Eighth Grade Science Labs Go Virtual

Eighth grade science isn’t missing a beat in the distance learning environment. They’ve already completed their first virtual lab and it was a wonderful experience for all! Remote learning tools such as PhET interactive Simulations and Zoom breakout rooms enabled students to collaborate virtually and discover series circuits, Ohm’s Law and Kirchoff’s Voltage Law. 

This lab was part of the physics electricity unit in 8th grade science. Normally, students work in groups of three or four and use circuit boards to build circuits and demonstrate the laws. Middle School Science Teachers Callie Bambenek and Michelle Hrastich collaborated to adapt the lab to the virtual setting. Hrastich shared, “PhET is an amazing program that is free to use; it stems from the University of Colorado. Students already used this program at the beginning of the unit as an exploratory activity before using the actual circuit boards, so they were already comfortable with it. We didn’t have to change much with the lab, as the Phet program includes everything that we would have had in the classroom: a source of energy, wires, resistors, voltmeters and ammeters. The Phet program does allow us more flexibility with our circuits since we can manipulate the resistance of the light bulbs and the voltage of the batteries in the virtual program. In the classroom, the circuit boards are pre-made, we aren’t able to adjust them. We are excited about having this ability and plan on adjusting future labs to capitalize on this feature.”

Bambenek shared, “With the online collaboration tools employed – mainly Zoom breakout rooms and Microsoft OneNote – students were able to share their screens with each other, so if someone had trouble building a circuit, the others could help them brainstorm ways to fix it. With OneNote, students were able to access scanned book pages as an extra resource and pictures provided by teachers to supplement the lab if needed.”

Bambenek and Hrastich have received positive feedback on the use of virtual labs and breakout rooms, and they plan to continue including these learning opportunities in the distance learning environment. Bambenek said, “Being in the lab setting (even virtually) gives students a strong tie to the classroom and curriculum content. Working with classmates in breakout rooms not only gives students a sense of predictability because they are used to this type of collaboration in exploring content and skills, but also provides peer-to-peer support when discussing analysis questions.” 

Virginia Portell ’24 learned a lot during her first virtual lab experience. She said, “I learned that communication is super important, because you can’t show people. You have to explain clearly and concisely. The experience was similar to one in a traditional classroom because we worked in small groups and Ms. Hrastich came to help us when we needed it. It was different because each of our experiments came out a little bit differently, which made the experiment as a whole more complicated. We collaborated well by talking, and we problem solved to fix the problems that arose. Overall, it was a learning experience. I prefer the traditional classroom, but this is still better than nothing!”

Davis Schukar ’24 reflected, “I learned about voltage drops and why they happen. This lab had a similar format to what we would normally have in class, but it was different because we used the PhET simulation instead of an actual circuit kit. We had one person in our group share his screen and start making the circuit in the simulation while the others helped with answering the questions.”

If this has piqued your curiosity, take a peek into one of the virtual lab breakout rooms with the short clip below.