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CSI: Chemistry Student Investigators


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Keywords: Electronic Lab Journals, Photography, Technology, Science, Journalism, Chemistry, Investigations
Subject(s): Journalism, Science, Photography, Technology, Math, Chemistry
Grades 10 through 12
School: Central High School, Baton Rouge, LA
Planned By:
Original Author: Carmen Beasley, Baton Rouge

Many of today’s students are intimidated by chemistry. Sure, they want to get into the lab to learn how to blow things up, but few enter the class with the confidence and courage needed to achieve skills necessary for success. For many chemistry students, chemistry is a massive wall and they feel that they do not possess the stamina needed to scale the wall. This attitude of fear or hopelessness sets a climate of failure for these students’ academic year. Throughout my years of teaching, I have witnessed these same fears place a stronghold on students’ science scores not only in chemistry, but also on the GEE21 Louisiana state exit test and the Scientific Reasoning portion of the ACT. I know that the more the students work with or manipulate the data that they generate, the more that they will understand data that is presented to them in the future. These fears are present when confidence is lacking. Students can build confidence through experience and experience through role playing in the laboratory. In the words of Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert, “If you’re not careful, you might just learn something.”

The CSI television series (three in all) are very popular across the nation and many careers have been pursued by interest generated through watching the exciting episodes. CSI: Chemistry Student Investigators gives students an answer to “When are we ever going to use this?” and “Why are we doing this?” By embedding chemistry content into scenarios that students must investigate, teachers can bypass the fears and tap into an already present interest.

CSI: Chemistry Student Investigators

Episode 1: Students are grouped into academically heterogeneous groups and don the persona of laboratory investigators. They are informed of the latest case that they will be working on. Student investigators must construct testable hypotheses and design the experiments which they will use in their investigation. These lab investigations will occur throughout the year and will be linked to the chemistry comprehensive curriculum GLEs. Topics will include density, substance identification, stoichiometry, percent composition, solution concentration, titrations of acids and bases, and organic chemistry and be presented to the laboratory investigators in the context of a mystery that they will solve through their experimentation. The student investigators perform their experiments, generate data that is collected with hand held computers, and take DIGITAL PHOTOS and MOVIE CLIPS of their procedures with OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAS. Software is loaded on the hand helds and along with TOOL FACTORY WORKSHOP WORD PROCESSING and MULTIMEDIA LAB V on school computers allows students to graph, make tables, memos, and notations for the next Episode of the project.

Episode 2: The groups of student investigators sync the data, photos, and movie clips generated by their investigations with the aid of TOOL FACTORY WORKSHOP and MULTIMEDIA LAB V software into their computers. They organize the data and create visual representations such as graphs and tables. They then write their lab reports using TOOL FACTORY WORKSHOP WORD PROCESSING in the required format of the lab by which they are employed.

Episode 3: Student investigators compile the separate components of the data from their hand held computers and DIGITAL CAMERAS as they begin construction of their personal laboratory DATABASE or electronic lab journal using MULTIMEDIA LAB V software to log the cases on which they have consulted. Over the school year, the electronic journals demonstrate proof of the investigators’ growth in lab experience, and more importantly, their maturation in understanding not only chemistry, but the underlying skills necessary to master scientific inquiry and technology.

Episode 4: Investigators convene to discuss their cases and findings and present their electronic lab reports orally as the result of the MULTIMEDIA LAB V created journals are shown via a projector to their investigator peers.

Timeline: This cyclic project will continue throughout the year with each of the 11 units in chemistry; scientific inquiry skills will be reinforced during each unit. August and September will host investigations based on general technique, density, separating mixtures, and problem solving. October-physical and chemical properties and changes. November-chemical changes and identifying substances. January-reactions and conservation of matter. February hosts percent composition and colligative properties. Unknown concentrations of solutions will be determined in March and in April acid-base titrations will be performed. Energy changes will be observed in April. May will host biochemical investigations and the year end final presentations of the lab journals created using the Olympus digital cameras, Tool Factory Workshop, and Multimedia Lab V software.

One goal of CSI: Chemistry Student Investigators is to remove fear of science from high school students. The project will allow students to replace the reticence that they exhibit with open-minded invigoration and excitement and create a feeling of “I can do this” and “Let me show you!” CSI: Chemistry Student Investigators will turn students onto chemistry and generate pride in their academic work. Students who achieve this goal will exhibit positive attitudes and pride in their work.

The second goal is to provide a bridge over the chasm of chemistry content-specific GLEs and science inquiry GLEs in the chemistry comprehensive curriculum. While the content of the investigations are rooted in the eleven chemistry units, the investigations and roles that the students will assume are based on the scientific inquiry area of the curriculum. The pacing guide does not allow time to focus solely on scientific inquiry although mastery of these GLEs provide the foundation on which all other concepts are understood. The curriculum is packed with eleven units which are also packed with theory, history, and problems to be mastered by each student, and then there is the separate unit which must be addressed throughout each of the other eleven units. The scientific inquiry GLEs are of extreme importance to each unit, but could easily get squeezed out by concentrating on content specific GLEs. Students who achieve this goal will exhibit a growth in understanding how science works including writing testable hypotheses; designing investigations; recording, organizing, and displaying data appropriately; using technology to enhance laboratory investigations; identifying safety procedures to be followed when in the lab; analyzing conclusions from an investigation; choosing appropriate models to explain scientific knowledge.

The third goal is for students’ chemistry, GEE21 Science, and ACT Science Reasoning scores to increase as they gain knowledge of science through inquiry and manipulation of data so that understanding scientific processes are more easily achieved. These scores can easily be compared to previous scores of students and individual students’ past ACT science reasoning scores.

The three top priorities of our school improvement plan are: thinking and reasoning skills, learning to learn skills, and expanding and integrating knowledge. CSI: Chemistry Student Investigators addresses each of these needs by getting students involved in an active learning role and engaged in the construction of their body of knowledge through scientific inquiry.

The comprehensive curriculum for chemistry hosts a potential chasm between content-specific Grade Level Expectations (GLEs) and the scientific inquiry GLEs which must be covered throughout the year. Although the scientific inquiry GLEs are of utmost importance to the understanding of scientific processes, they could easily get squeezed out of the curriculum because they are presented only once in the curriculum. CSI: Chemistry Student Investigators is designed to address each scientific inquiry GLE many times throughout the year.

Both formative and summative evaluations will be made. Formative evaluations will be made on each student as they work together in the laboratory. Student investigators will be graded by performance rubrics that feature the anticipated results of each activity or question from the labs, graphs, data tables, and oral presentations at the conclusion of each case. Oral lab report presentations will be made to the entire class by academically heterogeneous groups at the conclusion of each lab activity. Electronic Lab Journals will also be graded by a rubric before they are burned onto discs for each student to keep as a record of his year in chemistry.

Summative evaluations will be made at the completion of each unit.

The electronic lab journal will also provide evidence for an improvement in School Improvement Plan’s Thinking and Reasoning Skills as one observes the students’ products from the beginning of the school year to the end. The School Improvement Plan’s Learning to Learn skills will also be evaluated by examining student performance in chemistry, their scores on the science portion of the GEE21, and scores on the science reasoning portion of the ACT. Students scores across the curriculum will be evaluated to determine the progress of the students. Expanding and Integrating Knowledge skills featured in the School Improvement Plan. The electronic journals will also feature an introspective area where students will reflect upon any changes in their perception of their fear of chemistry, their scientific understanding, and how they feel that they have progressed throughout the year.
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
Graphing supplies links to mathematics and visual representation of data generated in laboratory investigations.
Follow-Up
Lab groups orally present their findings to their peers as they show their electronic lab journals. Excerpts from the electronic journals can be placed on school websites to provide the community some insight into the students' performances.
Materials: Cause and Effect, Worksheets, Timeline, Slideshow, Web Page, Podcasting, Database, Spreadsheet, Word Processor, Science, Flash/USB Drives, Batteries, Camera Bags, Digital Voice Recorders, Point and Shoot
Other Items: 4 Universal AC Power Adaptors, $39.99 each, total of $159.96
4 1G memory cards, $34.99 each, total of $139.96
1 Olympus FE 230 Digital Camera, $199.99 each, total of $199.99