Virginia Association of Science Teachers

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  • JVSE Vol. 12, No. 1

In This Issue

From the Editors: Making Science Accessible to All Students  Amanda Gonczi and Jennifer Maeng
  • "Using Lasers to Hang Descartes’ Rainbow in the Sky"  Michael Ralph and Hannah Bullington
Abstract: Historical approaches to teaching in science should go beyond a retelling of the typical experimental cannon. Descartes’ work with light refraction is a historical experiment that high school physics students can explore on their own and then compare to how scientists engaged in sense-making in their own time. In this 5E inquiry activity, high school physics students use a laser to track the path of light through a beaker, which allows them to graph the non-linear relationship between the angle of incidence and the angle of deflection. This experimental system can be created in a classroom laboratory, which allows students to ask their own questions and engage in scientific sense-making. Students can then compare their chosen ways of knowing with how Descartes and his contemporaries sought to understand the behavior of light in their own social context. This lesson allows students to grapple with principles of experimental design, which leads to student growth in lab skills such as apparatus construction and data analysis. 
  • "Real World Cell Membranes"  Sarah Ferguson, Hunter Ott, James Hayes, and John Talley 
Abstract: When it comes time to teaching your students about cell membranes, it can seem like a very straight-forward topic that does not leave much room for a creative approach. This article details a student-centered lesson that uses project-based instructional techniques; students learn through labs, research, and collaboration with their peers. This lesson spans three 90-minute class sessions and culminates in students working together to build a real-world model in which they showcase the relationships of the functions of a cell membrane to a common, everyday structure.
  • "RAFTing Ocean Acidification"  Amanda L. Gonczi and Jennifer L. Maeng 
Abstract: Developing activities that help students learn relevant science concepts, maintain interest, and use scientific inquiry skills is a challenge faced by many science teachers. The activity described here helped our biology students understand interactions between abiotic and biotic factors as they relate to patterns in ocean acidification while reinforcing science content from other science domains. It incorporates inquiry to encourage students to investigate core ecosystem-related science concepts in a meaningful and relevant context. The RAFT strategy provided students structured choices that reflect their own interest and prior knowledge.
  • "Dinosaur Zoo"  Audrey Charlwood, Jordan Thayer, and Hannah Weiss 
Abstract: Dinosaur Zoo is a lesson that engages late elementary school-aged learners in a STEM challenge activity which might be familiar to those well versed in pop culture. In Dinosaur Zoo, learners first examine habitats with which they are familiar and then apply those observations to prehistoric creatures. After determining the needs of their chosen creature, learners are then asked to budget for and construct a zoo enclosure to keep their creature safe. Through this challenge, learners employ 21st century skills such as critical t
  • "Strategies for Student Retention in STEM at a Small Liberal Arts Institution"  Deirdre Gonsalves-Jackson, Margaret Reese, and Gabriela Martorell 
Abstract: Low student enrollment and high student attrition are ongoing challenges in higher education (Sithole et al, 2017). The purpose of this study was to gain insight on successful strategies for student retention and persistence in STEM through the holistic use of five intervention strategies: (1) financial support, (2) close student-advisor relationship/peer advising, (3) peer tutoring, (4) career planning services and networking, and (5) hands-on small, cohort learning groups. The findings of our study indicate that these program features increase undergraduate retention in STEM majors. Overall, this study contributes to a broad understanding of how to attract and retain academically talented students in STEM disciplines. Implications include increasing the participation of historically underrepresented groups by including the investigated program features at other undergraduate institutions.
  • "Teachers’ Expressed Conceptualization of a Science Topic Closely Aligns with Grade-Level Content Standards: Potential Reasons and Implications"  Matthew Bowman and Benjamin K. Campbell
Abstract: Teachers are faced with challenges daily when it comes to organizing their subject matter knowledge (SMK) and planning units of instruction. This study worked with experienced inservice high school biology teachers to examine how they expressed their conceptualization of photosynthesis and cellular respiration—a standard component of the biology curriculum. Quantitative analysis revealed that this concept was represented at a level that corresponded more to basic rather than advanced understanding. Qualitative analysis of participant interviews points to two reasons for why teachers represented concepts in a way that more closely matches student levels of understanding rather than advanced conceptualizations of the topic. First, teachers are habituated to expressing content with minimal complexity. Second, teachers approach and therefore conceptualize content from their students’ perspective. These findings are discussed in the context of teacher knowledge and effective science instruction.

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