Using POEs to Teach Scientific Concepts

This past weekend a group of my classmates and I attended WestCAST 2012 in Calgary.  The conference was great and Friday afternoon our group lead a breakout session on “Using POEs with K-12 Students to Develop Scientific Content “.

What are POEs?  POEs stand for Predict, Observe and Explain; an important process for developing understanding.  POEs are typically focused around a brief science demo involving a series of questions. Students first develop a prediction of what they think will happen and why then proceed to observe the demonstration of a particular concept.  After making observations students refine and develop their prediction further to incorporate the concept they have just observed.

Why are POEs so great? POEs are extremely versatile and grounded in constructivist theory.  Teachers can develop POEs to be done individually or in groups. POEs can be altered by the questions the teacher asks and the assessment desired to:

  • assess prior knowledge
  • introduce and engage student’s to new content
  • assess what students have learned about a concept/ show a teacher what a student is thinking
  • generate discussion

How can I begin to use POEs? Our group (more particularly @webbkyle ) put together a wiki with all the POEs that we used at WestCAST here:

This is a great place to start if you are looking for ideas and activities to try.

A glimpse into the workshop for anyone not able to make it…


Against common sense: Teaching and learning towards social justice – Kumishiro K.K. – Chapters 1, 2 & 3

This textbook reemphasized a lot of the important aspects of ECS 300 for me.  The first couple chapters discuss teachers and students and the perspectives that they bring into the classroom.  Teaching to every student’s needs can be a lot of extra work.  However, avoiding these differences between students and teaching to the class as a whole can be oppressive to certain students.  It is important for myself that I do not teach with blinders on, forging ahead “doing the best I can”; I need to be aware of what my students need and how what I say and do is being perceived.

The third chapter of this text begins to discuss how to teach through uncertainty.  To me this is synonymous with cognitive dissonance.  My class has been examining this process in ECSI 351 and I see a lot of validity in this method, especially in the sciences.  Students very often can hold two conflicting views, one that works in the science class and another that they use outside the class.  By teaching through uncertainty students can make these connections and begin to resolve these conflicting views.  I think that it is important to remember that some of the deeper levels of learning happen when we are uncomfortable and must resolve this.  My goal is to promote this method of learning and make sure my students are comfortable being uncomfortable.

Science Demos

My time in high school and education afterwards has taught me two things.  The first thing is I already knew from my own experience that demos are a great way to engage students.  The second thing I have learned afterwards is that demos need to be for a reason.  I’ve seen both types of demos as a student, some are all cool but looking back didn’t really direct or teach me anything.  Demos should be engaging and for a reason.  They don’t need to teach an entire concept but they should at least get your students thinking in terms of the concept you wish to teach.  In ESCI class we began to explore science demos that are engaging and also help to teach our students.  How cool are some of these?!? As a class we have been compiling all our resources on a wiki so if specific directions are needed that is a great place to start.

Singing Pipe – Daniel uses heat and resonance to make a pipe that seems to have some interesting properties.

Ammonium Fountain – Jaqueline produces a glowing fountain using Luminol, ammonium gas, and hydrogen peroxide.

Mirror Plated Flask – Kandace makes a glass flask appear to change into a silver one.  The first part is how to do it (quite important) however the last two minutes are when the exciting change happens.

Rainbow Indicator Rod – Wes uses universal indicator, a glass rod, an acid, and a base to show the range of pH’s that universal indicator can show.

Genie in a Bottle and Artificial Snow – Jesse shows us an exothermic reaction producing a lot of steam and produces some fake snow afterwards.


Microteaching – Vascular vs. Non-Vascular

On February 3rd I taught a 10 minute lesson on the difference between vascular and non-vascular plants to my classmates. Micro-teaching to my classmates provided me with an excellent opportunity to receive valuable feedback on my teaching practice.  I was able to get an outside perspective as well as information on how I made my ‘students’ feel.  Having a set model to teach to provided me with a structure to follow and I found that my method (Concept Attainment Method) lent itself very well to the sciences.  I found it was useful because it is particularly good at comparing different things which science (especially biology) involves very often.  I thought this method provided a good opportunity for students to create meaning in their own words which hopefully helped with understanding.

It was great having a video of my teaching in order to view and reflect on afterwards.  Having this to play back has helped me to see some of the things that I didn’t realize I was doing.  One thing I found from the video is that I never spent enough time at the beginning of the lesson explaining the process of what we were doing to my students.  I think if I was clearer at the beginning students would have been less confused and hesitant once we began the lesson.  In response to this confusion I did emphasize halfway through that, “confusion is good right now” which the students and observers recognized as helpful to the class.  Another thing that I picked up from the video is that I could have slowed down and took my time more.  I remember at the time feeling like I was rushing although upon watching the video I saw I had more than enough time at the end and could have asked a couple more questions to gauge understanding.  A third thing I noticed is how small I write in front of the class.  This wasn’t so much of an issue in a class of 10 students close to you however in a larger class I definitely need to keep this in mind.

The student and observer feedback that I received was extremely positive.  It was said that I had a very good, comfortable presence on a lot of the comments.  I found this comforting because sometimes I feel nervous and that I am rushing.  Knowing it doesn’t appear this way is nice.  Everyone also enjoyed the visuals that I provided and how I incorporated them into the lesson.  I could have made my printing neater however some students said that combined with the visuals served to engage them.  One thing that really stuck out was how everyone said I did a good job of relating the vascular tissues to something my students were familiar with.  I appreciated this comment because in ESCI we are learning that making a connection between what science says and the students know is the most important role of the teacher.  When I used Landon’s circulatory system example to extend into what vascular tissue does the class said that it was far easier to make a connection than when they were presented with complex scientific terms.  Finally another comment that was repeated often was that I did a good job of emphasizing why we should care at the end of the lesson and providing examples of what the differences may mean in my students lives.

I felt like this process helped me to gain confidence first in myself and second in the practices that I have learned in education so far.  I really enjoyed this model because I felt like I was building to a better understanding as I went along.  It got me excited to watch my class slowly come to an understanding of the concepts I was presenting them (in their own words).  This process has definitely given me a lot of meaningful feedback to consider moving forward.   I think that experiences like this help me to become more comfortable with myself in front of the class which in turn allows me to focus more on my students and how they understand.  This process has served to affirm that the theory I’m learning is extremely practical and that I am capable of applying it in the way it is meant to be used.  I’m excited to have more opportunities to teach and learn more about myself and my teaching practice.

My Vascular vs. Non-vascular Lesson Plan

My Student and Observer Feedback: