March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

The College Board’s Seven Science Practices: Practice Number Four

Posted: Friday, March 1st, 2013

by Bethany Dixon

The College Board has released seven science practices that will be shared through the disciplines. (Note: these are not to be confused with the NGSS “Science and Engineering Practices” from the Framework for K-12 Science Education.) The new Advanced Placement Curriculum Framework for AP Biology began this year, with plans for revamping AP Chemistry (2013-2014) and AP Physics (2014-2015) on the horizon. The new frameworks give students a chance to hone their skills at the lab bench, which is crucial for their success with the new AP Science Examinations and the upcoming transition to NGSS. Here is the second installment of the seven practices overview, with use-them-now tips for your classroom. The first three practices can be found in our February issue of eCCS.

 

4.     Plan and implement DATA COLLECTION strategies appropriate to a particular scientific question.

“Yes, but how do we MEASURE that?!” is a question that shouldn’t be the end to a scientific inquiry; instead, it’s part of the entire scientific process and experience. Teaching students how to arrange and collect data in an appropriate way is no easy feat, though. One group that has a handle on it is NASA’s Mars Student Imaging Project. The project helps students establish data-collection protocols and gives them the opportunity to collect and analyze data taken by the Thermal Emission Imaging System Camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. Teaching students to plan their own data collection method is a great way to involve students in understanding how science is built through peer review, and researching accepted protocols for different disciplines is a valuable learning experience for upper-level students.

Prompting students to looking at the way data is collected and to question each step provides them with greater insight on each aspect of the process. Asking students critical questions about even cookbook labs can help to build their inquiry skills, for example, “Why are they measuring both before and after the test?” or, “What are they looking for?” or, “Why is aseptic technique important in this lab, but not in the last one?”  Giving students choices between measuring implements for a lab slides them into creating their own data collection methods early. We can ask them to deliberate about what device or tool, (such as metric rulers, timers, thermometers, etc.) is most appropriate to measure with in order to collect the desired data. Beyond actual collection strategies, data implementation is also critical for student success. Understanding what constitutes data and how to effectively manage data during an experiment is a lesson many students learn and reinforce through experience. A favorite of mine is from “Loose in the Lab,” where students make “helicopters” of different sizes and fly them for one minute without collecting data and we explain the importance of reliable data.

After the data collection method has been established we must insure that students are collecting data appropriately. Students frequently struggle with the differences between error analysis in high school classes and uncertainty principles used in college labs. Many students in my class are able to effectively calculate error and describe significant figures but when it comes to understanding the “why” and “how” of probability and managing uncertainty in the college classroom, the differences between demonstrating (calculating) and  using (understanding and applying) error analysis can be frustrating and confusing. One technique used by the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) is to break the process into three key steps: First, teaching students how to make effective measurements and determine the differences between error and uncertainty. Second, give students the tools to measure effectively by identifying sources of error and sources of uncertainty in both individual measurements and groups of measurements. Third, students should integrate uncertainty measurement into existing lab activities on their own, blending what they’ve practiced with their own inquiry labs and pre-made labs.

Data collection and data collection strategies shouldn’t be limited to science classes. Utilize your teacher resources at your school to find out what kinds of data need to be collected on campus, or that might be valuable for math, English, or social science classes. A cross-curricular data-collection experiment on study habits is always appreciated by the counseling department, and students love collecting meaningful data and sharing their results with their peers. I also find that sharing how data is collected in other disciplines helps students who aren’t planning on majoring in science find real relevance in my course. My political science, psychology, and history majors are always impressed to find out that they can get a “leg up” in their major in research methods by understanding data collection.

Look for our next segment on the seven science practices in the next issue of ECCS including:

5.      Perform DATA ANALYSIS and evaluation of evidence.

6.    Work with scientific EXPLANATIONS AND THEORIES.

7.     CONNECT AND RELATE knowledge across various scales, concepts, and representations.

Written by Bethany Dixon

Bethany Dixon is a science teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, is a CSTA Publications Committee Member, and is a member of CSTA.

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