Problem Based Lesson, Mythbusters style

We’re beginning science fair projects next week, so I wanted to finish my problem based lesson early in the semester.  I also wanted the lesson to be something that would help prepare them and get them in the mindset for their science fair projects.  The basic format of a problem based lesson is to give them a problem that you haven’t shown them how to solve.  You spend a few minutes discussing any assumptions or ideas that they need to think about, and then you let them solve the problem in groups.  After awhile, you gather their solutions, group similar solutions and discuss.

I presented the Mythbusters question and their assignment was to design an experiment that would test the question.  The question I chose was basically “Do you get wetter if you run or walk in the rain?”  I wrote up the question and then asked what kinds of things they need to think about if they were to design an experiment to test this question.  They very quickly started mentioning things like

  • how fast it’s running, direction of rain, etc.
  • the distance of the experiment
  • how to measure the wetness

I wrote up on the board the things they came up with, and then let them work in their table groups on a big poster paper to write out and/or draw their experiment.  A couple students told me that they “knew the answer” because they saw this episode or from some other source, so I explained that the “answer” today wasn’t what the result was, but how they would do the experiment themselves.  The students who had seen it did seem to put their own spin on their experiment, not just write down what they had previously seen on Mythbusters.  Then each group shared how they designed their experiment, and (in 3 of the 5 classes) we were able to watch a 4 minute clip from Mythbusters about how they set up their experiment and what their results were.

Overall the students seemed to enjoy the class.  Once they started in the right direction, they were really great about figuring out what things to keep constant, and how to measure the rain.  A lot of them ended up with experiments fairly similar to the Mythbusters (which I think is really great for 6th graders to figure out how to control for the variable being tested).

The overall engagement of the students was very high.  The biggest challenge I found for this style lesson was redirecting groups that were focusing on things that were not really progressing their design.  For instance, one group was very concentrated on drawing a picture of rain rather than really designing a full experiment (whereas some groups used illustrations to effectively communicate their procedure).  Another group was writing down a lot of ideas like “speed of rain,” “radar,” “type of clothing,” rather than deciding on a way to control the speed of the rain, or choosing the same kind of clothing for the participants to wear, etc.  It took a lot of specific questions to redirect them to actually design the experiment rather than just write down the factors affecting their experiment.

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About Megan Peck

PhD student in Computer Science at the University of Kansas. Formerly a fellow in the NSF GK-12 program through KU.
This entry was posted in 2011-2012 GK12, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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