Academic journal article Science and Children

Caught on Video! Using Handheld Digital Video Cameras to Support Evidence-Based Reasoning

Academic journal article Science and Children

Caught on Video! Using Handheld Digital Video Cameras to Support Evidence-Based Reasoning

Article excerpt


Mrs. Nealy approaches a team of girls in her fourth-grade classroom: "All right, girls, you're on video. Can someone tell us, what three scoops [of materials] did you choose and why?" Camera in hand, Mrs. Nealy is determining if the girls are using evidence from earlier investigations to inform their choice of materials for mortar as they design a model rock-and-mortar wall.

Engaging elementary students in evidence-based reasoning is an essential aspect of science and engineering education (Michaels, Shouse, and Schweingruber 2008; NRC 1996). Evidence-based reasoning involves students making claims (i.e., answers to questions, or solutions to problems), providing evidence to support those claims, and articulating their reasoning to connect the evidence to the claim (McNeill and Martin 2011). In contexts in which students engineer solutions to problems--contexts that will be increasingly prevalent given the significant inclusion of engineering and technology within A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (NRC 2011)--we contend that a student's reasoned solution to a problem is the overarching claim.

Here, we describe the way in which video segments from affordable, pocket-size, handheld, digital video cameras can be used to support evidence-based reasoning as students design model rock-and-mortar walls. We draw from our experiences as science education reformers and teachers working within a school system where such cameras have been integrated into elementary science and engineering instruction. The engineering instruction is based upon a unit from Engineering is Elementary called A Sticky Situation: Designing Walls, but this strategy can be used in a variety of lessons (see NSTA Connection). Throughout the article, we share vignettes from Mrs. Nealy's classroom, as well as from our many visits to other classrooms and discussions with other teachers in the school system. Prior to sharing these vignettes, however, we describe the engineering design challenge that Mrs. Nealy's students encountered.


The Challenge

To engineer is to solve problems in a reasoned way, generating solutions that are "designed technologies" (i.e., products or processes that solve problems). More specifically, engineering involves using the engineering design process. Common across the various versions of the engineering design process is that in its earliest stages, the following are identified: (1) the problem to be solved; (2) the constraints (e.g., allowable materials); (3) criteria that help assess the level of success of the solution; and (4) what is already known that may be pertinent to solving the problem. Engineers and studentsas-engineers consider the problem, constraints, criteria, and prior knowledge as they brainstorm solutions, assess these against criteria, and ultimately select, plan, create, and test a designed technology (NRC 1996). The process repeats as revisions are made to improve the technology.

The problem. The students in Mrs. Nealy's class were motivated to design model rock-and-mortar walls by a story about a hungry rabbit that gobbles up an un-walled classroom garden (EiE Team and Martin 2008). The students, like the central character in the story, Yi Min, were to determine how to design a sturdy model rock-and-mortar wall to solve this problem.

The constraints. The walls were to be made from 30 pieces of slate rock (on average, about 5 cm long, 2.5 cm wide, and 0.5 cm thick). The wall could be only one rock in thickness and approximately 8 cm high and 15 cm wide. Only 180 ml of mortar was allowed, and mortar could be made with any combination of three 60 ml scoops of moist soil, sand, or clay (e.g., 60 ml of soil, 60 ml of sand, and 60 ml of clay; or 120 ml of clay and 60 ml of sand).

The criteria. Once dry, walls were to be tested for strength using a pendulumlike wrecking ball fashioned from a golf ball affixed to a string (Figure 1). …

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