Using technology to enhance the learning of scientific language

I have always found teaching the separations topic in year 7 science difficult. This is the topic where students learn a range of separation techniques like sieving, filtering, evaporation and distillation. Students have to be able to explain how this separation techniques work based on the physical and chemical properties of substances, which at times involve them having a good understanding of particle and atomic theory. One barrier to this topic is the large amounts of scientific technical language. Students have to know the definitions of these words and know how to use them in their scientific explanations – solution, suspension, solute, solvent, dissolve, soluble, insoluble. These words are just a small proportion of the entire list of terms students are expected to learn.

So with my Year 7s this year I decided to test out how online tools can help make the learning of these words easier and more effective for students. Previously I’ll use a lot of literacy strategies like barrier games, spelling games and concentration games to give students lots of practice at using the words. This year I decided to do it a little bit different. Here’s what I did.

1)      Introduce the need to separate mixtures in the context of obtaining clean, drinking water by using an adaptation of the river story.

2)      Students played a game to learn the definitions of solution, suspension, solute and solvent using Student Response Network. These PowerPoint slides were used to play the game:

3)      Students then performed an experiment to have hands on experience on solutes, solvents, suspensions and solutions.

4) Students then used a science dictionary to construct a table of terms and definitions.

Excel illustrated science dictionary

4)      Students worked in groups using the table of terms and definitions to create multiple choice questions for each term via Each group uploaded their quiz for the rest of the class to complete. I chose because it is easy to use for Year 7s, doesn’t require registration of any sign up and it gives students a URL to share their quiz with others.

I found that this sequence of activities exposed students to these terms multiple times without being too repetitive. In their weekly tests, this group of year 7s have grasped the definitions of these terms and are able to use them in a scientific context more readily than other groups of year 7 classes I have taught previously.

Can you see the thousands of dollars?

My year 7 has had laptops now for a few weeks. The class received 12 laptops, which is a costly investment. A colleague once wisely said if that much money was spent you should be able to walk into a classroom/school and notice a difference. You should be able to visibly see that investment’s impact on student learning. So I asked myself exactly that question – Is the learning different in my classroom now? Is the learning better in my classroom now?

I’d like to say yes, and here’s my evidence:
-Students now use their laptops in small groups to demonstrate their understanding, often with higher order thinking skills. Today we explored the properties of magnets. Instead of doing the prac activity from the textbook and writing a prac report, students made a photo story to explain to other year 7s the magnetic properties they have discovered. This took 2 hours. Minimal editing was involved as I wanted the students to focus on the explanation of science, not on fancy video transitions.

-Laptops are used to differentiate learning. Year 7s have been learning about area of composite shapes and expressing area and perimeter through algebraic expressions. Students had to self assess whether they needed more practice in composite shapes or were ready to move onto algebra. Students who selected to refine their skills in composite shapes worked on a self-marking quiz on the laptops while the rest had small group instruction on algebra.

These are just 2 activities where laptops have enhanced learning. When you walk into my classroom, you can see, hear and feel those thousands of dollars making an impact.

Are your thousands of dollars of investments visibly making a difference?