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Interactions governed by electrical forces are critical for explaining and making predictions about processes typically addressed in chemistry, biology and earth science, and are also important for emergent disciplines such as nanoscale science and engineering and biotechnology. Despite the importance of these interactions to many disciplines, learning research indicates that current instructional strategies generally do not support students in developing understanding of these ideas.
The instructional materials and assessments provided by this project are focused on helping students meet important learning goals for physical and biological science. In addition, because the idea of forces and interactions is critical for many STEM disciplines, the materials add substantially to improving high school STEM education by providing a foundation for a broad range of future STEM learning (e.g., chemistry– chemical bonding, physics–electricity, biology–structure and function of molecules and assemblies important in life-sustaining processes, earth science–mineral transport). The products will also help produce a population of citizens capable of continuing further STEM learning, including the study of emergent disciplines, to help maintain the nation's scientific and technological success.
We developed and tested a model curriculum to support student understanding of the sub-microscopic interactions that govern biological and chemical processes. The instructional materials focus on developing and using a model of attraction and repulsion in various ways to explain a broad range of phenomena and structures. Addressing intermolecular interactions before chemical bonds helped students focus on the electrons that mediate interactions at the nano-, molecular and atomic scales, thus leading to more flexible knowledge that supported future learning related to interactions at these scales. Through learning studies, we tested whether this approach would indeed better support student understanding, and explored whether the proposed approach helped students develop understanding of important chemical and biological phenomena.
As such, we answered two major questions: (1) How does learning progress over time when students experience a set of interdisciplinary instructional materials designed to help them progress toward important learning goals related to interactions at very small scales? and (2) How do the various learning activities support the development of an integrated understanding? This included exploring how different types of representations (e.g., physical models, computer simulations) and the ways in which students use them (e.g., build, modify, make predictions from) affect how students progress toward the learning goals.
As a design-based research and development project, our research efforts involved multiple cycles of designing, developing, testing and refining instructional materials, including the associated computer-based models, simulations and assessments, to help students meet important learning goals related to interactions at very small scales.
Our materials focus on one of the core ideas in the draft of the Framework for Science Education, namely “Forces due to fundamental interactions that underlie all matter structures and transformations; balance or imbalance of forces determines stability and change within all systems.” (Physical Science Core Idea 2 (PS2), p. 7-43, NRC, 2010). One of the four fundamental interactions, the electric force, is especially important for explaining and predicting phenomena occurring at the nano-, molecular and atomic scales. Therefore, interactions governed by electrical forces are critical for explaining and making predictions about important processes typically addressed in chemistry, biology and earth science, and are also important for emergent disciplines such as nanoscale science and engineering (NSE) and biotechnology.
To support students in learning these complex ideas, we relied heavily on computer-based models and simulations as well as physical models to help students visualize and develop an understanding of the principles that govern interactions at very small scales. Once the principles were established, students delved into the structural characteristics of atoms and molecules to explain those principles. We contextualized the units by using phenomena that apply to a range of scientific disciplines.
|Investigation 1: Why do some things stick together and other things don’t?||teacher guide|
|Investigation 2: What are factors that affect how strongly objects interact with each other?||teacher guide|
|Investigation 3: What are all materials made of?||teacher guide|
|Investigation 4: What are nature’s building blocks?||teacher guide|
|Investigation 5: How does an object become charged?||teacher guide|
|Investigation 1: What is happening when a spark occurs?||teacher guide|
|Investigation 2: Where does the energy of a spark come from?||teacher guide|
|Investigation 3: How can a small spark start a huge explosion?||teacher guide|
|Investigation 4: Where does all the energy in an explosion come from?||teacher guide|
|Investigation 1: What makes water special?||teacher guide|
|Investigation 2: What happens to the energy of water molecules during hurricanes?||teacher guide|
|Unit 4: (available soon)|