Squeals and Yelps in the Science Classroom
Project-based science conducted in the physics classroom presents a measure of reform in education that is clearly recognizable from the view of the teacher. The learning outcomes become evident as the motivation, commitment and general enthusiasm of students rise. It is an experience that needs to be replicated in high schools across our country.
The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) presents the following description of project-based science, “Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.” They go on to say about achievement of students in science, “The experience of thousands of teachers across all grade levels and subject areas, backed by research, confirms that PBL is an effective and enjoyable way to learn - and develop deeper learning competencies required for success in college, career, and civic life.
The Pitsco Catapult Kit provides students with the resources to construct, test, analyze and redesign prototype models to improve performance. It is an exciting way for students, studying physics, to apply concepts of two-dimensional motion with constant acceleration to the real-world performance of a catapult.
Students engaged in this investigative process are given autonomy, during the project, to explore outcomes and imagine how current constraints associated with the prototype model could be altered to render improved performance of the catapult-launched projectile. It is a time for students to take steps toward real implementation of concepts learned in physics and apply them directly to the mechanical operation of a catapult to prove a hypothesis and to accumulated evidence for conclusions.
Squeals and yelps in the classroom and hallway from students conducting their experiments is a good measure of student engagement and enthusiasm for the outcomes of their efforts. Finally, students are able to express themselves as true investigators in an effort to produce outcomes that they have predicted would occur based upon the physics that they have learned, understand and believe.
Student express some apprehension and concern over this application of mathematical models to experimental outcomes. At times it seems like students are taking baby steps as they come to realize that mathematical models can help them predict outcomes and leads them toward a better process developing excellent performance-based models. Using what has been learned in physics, to produce real-world outcomes, is one way that builds confidence and academic understanding within every student.
Students engaged and enthused about the construction of the prototype catapult model.
Construction requires a focused effort to produce a model that can be tested to determine performance outcomes.
Launching projectiles from the original prototype model and comparing results obtained from tests conducted by the redesigned model, help to solidify students' understanding of both the physics and engineering of the catapult and objects in motion.