Nelson ARP Talk Take 2

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Action Research Project: Chemistry Science Talk:

Action Research Project: Chemistry Science Talk Brian Nelson SCE 5740 Spring 2010 Dr. Nancy Davis

Science Talking about Chemistry:

Science Talking about Chemistry I was provoked by the weekly discussions within our online learning community to investigate just how literate and cooperative my students could be when faced with a challenging chemistry problem. Admittedly, the “Science Talk” strategy was intended for younger students, and was meant to be practiced throughout the year, I nevertheless used this research opportunity as a chance to study an important aspect of my teaching practice.

Communication is a Problem:

Communication is a Problem Language can also be a barrier because “Instructors write symbols, which represent a physical reality. Very often, students write letters, numbers, and lines, which have no physical meaning to them.” (Levy-Nahum, 2004, p. 304) Even though lecture is my preferred mode of instruction, I recognize that I may be imposing a barrier to inquiry based learning. “In a classroom where the appropriation of many different discourses is the goal, the children co-construct, or build together, ideas about seminal questions through real dialogue, and the teacher listens and reflects without immediately agonizing over what ought to be said.” (Gallas, p.11)

Research Plan:

Research Plan I decided to conduct qualitative research on my methods for teaching Honors Chemistry to high school sophomores and juniors. As I examined my own teaching practices I got the greatest benefit from observing video recordings of myself and my students while I was lecturing on a new topic. The main focus of my study was to spend more time listening to my students express their ideas so that I could identify their alternative conceptions.


Methodology I based my action research project on the ideas presented in Karen Gallas ’ book Talking Their Way into Science . I recorded my students discussing how to conduct a lab to experimentally determine the molar mass of an unknown gas sample. Then I reviewed and analyzed the recordings to identify both their misconceptions and their alternative proposals for solving the problem. Feedback from this study will be used to develop subsequent Science Talks about chemistry.

Student Focused Inquiry:

Student Focused Inquiry The National Science Education Standards (NRC, 2005) stress the importance of inquiry based learning. Teachers should ask students what they are observing and what they think their observations mean about the question under investigation. As much as I could I let the students lead the discussion and prompted them to focus on how to find the answer, not the answer itself. This is difficult because by the time students are in high school chemistry, they appear to have been denied the opportunity to conduct real labs with real equipment.

Research Question:

Research Question How well do my students express themselves scientifically and how well do they work collaboratively? The answer to this question is qualitative in nature and needs to be the baseline for an ongoing, perennial study of the same learning objectives. Typically, the Science Talk question should have many opened answers to promote expanding a student’s interest. Unfortunately, the question I prompted my students with had a very specific procedural answer.


Students I selected my 6 th period class for analysis. The section is composed of 22 students with the following ethnic and gender breakdown (“classifications” reported by student registrations): Total male = 13 Total female = 9 “white” = 9 “white” = 6 “black” = 2 “black” = 2 “Hispanic” = 1 “Hispanic” = 0 “Asian” = 1 “Asian” = 1

Summary of the Science Talk:

Summary of the Science Talk The entire discussion lasted approximately forty five minutes, which was too long, so the first 17:30 minutes were analyzed as the Science Talk. The students led a lively and fruitful dialogue for about twenty minutes and then the we got bogged down in small details pertaining to the procedure and techniques. Several alternative conceptions were discovered and worked through under debate between the students. In many cases they had adequate lab experience and ingenuity to overcome new obstacles. The topic of the Science Talk was too narrow to gain the full benefit of open discussion.

Highlights from the Talk:

Highlights from the Talk From the beginning students are interested and cooperative.

Dialogue Highlights and Analysis:

Dialogue Highlights and Analysis An abridged and annotated version of my Science Talk can be viewed on the Palm Beach District’s Video on Demand site using the link: The debate was lively and orderly without any ground rules being mentioned. After only one minute of initial silence two girls opened the discussion. Stacey: “Does anyone have any ideas?” Nicole: “Claude thinks we should find the pressure.” After only 2:49 a different girl voiced the basic strategy to solve half of the problem. Almost immediately there was a group consensus to accept the proposal as a formal hypothesis- students spontaneously began writing her statement into their lab notebooks. Sara: “We need to find the pressure, the volume, and the temperature. Then we can calculate the number of moles using PV= nRT .”

Dialogue Highlights (con’t):

Dialogue Highlights (con’t) At 8:45 they have mentioned just about everything they need to do to find the answer in theory. Then begin a slow and chaotic period of brainstorming to devise a way to conduct the experiment. We uncover several misconceptions from this point on. Sara (at 10:30): “If water has something to do with it, it’s probably hydrogen or oxygen.” Steven (at 15:30): “We need to use that thingy to capture it, then we need to put it in that thingy.” Someone else (after Steven says thingy five times): “I love our vocabulary!” At about 17:30 I stepped into the discussion and changed the group dynamic from discussion to lecture. For all practical purposes when my demonstration began the Science Talk ended.

Demonstration and Lecture:

Demonstration and Lecture At about 17:30 the demonstration begins and focus shifts from discussion to lecture.

Dialogue Highlights and Analysis (con’t):

Dialogue Highlights and Analysis (con’t) Over all the discussion was informally dominated by approximately 9 student. Approximately 8 students remained silent for the entire discussion. Within about the first five minutes it appeared that four or five of the most assertive students could have solved the problem if they had been given a chance to actually start working with the equipment. Word count: The terms “thing” or “thingy” was used 17 times by six different students. There was a noticeable disparity between understanding what needs to be done and knowing how to do it (they lack lab experience).

Weaknesses and Strengths:

Weaknesses and Strengths Misconceptions The pure gas has to be an element. The gas is in a mixture. The molar mass can simply be calculated using the periodic table. Mixed gases will separate due to differences in densities. They don’t need to know the mass of the sample. Recall of prior knowledge PV= nRT is used to find the number of moles of a gas. A gas will fill the entire volume of its container. The state of a gas depends upon pressure and temperature. How to collect a gas over water. The gas will mix with the air unless it is in a closed system. The definition of molar mass is “mass divided by moles.”

Commentary: Science Talk v. Lecture:

Commentary: Science Talk v. Lecture After 17:30 the classroom dynamic changed significantly and the contrast provided valuable feedback. There were several periods of silence (30 seconds or more). Students began raising their hands. Students lost focus and the discussion broke down. My pressing for a specific way of expressing their ideas squelched student input. Visible signs of fatigue and boredom readily appeared.

Commentary: Thirty minutes is too long.:

Commentary: Thirty minutes is too long. Heads are hanging. Focus is elsewhere. Bottoms are tired of sitting. Teacher is controlling the discussion.


Conclusions My teaching provided adequate background knowledge and a good foundation for teamwork. My students showed an ability to recall lab experience, but limited ability to express it. My choice of questions and duration of the talk was difficult for the students. My students are much more actively engaged when they are working together as opposed to listening to my lecture.

Action Plan for Next Semester:

Action Plan for Next Semester I need to conduct at least two Science Talks per semester. The talks need to be limited to less that twenty minutes, followed by a hands on activity. For lab experience it would help if aspects of each Science Talk were related to one another. “If Science Talks are held regularly, once every 1 or 2 weeks, ways of co-constructing knowledge spill over into other areas of the curriculum, and sophistication of all classroom discussions increase.” ( Gallas , 2007)


Acknowledgements I would like to thank following for their support in helping me complete making this project: The students and staff of Wellington Community High School. My classmates in SCE 5740 for their ideas and feedback. Ms. Twila Chafai, chemistry teacher at WHS. Dr. Nancy Davis, FSU College of Teacher Education.


References Gallas, K. (1995). Talking their way into science: Hearing children’s questions and theories, responding with curricula, Teachers College, New York Levy-Nahum, T., Hofstein, A., Mamlok, R., and Bar-Dov, Z. (2004). Can final examinations amplify students’ misconceptions in chemistry? Chemistry Education: Research and Pract ice, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 301-325. National Research Council (2005). National Science Education Standards, Washington, DC. National Academy Press.