Strong Science Program Centered Around Inquiry-Based Learning
Thornton Academy, a private town academy that services all the public students of the community, uses PASCO solutions in every discipline of science, exposing all 1,300 high school students to the benefits of hands-on learning.
Four years ago, the sixth through 12th grade school in Saco, Maine, set a goal to invest in advanced science equipment, including technology-based tools that could streamline data collection and free up more time for analysis.
“We wanted more discovery, hands-on learning that was in tune with developing a strong science program,” said Christy Lajoie, chairman, Department of Science. “We also wanted to bring more applied science into the curriculum. The recent start of our international boarding program means these students also are looking for a strong science program. Having PASCO solutions helps us meet the needs of all the students.”
In physics, for example, students use DataStudio data collection and analysis software to study topics such as acceleration. “Using a handmade graph to study acceleration doesn’t allow them to see patterns,” said Lajoie. “With DataStudio they can analyze data in several ways, see patterns immediately, and adjust their methodology in response to an increase in velocity. Then they can immediately start thinking of the next question. It speeds along the discovery. If something is not right, they can fix it by manipulating the variables and running the experiment again. It allows them to deal with misconceptions. There is more trial and error, which is what happens in the real world. Real world science is about discovery.”
In another lab, students study friction and how it affects motion. For this they use the PASCO Classic Dynamic System’s nearly friction-free carts with low friction wheels and spring-loaded suspension, and aluminum tracks. It’s designed for teaching Newton’s Laws, Conservation of Momentum and other topics. Students use force sensors to drag and add mass to the carts to measure the force of friction, a process that Lajoie said “would not be possible without PASCO sensors.” Students also use a 2-Axis Force Platform and a force sensor to measure the force on an object as it is pulled across different surfaces. Then they analyze a graph of force versus time to determine the frictional forces. They can also experience Newton’s Laws by timing the Hovercraft to learn about the kinematics of frictionless motion.
Science teacher Beth Bussiere got very creative in designing a lab on
friction. She developed a storyline and even got a theater student to
play the part of the main character, Aristotle. “I told the kids that Aristotle was
coming to visit because he was one of the first people to write about why things move the way they move,” she said. “Aristotle didn’t know that friction is a force, but Newton did.”
To make the lab even more inquirybased, Bussiere partnered with physics teacher Matt Amoroso and asked each group of students to choose one of Newton’s Laws that they didn’t understand well and design an experiment using tracks, carts or hovercrafts. Their challenge was to show Aristotle an example of nearly friction-free movement to convince him that friction is force.
“Students don’t always grasp that friction is force,” she said. “They don’t realize their life experiences have friction imbedded; they don’t consciously think about it. A student may carry the misconception that an object in motion stays in motion only when acted on by an outside force. PASCO made it possible to do this experiment, and the kids had a great time.”
One thing teachers like about PASCO labs is the ability to customize them to meet the specific needs of their students. Amoroso uses PASCO labs as the
basis for creating his own unique, inquiry-based labs for freshman students. This is important because science classes at Thornton Academy are
heterogeneous. Students that are interested in developing higher level
STEM skills take AP classes. Students who simply want a more accelerated program can opt for the Honors Challenge, which adds more advanced assignments.
There’s more trial and error, which is what happens in the real world. Real world science is about discovery.
Christy Lajoie, chairman, Department of Science
In its quest to encourage students to discover science, Thornton Academy has successfully moved its high school science program from stopwatches to photogates, and Lajoie has noticed some changes in how the students
“Overall, students enjoy hands-on, sensor-based labs,” said Lajoie. “They make more accurate observations. Science is more engaging to them. The equipment is professional looking, so they feel like they are doing real science. As a result, they take it more seriously.”