reading. “Those were the results. We observed no apparent change in the scale reading.”
Students should be provided opportunities to differentiate between summarizing observable results and the conclusions generalized from those results.
Because I want students to understand the role of experimentation in science, I press them for a conclusion: “So, what do we know from this experiment? Did we learn anything?” Although a few students suggest, “We didn’t learn anything,” others are quick to point out, “There can’t be any big changes. We know that the air doesn’t have a big effect.” At this point, it appears students have had sufficient experience talking about the ideas, so I may try to clarify the distinction between results and conclusions: “Conclusions are different from results. Conclusions are about the meaning of the