Academic journal article Science and Children

SPARKING DISCUSSION through VISUAL THINKING: Strategies for Adapting Visual Thinking Strategies for Use in the Science Classroom

Academic journal article Science and Children

SPARKING DISCUSSION through VISUAL THINKING: Strategies for Adapting Visual Thinking Strategies for Use in the Science Classroom

Article excerpt

"While the activity of examining art is not so different from a young person following a line of ants along a sidewalk to see where it leads, it is also how a scientist studies climate and a historian pieces together the past" (Yenawine 2013, p. 13).

Engaging students in conversations around science and engineering design can be challenging. Sparking such conversations during field trips at an interactive science center has additional challenges. First, students vary considerably in age from day to day: We might work with first graders one day and sixth graders the next. Second, students are on the field trip for a short time. Therefore, we must establish norms without spending much time teaching expectations around science and engineering discourse. These challenges motivated us to implement a framework that would work effectively across age groups and immediately engage students in discussion and dialog during our Engineering Explorations, 50-minute engineering design activities implemented as field trip programs in our museum classroom. This framework adapts well to classroom settings and is easily implemented as a lead-in to any number of science or engineering design activities.

Visual Thinking Strategies

We adapted questions from Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) (Housen 2002; Yenawine 2013) to elicit student ideas and prompt discussion. VTS is a structured way of facilitating discussions around images (Housen 2002) that was developed for art museums to help visitors learn to observe, find meaning, and support their ideas with evidence. VTS has been used in classroom settings from preschools to medical schools and is grounded in constructivist ideas about learning. The originator of VTS, Abigail Housen (1999) states, "... good teaching is more than imparting pre-digested information which is not relevant to the student... student learning occurs when the learner is actively making new constructions, building new kinds of meaning in new ways" (p. 5). Those same constructivist ideas inform Next Generation Science Standards--aligned science instruction, which guide our Engineering Explorations.

Our use of VTS is built around three questions asked in the following order:

(1) What do you think is going on in this picture?

(2) What do you see that makes you say that?

(3) What more can we find?

VTS requires close observation and evidence-backed claims, which mirrors important practices in science and engineering. To adapt this discourse tool for science and engineering, the visual that the educator selects might be a still image, a video clip, or a live demonstration. It should prompt discussion about key ideas that are built upon during subsequent activities or prompt questions that motivate further investigation. In this article, we describe one example of a VTS conversation motivating an engineering design activity done with upper elementary school students.

The goal of this activity was to set the stage and elicit students' ideas that would be built on when students later solved an engineering design problem. In the design challenge, students would collaboratively design a multi-layered patch to repair a greenhouse on the Moon. This required students to grapple with the effects of placing objects of different materials in the path of a beam of light (1-PS4-3) and with the idea that energy is transferred from one place (the Sun) to another (the greenhouse) by light (4-PS3-2). Thus, our VTS activity focused on ideas about infrared radiation and visible light and the degree to which these are transmitted through various materials.

Eliciting Ideas

To elicit student ideas about heat, light, and the differences in how they interact with materials, we began with a demonstration. The students observed two beakers, one that contained hot water (keep students at a safe distance) and one that contained cold water and ice cubes. An infrared camera projected the thermal image of the beakers, allowing students to see the materials and their thermal images simultaneously. …

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