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How can my students execute at-home science experiments?

oct 20, 2020

Although there are loads of websites directed to parents that tout fun science activities at home, teaching science is much more than that. It requires students to learn and apply scientific thinking rooted in standards-based skills.

That said, after much surfing, I did not find the “magic bullet” website of “science experiments for remote learning” that many teachers are seeking. However, in my research, I did discover that many of the “at-home” resources could be adapted to potentially fill the science-lab void.

Such adaptations will require two major considerations: How will students experience the experiment? How does the experiment meet science standards?

CONSIDERATION #1: How will students experience the experiment?

When students are responsible for conducting the experiment at home, it’s important to consider some key questions about safety and equity.

OPTION 1: Students execute the experiment.

  • How will you account for the materials needed?
  • Will pre-made kits be mailed, picked up, or delivered to student homes, or will the experiment involve supplies that every child would already have?
  • How will you address safety concerns related to chemicals, equipment, and instruments?
  • What type of parental supervision will be necessary?

If students are responsible for providing the supplies to execute the experiment, be sure to suggest several alternative supplies that can help achieve the primary goal. For many families, even the simplest supplies are not an option. With this in mind, make sure the experiment is one that every child can participate in regardless of his or her family’s financial or personal situation.

OPTION 2: Students experience the experiment virtually.
If the issue of supplies provides a barrier to executing an at-home experiment, another option would be to have students participate virtually.

There are many websites that offer digital simulations and virtual tours that address the core elements of a science concept. That said, this option requires that students have a wifi connection and access to an internet-enabled device.

OPTION 3: Students observe the experiment.
A third option for executing a standards-driven science experiment would be for the teacher to conduct the experiment while students watch.

This approach could look very similar to what would occur if students were viewing the experiment in person. The teacher would start part of the experiment and then pause to ask questions and make predictions. Students could be asked to write down their own questions and predictions, and then the video continues. This cycle of demonstration and engagement could continue throughout the entire experiment as students observe, note evidence, make conclusions, and so on.

While it’s definitely more fun for students to do the experiment themselves instead of watching a video, for some, simulations and video-based experiences may be the only option.

CONSIDERATION #2: Does the experiment meet science standards?

Remember, many of these science-at-home websites are written for parents. Consequently, they lack the rigors of academic standards. However, these can be added in order to transform a simple “activity” into a true “experiment.”

Every at-home science experiment you assign should include these four instructional ingredients.

  1. Outline the science standards and disciplinary literacy skills that will be targeted.
  2. Identify the domain-specific vocabulary you expect students to learn and apply.
  3. Provide step-by-step written procedures using the scientific and technical writing format.
  4. Require a product that demonstrates scientific learning. (Whether it’s a drawn picture with labels, an oral recording, or a full lab report with hypothesis and conclusions, there needs to be some evidence of the student’s understanding.)

Hands-on science can play a role in remote learning. However, the key is to revise the online resources available in order to meet the rigors of educational standards.

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