Ice Cube Challenge: Treat students like scientists for worse data and better learning.

September 2, 2016 at 11:57 AM Leave a comment

This is a mini project to either preserve or melt ice quickly. It’s a lead in to learning more about thermodynamics that they will need to be HVAC consultants for the Cool the School project.

This time, instead of the usual lab sheet, I set the challenge and gave them time to brainstorm. Showed the equipment and supplies and we reviewed the norms each class had generated to check they’d work in a lab setting. Plus added “Be safe” and “Clean up” with a short chat about what that means. (Slipping on spills and ice, trip hazards and heat lamps.)

Scientists use lab books to record what they did, what happened and ideas and that’s how I framed using their notebooks. Plus the rest of the class will be visiting their table at the end of class and having good notes will help them share their experiments stress-free.

It was amazing how responsible they were with the foil, mylar etc. The only safety issue was a couple of kids who started burning holes in leaves with magnifiers outside. Sigh. Should have thought of that… The atmosphere right now is of focused chat, each group looks pretty absorbed in what they are doing. The only real management issue has been that in the time they are melting the ice cubes, they start messing about, so we had to chat about the valuable life skill of how to look as if you are working for your future boss.

Giving students so much freedom is at once a bit scary and a bit hard to trust that they will get to high level thinking about experimental design, melting and thermodynamics on their own. But the enormous gain is the level of engagement and conversation. Much better than having to roam around policing kids. Instead, I’m roaming around looking for good experimental design, getting them materials they need and encouraging them.

We finished off with a table by table share-out of what they did, what happened and what they learned. The main learnings were that you should only have one variable to make the experiment fair, that you need to measure the melt water and that the effect of foil is really confusing to students – all sorts of thermodynamic misunderstandings around insulation, reflection and absorption and re-emission. We’ll address those next week with some light and energy labs.

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Entry filed under: Cool the School Project, Experimental Method, Physics Topics, Project Based Learning, Thermodynamics. Tags: , , , , .

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