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Using Web Site Animations in the Science Classroom

Heather Waring
Carolina Teaching Partner

My school has several computer rooms, and the science department was underutilizing them. This put the department in jeopardy of losing access to them. To ensure continued access to the computer rooms, my colleague and I began using computer animations and guided learning to introduce and/or reinforce difficult topics in chemistry. We were inspired by the adage “1 picture is worth 1,000 words.”

Using the Internet is second nature to students, but they need guidance when using it at school. Students must be monitored to prevent the class period from being squandered by searching, emailing, or playing games. Computers are wonderful classroom tools when used in a definite manner. I have found that the key to this is having a structured lesson with specific goals.

Finding and using appropriate content

The gas laws are a topic with which animation can work well. My first step is to do an online search on the topic. In this case, I would search for “chemical bonding animations.” I then try to limit my results to Web sites that have a “.edu” or “.gov” suffix. The main reasons for this are (a) that our school has a firewall that blocks many commercial sites, and (b) to ensure that the science in the animations is accurate.

When I find Web sites appropriate for use, I carefully review them and write guided worksheets for my students. If sites do not have a “.edu” or “.gov” suffix, I take special care to ensure their animations are scientifically accurate. The use of animations on appropriate sites gives me the opportunity to have students interpret concepts. Some of the sites allow much student interaction. Variables can be changed, allowing students to actually predict results and then see if they were correct.

Before assigning a Web site to students, I have a colleague perform all the tasks on the site that I’m expecting students to do. This collaboration helps me clarify the instructions, in addition to making certain that all the site’s pages are functioning. To facilitate students’ use of the sites, I create an area on my teacher e-board (or Web page) with links to the sites. Students don’t have to type in the URLs; they just click on them, saving time and avoiding typing errors. One thing I found out the hard way was that URLs often don’t work from year to year. Now I check that each URL is valid before assigning Web sites to my students.

Some examples

Here are some examples of Web sites with science animations that I have used successfully in my classroom:

  • Boyle’s Law Graph
    This animation enables students to change a gas’s pressure and see how the change affects its volume. Students can then compare 2 different sets of data and calculate what happens when 1 variable is changed. With this functionality, students are able to predict, and then see, the results. On the worksheet, I include questions that have students predict what happens for a given volume when pressure is changed. Students record their data and then use the appropriate gas law formula, in this case P1V1 = P2V2, to calculate the new volume. They can compare their predicted answer to the one given in the animation. Students can also take data from several trials and graph them.
  • Charles’ Law
    This site uses an animated apparatus to illustrate Charles’ law. It too allows students to manipulate a variable, in this instance temperature, and predict and calculate the new volume using V1  /  T1 = V2  /  T2. This is a great visual aid for students. The animation also shows the results in a graph. Students can be asked to predict what would occur when the temperature is changed before seeing the animation, and then compare their predictions to the results.
  • Gay-Lussac’s Law
    This site for Gay-Lussac’s law uses a different approach. In addition to the animation, it explains the law in a short narrative paragraph. It enables students to read about, and then watch, what is occurring. My students complete a fill-in worksheet and draw diagrams to explain the law after they have visited the site.

Other useful Web sites

  • Visionlearning®
    Visionlearning® features readings that direct students to animations and a library of topics in biology, chemistry, earth science, and other subjects. The readings give key terms that are highlighted and linked to a glossary. Highly interesting sidebars and links are included. This is a good site for reinforcing concepts, and works well with an accompanying guided reading handout.
  • Wisc-Online
    Wisc-Online is another site with many topics and readings linked to animations that reinforce concepts. For example, the heat transfer section defines convection, conduction, and radiation and provides an animated demonstration of each. Questions (with answers) strengthen learning. As an assignment, students could explain a term, illustrate it, and compare conductors and insulators.

Summing up

Students often need visual aids when learning new concepts. The Internet has many reputable Web sites featuring animations that can help students grasp difficult topics. I have found the keys to successfully using these Web sites in the classroom are:Verifying that all sites are active and able to be viewed on your school’s computers.

  1. Preparing a detailed worksheet for students. Be sure to list the objective and have specific goals for students to meet.
  2. Making certain that the activity is guided. You can have students predict results, calculate and graph what they see, answer questions (fill-ins, interpretation, and prediction), and draw and explain diagrams.
  3. Having a colleague visit the Web site, view the animations, and do the worksheet to make sure everything works before assigning it to students.

With proper guidance and structure, students can reap the benefits of using one of the most powerful educational tools in the classroom, the computer. I hope that you’re encouraged to try some of these Web sites in your classroom and to explore the Internet to discover new ones.

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