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iPads offer students at Willmar Middle School more advanced readings while conducting their science experiments

Zeinab Igale, 12, takes notes Tuesday during an experiment at Willmar Middle School. Students in John Kuznik’s sixth-grade science class use instruments linked wirelessly to iPads to monitor experiments showing radiation, convection and conduction. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR — Zeinab Igale and Rosa Cisneros were pretty sure that the black can sitting in front of the spotlight was going to get warmer inside than the silver can next to it; Blake Dotson thought it just might be the silver can.

The sixth-graders at Willmar Middle School watched as a temperature probe hooked up to each side of the experiment wirelessly delivered readings to an iPad tablet computer at 60-second intervals. The students plotted both temperature readings onto worksheets to see how their predictions turned out.

Elsewhere in Room 110, students watched to see how warm water would react when a bag of ice was floated on top and plotted temperatures to see whether a steel or copper rod would heat up faster.

Their teacher John Kuznik and his colleagues have been doing similar experiments about energy transfer for several years. They are part of the state’s current requirements for science education. This year, they’ve been able to add some new technology.

Students are using wireless probes and iPads the science department purchased last year during its curriculum update cycle. Academic departments in the district are able to update their curriculum and materials on a rotating basis, with one or more updating each year.

In recent years, departments have purchased more technology and fewer printed textbooks, though they are still used. In some cases, a portion of the curriculum budget has been used to pay faculty members to develop digital textbooks tailored to Willmar’s needs and Minnesota state standards.

The equipment he can use in class is more advanced, and readings are more accurate, Kuznik said. Over three days of experiments, students took turns studying three types of energy transfer: conduction, convection and radiation.

On the third day of experiments, the students were engrossed in their experiments and the room was quite calm for being filled with 11- and 12-year-olds.

Zeinab, 12, Rosa, 11, and Blake, 11, already knew how the conduction and convection experiments had turned out.

“Cold water from the bottom pushes the hot water up,” Rosa said.

“The copper got hotter,” Zeinab said.

It turned out that the black can got hotter than the silver one, under that spotlight.

Kuznik said the students looked at designing energy-efficient homes in December, which led to the lessons about energy transfer.

The students looking at conduction on the third day were about evenly split in their predictions of whether steel or copper would get hotter. The rods looked the same on the outside, so they had to draw their conclusions before they knew which was which.

“They’ll ask questions about which one is which,” Kuznik said. “I prefer to let them figure it out themselves.”

Since the iPads stay in the science room, the students would fill out worksheets that cover each experiment. They included vocabulary words, graphs for plotting the temperatures and questions about their predictions and conclusions.

The students seemed to be enjoying the experiments, Kuznik agreed. “This is going to be more fun for them than the test in two days,” he said, grinning.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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