Teaching abstract concepts in science is often challenging. One concept that my life science students have difficulty with is osmosis. Osmosis is hard to conceptualize, and many students do not seem to understand the concept even after the standard lab experience.
Consequently, I began trying to think of how I could approach this concept differently. I wanted the students to not only see diffusion in a lab, but I wanted them to be able to think and predict what would happen because of diffusion.
Science Connection’s diffusion exploration is an excellent way to see how well the students are grasping the concept. Using their own background knowledge from our lab and class discussions the students had to predict what would happen in a virtual lab where cornstarch is placed in a plastic bag and then floated in a beaker of water. Iodine is then put in the water. Students must predict how the Iodine and cornstarch will interact and predict what will happen.
The students discuss what they are seeing and then write their predictions in their lab books. I also make them explain why they think their prediction will be correct.
At the end of the virtual lab I reviewed the student’s predictions. The students’ observations made me 100 percent certain which students understood osmosis. In other words, the lab served not only as a visual, but as an assessment of their understanding. I was then able to reteach the students who still did not understand the concept.
Afterwards, I also realized that the virtual lab was almost like a real life practice for the state test that Florida students take each year. Our state test often includes reading passages with a diagram or picture, and the students must answer questions based on the passage and diagram. The virtual lab on osmosis was like an oral practice for this exact scenario.
Eureka! I think I’ve found something that will help me solve two problems at once.