Local Middle School Teachers Learn to Bust Science Misconceptions at Springfield College This WeekJune 29, 2010
SPRINGFIELD, Mass., June 29, 2010 – Is metal colder than wood? Do heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects? The answer to both questions is no, but many middle school students hold misconceptions about these and other subjects in the physical sciences – a problem that local teachers are preparing to tackle.
Through a grant-funded program at Springfield College this week, area middle school teachers are learning how to identify students’ false beliefs about the physical sciences, and master teaching techniques to correct them. The objective is to equip teachers to better prepare local students to succeed on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).
Titled “The World Is Flat,” the program was developed by Springfield College Professor of Biology and Education Robert A. Barkman. This is the second year in the three-year program supported by a total of $483,000 in grants from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Last year, the program addressed misconceptions in the life sciences, and next year the focus will be on earth sciences.
Working with the Springfield Public Schools, Barkman selected several scientific misconceptions held by local middle school students as target topics this week. Joining him on the teaching staff are faculty members from the Springfield College Physics Department and UMass Professor Emeritus Dick Konicek.
At the Springfield College Schoo-Bemis Science Center, middle school teachers will explore teaching exercises to bust misconceptions about the differences between temperature and heat, acceleration and velocity, mass and weight, and about gravity and other subjects.
On Friday afternoon, for example, they will show the reason why metal may feel colder than wood while, in reality, it is the same temperature. They will use a calorimeter to measure the amounts of energy transferred from one substance to another, proving that heat loss is faster through metal than wood.
This Thursday afternoon, they will explore the subject of energy. Barkman explained that there are many misconceptions about the meaning of the word energy. “Students will say, ‘I’m feeling energetic today,’ when they mean strong and alert, but energy actually means the capacity to do work.” The group will build turbines to show how wind energy can be transformed into electrical energy. Then, they will change the design of the turbines to create other kinds of energy.
Barkman launched the program for middle school teachers after presenting similar programs to elementary school teachers during the previous four years. Initial testing shows that students of the participating elementary school teachers subsequently retained correct information. These programs were supported by Massachusetts Board of Higher Education grants.
Barkman was inspired to create the program after viewing the film “Private Universe,” which revealed that misconceptions about science are rampant, even among some of the best educated people in the world. Harvard students asked about the causes of the seasons mostly had wrong ideas.
“There are eight different learning styles, and the teacher’s challenge is to reach all of them. Misconceptions can arise when lessons miss some learning styles,” Barkman said. Visual/spatial learners are picture smart, and verbal/linguistic learners respond to words, Barkman said. Mathematical/logical learners see numerical patterns, and kinesiological learners use body expression and movement. There are also interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical/rhythmical, and naturalist learners.
Barkman said that the program is designed to keep participating middle school teachers “off their seat and on their feet,” and includes a field trip to the Connecticut Science Museum.
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