Oct 09, 2014
Clad in white lab coats, with protective goggles over their eyes, a group of seventh graders watch eagerly as a shelled egg slowly squeezes through an opening in a bottle, as if propelled by magic, after they have cooled the vessel with ice water. The potential junior scientists engage in lively discussion of what physical effect could be behind this.
The answer? Lowering the temperature in the bottle creates negative pressure. The egg is now exposed to greater pressure from outside the bottle, causing it to slide in. At the next experiment station, a tornado of water is created inside a bottle, showing how rotational movement creates an eddy. This model shows in vivid form how rising and rotating air masses can create a tornado. The week of projects at the lab facilities of the Institute of Chemistry at Freie Universität is a hit with the youngsters.
The instructional unit, titled “Tornadoes in Global Climate Events,” was developed by students enrolled in the bachelor’s degree program in chemistry education. “These little experiments give students a chance to get to know the individual thermodynamic effects that cause a tornado,” explains Felix Kähne, a student working toward his teaching credential. “We didn’t want to just lecture from the front of the room. Instead, we wanted to have the students perform experiments and find out for themselves how this kind of natural phenomenon can arise,” he says.
Kähne and his fellow students in the program as budding chemistry teachers are working with school classes to try out a concept that focuses on research and development for hands-on, observational learning as part of a seminar in chemistry education with a large practical component. The students conduct experiments on their own, coming up with their own suppositions and then, based on their observations, discussing which hypothesis could be correct. This helps them learn not only about the subject itself, but also more generally about ways of thinking and working in the sciences.
“In a knowledge society like ours, which is constantly in flux, it’s important to teach young people early on how they can acquire knowledge for themselves,” Kähne says
The training module for students of chemistry education who are working toward a teaching credential was developed as part of the PROFILES (“Professional Reflection-Oriented Focus on Inquiry-based Learning and Education through Science”) program. The project, which operates in 21 countries, receives 3.2 million euros in financing from the European Commission. It promotes the integration of modern teaching methods into the classroom, along with international dialogue regarding contemporary ways to teach the sciences.
The project was launched for an initial term of four years in 2010. “Over these four years, the project has succeeded in building an international network of subject-specific education specialists, teachers, school administrators, and members of the education policy sector,” says Professor Claus Bolte, head of the Chemistry Education unit, who is coordinating the PROFILES program.
“This cooperative initiative centers on the idea of establishing the concept of instruction that focuses on research and development for hands-on, observational learning as a part of the everyday school experience,” Bolte explains. College students working toward a teaching credential aren’t the only ones to benefit from PROFILES. Teachers are also given the opportunity to further develop and improve their instructional structures and plans together with colleagues as part of one-year continuing education programs. They receive effective support in this process from subject-specific education specialists Sabine Streller and Manja Erb.
Christine Prem-Vogt, an elementary school teacher who has been participating in the program, is thrilled about it. She is involved in one of two “Pro-Nawi” project groups at Freie Universität since 2010.
Ten fifth- and sixth-grade science teachers met regularly for a year to develop ideas for their own classroom instruction together and explore new instructional methods. “It all started out with the question of how to introduce children to experimentation and teach them about scientific observation,” Prem-Vogt explains. “Our meetings were always geared toward practical instruction,” she adds.
“In the end,” Prem-Vogt continues, “we even came up with a modular instruction structure for a whole school year – including a book of science fairytales with a lot of worksheets and assignments.” The book features activities that tie in with fairytales, such as the story of the Frog Prince, in which a princess drops a golden ball down a well – which students explore by conducting density experiments on imitation golden balls.
This vivid form of science teaching has been well received by the young students, as project evaluations show. The fairytale book was presented alongside other instructional materials developed in the various participating countries during the final conference concluding the PROFILES program, in late August.
But the idea behind PROFILES will continue even beyond the end of the program: Prem-Vogt, a department head, will share her knowledge and the materials developed in the project with her school colleagues. The networks created through the project will be further strengthened, says coordinator Bolte, and “The group of teachers has developed a strong sense of personal responsibility for offering exciting science instruction in the long term. Successful instruction also encourages other colleagues to think about ways to innovate in the classroom. Although teachers in Berlin are not obligated to attend professional or continuing education, it would be wonderful if the long-term continuing education programs for teachers, which are based on regular meetings, were to continue in the future as well.”
—The book of science fairytales, which is aimed at grade 5 and 6 science teachers, is available in bookstores. It can also be ordered directly from the publisher.
„Es wa(h)r einmal... Naturwissenschaften im Märchen“, hrsg. Von Manja Erb und Sabine Streller. Münster, Schüling-Verlag, 2014 (106 Seiten, 23,80 Euro).
Professor Claus Bolte, Director, Chemistry Education, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 838-567-08/-09, Email: bolte[at]chemie.fu-berlin.de