Sunday, December 2, 2007

Integrating Sims in High School Science Classroom - Lesson Plan

Strategic Plan

As science education reform efforts call for students to develop scientific processes and skills through inquiry (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993; National Research Council, 1996), I decided to use the process of assessment-driven design to create a three-week inquiry-based unit as a route to in-depth understanding of physics concepts. According to Glatthorn (1998), an assessment-driven unit is a unit that has been carefully planned to prepare students for and engage them in performance assessments so that they might achieve authentic learning. Authentic learning allows students to explore, discover, discuss, and meaningfully construct concepts and relationships in contexts that involve real-world problems and projects that are relevant and interesting to the learner. It implies that (1) learning should be centered round authentic tasks; (2) learning should be guided with teacher scaffolding; (3) students should be engaged in exploration and inquiry; (4) students have opportunities for social discourse; and (5) ample resources be available to students as they pursue meaningful problems (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 1999). Based on the above understanding, I developed a lesson plan for high school physics class by using Glatthorn’s (1998) unit planning process.

Analyze the Performance Task

The first step was to analyze the performance task. The National Science Education Standards provide assessment standards (NRC, 1996, pp. 173-181) consistent with the goals of this simulation-based learning unit. The following inquiry and physical science content standards are the focus of the alignment process:
Science as inquiry.

Content Standard A 9-12:
As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop
  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry

“For students to develop the abilities that characterize science as inquiry, they must actively participate in scientific investigations, and they must actually use the cognitive and manipulative skills associated with the formulation of scientific explanations” (p. 173).

Physical science.

Content Standard B 9-12:
As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop an understanding of
  • Motions and forces

“By this age, the concept of force is better understood, but static forces in equilibrium and students’ intuitive ideas about forces on projectiles and satellites still resist change through instruction for a large percentage of the students” (p. 178).

From the above standards, we develop the following performance task: Using the simulation program Rocket Modeler II, design a rocket and successfully launch it.

A knowledge and skills analysis (Glatthorn, 1998) was adopted to analyze the performance task. What knowledge the students need to accomplish the task and what skills they need to master were determined as following:

1. Law of Motion
2. Basics of forces
3. Gravitation

1. Using computer simulations as science inquiry tools
2. Calculating external forces and velocity
3. Interpreting data and reporting results from experiments

Block-in the Unit

By reviewing the results of the analysis and reflecting about our students, we established the general parameters for this unit:
Title of the unit: Launch Your Rocket
Goal of the unit: The students will acquire basic knowledge about the basics of forces through their application in rocket design.
Length of the unit: 3 weeks.
Review the Unit Scenario

In order to test the feasibility and likely effectiveness of the performance task and the instruction required, I reflected on the results of the analysis, the students, the standards, the performance task, the nature of authentic learning and teaching, and the resources available.

Here is the scenario I went through:

Allow time for students to form small groups (no more than 3 people per group). The teacher will assign a different task to each group (i.e., launch the rocket under different wind, weight, and/or gravity conditions). The three members can be assigned roles such as Captain, Chief Engineer, and Commander. Students will learn the four forces on the rocket, basic rocket motion, the payload system, flight equations and the use of the equation calculator through the online tutorials on the NASA website. Groups will report their progress to the teacher on a weekly basis and get feedback from the teacher. Finally, groups will be expected to present their final work to the class by demonstrating how they design and launch the rocket and what the three things they learn from this project are. Following up in a class discussion, students will discuss their feelings about NASA scientists’ responsibility and the application of physical science in the real world.

This scenario provided a picture of how the unit begins, unfolds, and ends. Through a peer review, my colleagues agreed that it represented authentic learning and reflected the result of the analysis previously stated.

Sketch-in the Lessons

In order to make sure that the unit can be effectively presented in the time available, we made an outline of the lesson:

Week1: Formation of groups, choice of project assignment, planning, and studying with the online tutorials.
Week2: Designing and launching the rockets with the teacher’s guidance
Week3: Presentation of project and class discussion.

Prepare the Unit for Evaluation

To get everything ready for evaluation, I put together the usual components of this unit such as identifying information, unit title, school subject and grade level for intended use, suggested number of lessons, curriculum standards and benchmarks, performance task with criteria and rubrics, lesson sketches, resources required, suggestions for enrichment and remediation, and forms for evaluating the unit.

Required resources.
  • Computer with Internet access (preferably high speed)
  • E-mail and/or instant messaging account
  • Java applications for Rocket Modeler II simulation program
Criteria and rubrics for student.

Table 1. Criteria and rubrics

Suggestions for enrichment and remediation.

Provide students with several resourceful links such as the NASA website, Wikipedia, and other related physical science websites. The teacher can also create a Webquest for students’ further research study.

Implement the Assessment-Based Unit

I believe the most important criterion for evaluating this unit is the unit’s effectiveness in preparing students to master the performance task. Therefore, Glatthorn’s (1998) criteria for evaluating units (see Figure 1) will be applied to assess the unit.

Figure 1. Criteria for Evaluating Units

Does the unit
1. Prepare the students to achieve mastery of the performance task?
2. Embody the elements of authentic learning?
3. Use a realistic time frame?
4. In format, organization, and content facilitate teacher use?
5. Include all the components specified by the district curriculum office?
6. Use language effectively and correctly?


American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Donovan, M. S., Bransford, J. D., & Pellegrino, J. W. (Eds.). (1999). How people learn: Bridging research and practice. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Glatthorn, A. A. (1998). Performance assessment and standards-based curricula: The achievement cycle. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

No comments: