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Characterizing Students’ Engagement with Empirical Data

Portrait of Prof. Alena Moon, guest speaker
Prof. Alena Moon
Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
iSTEM Building 2, Room 1218
Departmental Colloquium
Special Seminar

Engaging learners in science practices and sensemaking exposes learners to the uncertainty inherent in science and gives them opportunities to ‘practice’ the practices. I have accomplished this in two ways. The first way is by embedding these practices in assessments and class discourse. Class activities and assessments offer students experimental data and prompt them to generate and evaluate models, explanations, and arguments. For example, when covering integrated rate laws in kinetics, the classroom activity centered around evaluating models based on data fit. Students worked in groups and engaged between groups to evaluate different integrated rate laws to determine which had the best model-data fit and was thus the most useful for modeling kinetic data. This afforded explicit opportunity to consider the fundamental question “what makes one model better than another?” The second way is through having students engage with the primary literature. Students engage in a semester-long project with group and individual components in which a group agree on a specific system or problem of interest (e.g., a specific drug, a specific fuel cell) and then each member finds and reports on a scientific research article about that problem. Students engage with and make sense of the scientific literature, coordinate findings between multiple sources, and explicitly link methods to claims. I have found that simply engaging in the activity is fruitful for students. That is, students’ presentations and papers show me that they critically think about research questions, evidence, and the claims that can be made with that evidence.

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