doing experiments in class


From: Marc Siegel <marc@quest.arc.nasa.gov>
Subject: doing experiments in class
Date: Wed, 24 Dec 1997 07:38:31 -0800 (PST)


Hi,
I was interested to read the active discussion yesterday.  As a manager
at Quest, I don't get much first hand experience with what happens
in classrooms, so I find the insights offered very useful. Thanks.

I wanted to share an experience I had recently when I was invited to my
nephew's class (3rd grade) to do a NASA presentation.  I talked a bit
about the Mars Pathfinder mission (I love describing the wacky basketball
style bounce landing), but the most fun was when we did an experiment about
dropping marbles into a tray of flour. The point was to find how the 
speed of the impact (height of the drop) related tothe size of the crater
and the diameter of the ejecta.  it wa clear that the kids almost never
got a chance to actually experiment, and the energy level during this
time was quite high.

I think we determined quite well that though the crater size gets a bit 
bigger with increasing speed, the diameter of the ejecta really increases.
Kids were able to reach these conclusions from the data we took, and it
was really fun.

I was most surprised at how excited kids were to do the experiments (it is
fun to chuck marbles and watch flour fly), but how taking the data and 
drawing conclusion weren't greeted with near the enthusiasm. In retrospect,
I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was.  So we found ourselves
talking a lot about about recording data and analyzing it is the real
reason for experiments (in the real world), not just having fun doing the
experiment. 

Anyway, it was a real learning experience for me, and I sure wish the
curriculum or teacher in my nephew's class was able to do more hands-on
science.  It seems like the way to get kids engaged.  I'd be interested 
to hear why this often doesn't seem to happen....as Stephaine wrote,
in elementary school, science is mainly lecture.

Anyway, I'm off the net for a while, but Happy Holidays to everyone.
Yours, Marc

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