PhET Build An Atom - Letting students think out loud

I’ve been teaching chemistry for a while, and we have been big fans of the PhET Build and Atom Simulation as an introduction to atomic structure. Our chem team has adapted a document to guide students to the content we want. One of the first instructions is for the students to take a few minutes to “play” and explore, but we have never asked them to formally share their thoughts while exploring.

This year, I asked them to screen record themselves and “think out loud” to let me hear what they noticed and what they thought as things happened on the screen. They then shared ideas (not recordings) at their lab tables and created a list of driving questions about atomic structure structure before they dove in the rest of the procedure.

Nuts and Bolts: We had them open the recordings in Clips and save them that way. My original intent was to have them share them to a shared Google drive. We had some technical issues, so I had them submit to a Schoology assignment instead. That worked just fine.

The Pros: We created some great driving questions that pointed toward the outcomes I wanted in the first place. WIN. The students enjoyed making the recordings and it didn’t take a a huge amount of time. I finally got a chance to see what students notice on their own without me pushing them somewhere first. I will continue to use this. The old dog has learned a new trick.

The Cons: I’m always aware that some students HATE recording their own voices, even if only the teacher will hear it. We created a work-around using Clips that would allow kids to change their audio to captions, but no one needed it this time. It’s not really a con, but it would have required a little more one-on-one time with kids that wanted to learn it.


1 reply

December 02, 2022

Thanks for sharing about this update to your use of PhET labs. Creating that space for documented exploration was a small change in this lesson that sounds like it paid off in big results for student-led inquiry. Awesome!

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