Students Experience 3D Learning for the First Time

Picture this: A perfectly planned investigation, no unusual chemicals to hunt down, eager students, no complaining, and all actively writing down their science thoughts……sound too good to be true? It is, but maybe not for the reasons you’re thinking.

Two weeks ago I wrote a post about introducing my students to 3-dimensional learning using the investigation “Reaction in a Bag.” Now that all my quizzes are graded I’ve decided to write the reflection over how my students did with 3D learning, the thoughts of my two teaching peers who taught this way for the very first time, and what’ll I’ll do better next time (and not just next year “next time”).

First, check to make sure your chemical order came in before deciding to use said chemical in the first investigation of the year ūüė¶ ¬†Yes that was a 1st year teacher mistake, which meant my 2 teaching friends and I bonded over grinding up barium chloride to use instead of calcium chloride LOL We also only had BTB so we had to use that instead of the phenol red as our indicator.

The Investigation

Day 1 – This was a pretty straight forward day. The biggest struggle was getting students to formulate questions. I think this was simply due to the¬†screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-12-25-16-pmterm “formulate” and students seem to believe that the questions have to be what they deem as “scientific” and not simply “What caused the color change?” Once students figured out that all questions were welcome they did much better. My hope is that as students see their assignment set up in this ¬†fashion they’ll become more familiar with it and less intimidated.

“Once students figured out that all questions were welcome they did much better.”

Day 2¬†– We discussed the term “subsystem” and had students design their screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-12-31-21-pmown as well as write the procedures for their investigations. This took the entire class period (50 mins) which was much longer than I thought. I assumed that students would know to copy the previous days procedures (since it was the same investigation) but that was not common knowledge. Student groups also struggle with collaboration; they tend to do work independently then copy/share rather than discuss and write together.

Day 3 – Whole class discussion and sharing of observations was a struggle.¬†screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-12-36-07-pm¬†Students¬†needed help with constructing explanations for their observations of their own subsystems. Eventually I provided a model sentence (more on that in the reflection section) and students began to move along. I had student groups write their explanations on white boards that were posted throughout the room. Groups then had to fill out the rest of their data table by reading the other boards. I noticed students would simply copy the work without any discussion or thought about if what they were seeing/hearing supported what they knew/had observed. This sharing and gathering of information took the entire class period…..although this particular day was a little shorter due to being on an assembly schedule.

“I noticed students would simply copy the work without any discussion or thought about if what they were seeing/hearing supported what they knew/had observed.”

Day 4 – Connecting subsystem observations to the original system, then writing sentences to explain the causes for the changes in the original system was another tricky step. I asked students to list their observations of the screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-12-43-28-pmoriginal system, then next to each observation write down the subsystem with the same changes. From there I asked students to identify what each subsystem had in common for that would be the cause for the observation. There was a lot of frustration among the students during this part, as well as many “OOOOHHHHHH’s” as well. Making connections between the subsystem and system was a difficult process but I feel was eventually accomplished by all students. ¬†Constructing explanations was a struggle again; so many don’t reference their previous work. This time I started with modeling an argument before asking students to write their own but I’m not sure how much that helped.


Quiz day occurred on Day 6. We left a day between the end of the investigation and quiz day so that students had time to process.screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-12-52-52-pm The quiz was set up by providing a similar investigation and having students answer questions about the investigation just like they did for their own. There were a total of 7 questions, all short answer. My averages for each hour turned out to be 78, 71, 81, and 79. Most points missed were for listing only 1 substance as the cause for something or the student missed all the points for not knowing how to do any of it (there were just a few of these each hour). Those particular students also didn’t do the work in their notebooks (I check those as well throughout the investigation to monitor student progress). My 2 peers who did this investigation at the same time had slightly lower averages than my classes.


  1. Model. Model. Model. This was my biggest take away. Students honestly have no idea how to “do” science if it is not cookie cutter. I do not blame them nor do I blame their previous teachers. I believe this is a symptom of a bigger problem in science education – it has been pushed to the wayside (along with other subjects) due to testing, but this is a discussion for another day. I need to model EVERYTHING. Students need sentence starters. They need details and help for how to collaborate. This is now one of my priorities as we move through the semester. My goal is slowly decrease the amount of sentence starters I provide to nearly zero by the end of the semester. Until then I need to help my students learn how to do science.
  2. Student misconceptions for causes of observations. Many of these were surprises to me. Students believe that in order for bubbles to appear, a temperature increase must also happen. Students only source for bubbles seems to be boiling water, which of course is not a chemical change in that instance. Color changes are due to the mixing of already “colored” substances, like what would happen in art class. Many students believe the cause of phenol red turning pink was due to it mixing with a white powder, because red + white = pink. Not having a true understanding of what an indicator is and that chemistry color change does not follow the same rules as art class.
  3. Discussions were AWESOME. I loooooved this part! So many students talking and discussing everything they saw. Students talking out loud in an attempt to explain their observations. Students asking questions. Students making mistakes and revising their explanations based on discussions. Students were doing science! While yes I did have to also redirect discussions that went on tangents but nearly every student was trying. All students were engaged in the investigations, most were writing, and trying to figure it out. It was awesome.
  4. Student notebooks. How do I get students to reference their work? Seriously though, I don’t know how to do this. I have no idea why so many won’t turn the page to read what they did before but they don’t. I need more help in this area. Lots more.

So in the end, yes I spent 5 full days on this but I think this helped lay down the foundation for the rest of the semester. Now as we move into more complicated concepts we have a reference point. I’ve got some things I need to improve upon but even with that struggle I’m looking forward to the rest of this semester and incorporating 3-dimensional learning in my classroom!

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