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The best strategy for teaching

Experiments are indispensable for teaching natural sciences. Johanna Krüger has also confirmed this in her doctoral thesis. She investigated different teaching methods with regard to motivation and learning effect.

Water bottles in a laboratory
© Johanna Krüger

Experiments in the Kiel Science Factory: how do algae respond if the temperature of the water rises?

First convey the basics, and then explain more complex relationships: this is the standard procedure in school teaching. But is this sequence actually beneficial? What happens if the principle is reversed? Can children and young people perhaps be motivated better in this way? And how does this ultimately affect their learning success? These questions are the focus of Johanna Krüger’s doctoral research at the Kiel Science Outreach Campus (KiSOC).

For four years, the KiSOC doctoral researcher, who completed her Master of Education degree in Biology and Geography at Kiel University, investigated the interaction of different teaching methods and their impacts in the ocean:lab (ozean:labor) at the Kiel Science Factory (Kieler Forschungswerkstatt). In doing so, she worked with over 500 young people from the Oberstufe (upper secondary level). "I wanted to know what happens if the young people first experience the overall, complex big picture and then learn the basics afterwards."

In her case, the big picture is "The Baltic Sea of the Future". On this topic, Krüger developed an offer for school classes to work on in the ocean:lab. "It looks at the Baltic Sea ecosystem, and how it changes if the water becomes warmer, if it becomes over-fertilised or acidic, and/or if the salt levels change." During their laboratory day in the Kiel Science Factory, the participants use scientific experiments to discover the answers to these questions. "The experiments are the foundation," explained the early career researcher, who initially described the interrelationships in a series of presentations. But in her opinion, this was not enough to explain the complexity of the interactions in the ecosystem. It became clear to her: "We need a computer simulation fed with scientific data." However, there was nothing like this in the laboratories for school children. So, Krüger created a programme, through interdisciplinary cooperation with scientists from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN) at Kiel University. It shows a colourful underwater landscape. In it, the pupils can move a slider control on the screen and see how a temperature increase of two or four degrees in the Baltic Sea affects algae, mussels, crabs and other creatures, and what happens if there is over-fertilisation at the same time. "With the experiments, we can always only test the influence of one factor at a time. With the computer simulation, it is possible to investigate several changes at the same time, and display complex contents."

In order to investigate the extent to which the sequence of knowledge transfer affects the pupils, their motivation, their learning behaviour and their knowledge retention, Krüger divided them into two groups. One half initially spent two hours on experiments and answering related questions, before they moved on to the computer simulation - also for two hours. The other half initially searched intensively for answers to the same questions using the computer, before then being allowed to perform their own experiments. While they did so, Krüger documented the feedback from the groups at regular intervals. Did the interest levels of the participants change? And if so, when did this happen? And how great was their learning success, depending on the method of knowledge transfer?

The analysis of her data revealed that "The order in which knowledge is conveyed actually makes no difference," said Krüger. Ultimately, the levels of knowledge and motivation were equally high for both groups. However, when analysing feedback from the questionnaires, it became clear that the experiments, i.e. the independent research, generated more interest in the topic among participants than the computer simulation. Thus, her results contradict the previous scientific literature - which is, however, already about 10 years old - that simulations on the computer are more motivating. The intensive use of the computer simulation did have an impact on the specialist knowledge gained, though. This increased significantly. Johanna Krüger is certain: "These are insights that will surely help me later as a teacher." In addition to these scientific findings, her research has had a second effect: the question has now been raised of whether her computer simulation is transferable to other complex, socially-relevant topics, and could be used to convey knowledge in other laboratories for school children.

Author: Jennifer Ruske

Computer simulation "The Baltic Sea of the Future"

Extracurricular natural science offers

If children and young people want to do sports, they will find numerous offers in clubs. If they want to play an instrument, they can go to a music school or equivalent courses. But where can boys and girls go who want to spend their leisure time on the natural sciences? Since January 2020, the new online platform ScienceSurfers offers a solution, and makes natural sciences tangible for young people from 10 to 18 years of age.

Here, anyone interested can get comprehensive and clear information about various extracurricular offers at Kiel University, the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN), or Germany-wide networks. In addition, they can get insights into exciting research projects and questions. In the community section of the page, the Surfers' Pinboard offers young scientific talents a platform to exchange views on science and research, or they can network with other ScienceSurfers.

ScienceSurfers is a project of the Kiel Science Outreach Campus (KiSOC). (hgh)

Instagram: @sciencesurfers