As many of you know, the Learning Cycle is an approach to science instruction developed by Atkin and Karplus in 1962 while working on the SCIS (Science Curriculum Improvement Study) project. This approach puts the phenomena first. Names and numbers are brought into the picture only after students are allowed direct contact with the phenomena. Although there are a number of variations on the theme, the essential learning cycle consists of three phases. These phases include exploration, concept development, and application. The "Learning Cycle" method may be used to teach virtually any topic in physics and that includes Newton's Laws. The forces exploration consists of a "smorgasbord" of twelve activities relating to Newtons laws. This exploratory's emphasis is on the introduction of Newton's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd laws. At each station students are asked to perform one or more activities and answer questions based on their observations. These stations use a variety of manipulatives. Some stations feature common household items; others use either commercial devices or teacher-produced apparatus. I would like to share some of our students' favorite stations with you. During the last 30 years, Dr. James Hicks and I have assembled exploratory activities that we've used to introduce each major topic (for example, forces, energy, optics, wave phenomena, electricity, magnetism, etc.) in our physics classes. These collections contain both time-honored "experiments" and activities that Jim and I have concocted or borrowed from our students or other teachers.
Here are some guidelines for the "Newton Adventure":
- An exploratory is a collection of introductory science activities that relate to a single topic or concept. Exploratories provide students with a common experiential base while igniting their interest.
- The activities are arranged as numbered stations around the room. Manipulatives at each station provide opportunities for exploration and discovery.
- The exploratory uses a guided inquiry approach. The guidance is provided through instructions and questions that accompany each station. The teacher remains in the background and assists only when asked.
- The activities may be done in any order.
- A non-judgmental approach is used. At this point, the teacher should be focusing on the quality of a student's reasoning, not whether an answer is right or wrong. The teacher is given an opportunity to listen to students dialog with peers and formulate explanations. Student pre-conceptions are revealed during this phase of the learning cycle.
- Exploratories encourage student engagement. Intriguing manipulatives tend to get even the most disinterested students involved. Since discrepant events leave the students with a need to know, the class discussion that follows an exploratory is teacher led, but student-driven.
- Exploratories provide qualitative experiences. Quantitative laboratory work is done later.
- Placing instructions at each station eliminates duplicating costs. Laminating the instructions allows them to be reused.