Monthly Archives: March 2017

pHET, TGEM & The Greenhouse Effect

With the advent of increasingly new technology, scientific facts and concepts can now be produced visually on digital screens.  This enables student misconceptions to be clarified and effective learning to be encouraged.  One avenue of learning in which interactive animations and simulations are utilized to promote science learning is pHET simulations.  In their research, Finkelstein, Perkins, Adams, Kohl, and Podolefsky (2005) state that students who learned material through computer simulations outperformed on conceptual questions when compared to students who used real equipment.  They further argue that while simulations might not necessarily promote conceptual learning, there is some validity to enhance student learning through computer simulations under the correct guidance, facilitation and application.

For my lesson plan, I have chosen a pHET Greenhouse Effect simulation available at:  It can be used in the earth science unit of Science 10.  The lesson was created with the T-GEM in mind, which briefly involves three levels of instructional strategies (Khan, 2007): compiling information and generating a relationship, evaluating the relationship, and modifying the relationship.

The Simulation Activity:

Preliminary Understanding:

  1. Click on the “Adjustable Conditions” button and set the Green House Gas concentration to zero. Turn off all photons and set the temperature to Celsius.
  2. What do the yellow and red particles represent and where do they come from?
  3. Why might the red particles be heading out to space?
  4. What is the minimum temperature?

During the Ice Age:

  1. Click the “Ice Age” button and record the minimum temperature.
  2. Record: [CO2]
  3. Follow a red particle and observe how it behaves. Repeat for a different particle at different locations. Summarize your findings. Repeat with the yellow particle.
  4. How do the yellow and red particles behaviours compare?

Discuss similarities and differences.

  1. What is the temperature now? How does this compare to the temperature you measured when no green house gases existed? What can you conclude about the effect of green house gases on the Earth’s temperature? Is this a good or bad thing? Explain.
  2. What happens to the yellow and red particles when clouds are introduced?
  3. What happens to the temperature when clouds are introduced? Explain why you think this occurs.

During 1750:

  1. Click the “Ice Age” button and record the minimum temperature.
  2. Record: [CO2], [CH4], [N2O]
  3. How do these amounts compare to those at the time of the Ice Age?
  4. Predict what you think is happening presently.

The Present:

  1. Click the “Present” button and record the minimum temperature.
  2. Record: [CO2], [CH4], [N2O]
  3. How do these amounts compare to those at the time of the Ice Age and 1750?
  4. Add clouds and observe what happens. Record your observations.
  5. What would happen if the green house gas concentration increased? Adjust the GHG level to lots and observe. Record your observations.
  6. What factors might also influence this overall greenhouse effect?



Finkelstein, N.D., Perkins, K.K., Adams, W., Kohl, P., & Podolefsky, N. (2005). When learning about the real world is better done virtually: A study of substituting computer simulations for laboratory equipment. Physics Education Research,1(1), 1-8.

Khan, S. (2007). Model-based inquiries in chemistry. Science Education, 91(6), 877-905.


Keeping it real: Keeping learning relevant, situated and hands-on

A theme is unquestionably emerging throughout this week’s readings, and linking ideas to previous weeks’ reading, as well. When learning is anchored in real life contexts, students are happier and their construction of knowledge is abundant.

When Third World street vending children are capable of performing complex mathematical processes mentally yet can not perform the same process in a decontextualized problem on paper, how can one not conclude the relevance of situated learning (Carraher & Dias, 1985)?  In another study, visitors to a free local museum were interviewed immediately after their trip and two years later.  Researchers determined that those visitors whose motivation to attend was curiosity driven, learned more and valued the experience more than those visitors who were merely socially motivated to attend (Falk & Storksdieck, 2009). And when researchers surveyed university biology students regarding their experience using a virtual field trip (VFT), as opposed to a traditional lecture, students overwhelmingly reported positively, 80% of the time, although they also reported that the VFT is best to enhance actual field trips, and not replace them (Spicer & Stratford, 2001).

Each of these readings funnel towards the importance of providing anchored instruction throughout educational practices. I think back to why I enjoyed physics more than any other science and it began with taking Dr. Matthews’ first year physics class where he utilized the entire theatre for his demonstrations and he took incredible measures to draw the most incredible, realistic diagrams. He was also incredibly funny, so I spent most lectures in an amused state! Although his teaching style would still be considered “traditional”, he wove realism into his lectures, every class.

Despite being bombarded with Inquiry Learning approaches in my Professional Development, and with Vygotskian Constructivist Theory in MET, I still believe that in my subject areas, senior physics and academic math, lecturing has its place. I do not have time to allow students to discover Every. Single. Concept. Nor can I allow them to choose what learning outcomes they wish to learn about.  My students are future engineers, doctors, and other intensively trained professionals and I am not prepared to sacrifice content for ease and happiness of the learning experience. To students who are not handling the rigour of my courses, I say, it is OK. It is OK to NOT become a doctor.  It is OK to NOT become an engineer. If you can’t take the heat, get out and find a training path that does not require you use math or physics at a high level. That still leaves a HEAP of other, very gratifying professions to follow!

Where I have been “converted” is within the lectures themselves.  I would not even call what I do, “lectures”, to be honest.  Students still write notes, however, the notes are interactively created. With peers, we do numerous reinforcement activities in a non-threatening, collaborative manner. We construct our knowledge at times, but not at others.   My goal is to prepare them for university and college, while providing as many hands on or virtual experiences as possible.

On the other hand, I can see that if I were a junior high or middle school teacher, how I would have a very different perspective.

Well, maybe not for math….

For math, foundational skills are critical and need to be automated at some point. This is not only important for senior high math, but for mathematical confidence and mathematical self-esteem.  When students don’t know their times tables, for example, it is like they are in my class underwater, using an oxygen tank (their calculator) to breathe. They know that if they don’t have access to their “oxygen”, they will die. Being THAT depend on a tool to survive is not conducive for a healthy learning environment.

However, in science, bring on the “fun” learning! Situate, anchor, inquire, Jasper, WISE, and network those communities every day, as far as I am concerned! What ever it takes to promote a lifelong curiosity in science should be the goal of every junior/middle science teacher out there. Moreover, the world is depending on us to make this come to fruition! We are systematically destroying our environment, becoming 40-year-old-still-living-at-home dependent on technology, and perhaps most shockingly, in astonishingly high numbers, receiving our baseline news from Facebook.

<Please prepare yourself to be “should” on. I don’t like to engage in this practice, but every once in awhile, it needs to be done.>

If we do one thing, as a collective of educators, it should be to teach our younger students how to research, and remain scientifically curious throughout their lives.

That’s it!

Easy peasy.

We’ve got this.

Carraher, T. N., Carraher, D. W., & Schliemann, A. D. (1985). Mathematics in the streets and in schools. British journal of developmental psychology, 3(1), 21-29.
Falk, J. & Storksdieck, M. (2010). Science learning in a leisure setting. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(2), 194-212.
Spicer, J., & Stratford, J. (2001). Student perceptions of a virtual field trip to replace a real field trip. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 345-354.

Coding with Tynker

Tynker is a website for students, teachers and parents. It provides students with an opportunity to code in various settings.

Jeff Bradbury just hosted a teacher podcast on March 22 about using Tynker in the classroom

What I have learned about using on line programs such as tynker, and scratch is that it brings coding alive through the use of block coding. Students learning is scaffolded from the most basic coding steps to more advanced. The programs provide immediate feedback to the student so they know if they are correct or not. Most also provide the students with a “safety” key so that they do not become too frustrated and quit the program. Students who are shown the answer still must go through the steps of coding the information properly before they are able to move on.

The excellent thing about today’s coding programs is that they are also geared toward the student’s interests. Students can code with princesses, minecraft or a whole host of other themes. For the more creative student they can create thier own characters and storylines to code with.

When I was a student I was taught to code on paper (sorry I tried to code on paper) but because I never understood what I was writing, I never understood how the program would react. Students love working with these programs. It is vital that we start coding with our students at an early age as it has been said that coding is the language of the future. The language all workers will need to understand.


Lesson Plan: T-GEM and Density

Science 3


Students will be able to identify the reason why an object sinks, floats, or remains neutrally bouyant.

Students will recognize that objects do not sink or float due to their weight/mass but rather as a result of their density.


Computer lab or cart


  • Assess prior knowledge by asking students what types of objects sink or float
  • Ask students to come up with a rule regarding whether an object sinks or floats
  • Have the class log on to the computers and navigate to
  • Have students begin on the blocks of the same mass activity and record which colours sink or float
  • Ask students if this agrees with their rules. If not, what else might explain why some blocks sink and others do not
  • Next have the students complete the same process for blocks of the same size, record their results, and see if they agree with their new rule.
  • Have students open the custom block option and attempt to three different materials to float in the middle of the water. What do their 3 floating objects all have in common?
  • As a class, come up with a new rule to explain bouyancy as a result of an object having the same density as the fluid in which it is sitting.
  • Explain the terms positive, neutral, and negative bouyancy
  • Model calculating denstiy by dividing mass by volume. Grade 3’s will likely need calculators
  • Return to the simulaitons and have the students students check this new theory using the blocks of same density setting.
  • Extension: have students use the mystery blocks option, the demonstrated calcuation, and the density reference chart in the simulaiton to discover the identity of each of the mystery blocks.


Sun Path Simulation

The simualtion above helps students to visualize the path of the sun across the sky. They are able to adjust time of day, date, lattitude, and tilt to observe the effects that these have on the the suns path. With a little pre-teaching on the effects of the suns angle on light intensity, this is a very useful to to use in explaining the causes of the seasons.

Lascaux Caves

This website gives students and interactive tour of the ancient caves. These caves used to be open to the public but had to be closed due to deterioration of the paintings on the wall.  Virtual Visitors are able to explore the cave through a digital videos 3D tour and zoom in on the different artifacts that are all over the cave walls. I used this activity with my grade 7 students last year and they thought it was amazing to explore.

Increasing Engagement through Digital Augmentation

When looking all of the different options for websites that help students construct and communicate knowledge, I was blown away by the opportunities available to engage students with research that scientists are conducting around the world.  One of the websites that really interested me that I’m looking forward to trying with my class is the Expedition around the Canada ( for the 150th anniversary. This is an incredible opportunity for students to connect so many facets of science with Canada. I can see how this endeavor could be tied into multiple grade levels in the curriculum.  As the expedition travels through 6 ecozones, sciencitsts will conduct research to share with Canadians, talk to local communities, and discuss ways to protect the environment in live forums.


At schools we have environmental committees that allow students and staff to discuss ways to protect their environment.  This is also a topic that comes up in class discussions in social studies and science.  Involving a group of students in this kind of activity gives them the opportunity to discover what the regions are really like…at the present time. Rather than just reading about them in a textbook (that’s probably out of date) students can see the different ecosystems, ongoing methods of environmental protection.


According to Carraher (1985) the presence of physical items acts as a facilitating factor in allows students to understand a particular concept. There are ample opportunities through exploring the arctic that will allow students to connect and see first-hand how experiments are being conducted and how reconciliation is being undertaken in the Aboriginal communities.


In Yoon et al (2011) it was observed that digital augmentation resulted in increased levels of interest and engagement. Opportunities to provide experiences outside of the classroom environment through educational technologies can assist in the development of conceptual knowledge (Yoon et al, 2011). Students are then able to apply real world examples to their skillset in the areas of collecting data, making predictions, drawing conclusions, and theorizing about different phenomena. Sometimes just providing digital augmentation alone can provide huge gains even with no other scaffolds according to Yoon et al (2011). I wonder how educators can ensure that students challenge themselves when participating in digital augmentation? Would creating their own learning objectives translate into more engagement?





  • Yoon, S. A., Elinich, K., Wang, J., Steinmeier, C., & Tucker, S. (2012). Using augmented reality and knowledge-building scaffolds to improve learning in a science museum. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 7(4), 519-541. doi:10.1007/s11412-012-9156-x


  • Carraher, T. N., Carraher, D. W., & Dias Schliemann, A. (1985). Mathematics in the streets and in schools. The British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 3(1), 21.