Before becoming an adjunct professor at Florida International University (FIU), NSTA member Kathleen Sparrow was the science supervisor for Akron Public Schools in Ohio. As a science supervisor, she used NSTA journal articles to provide professional development support to her teachers. A few years ago, Sparrow became an NSTA online adviser and loved how the NSTA Learning Center provided members access to journal articles, books, and more. “I got to know the NSTA Learning Center really well. If the Learning Center had been around when I was a science supervisor, I would have used it in a heartbeat,” she says.
Sparrow likes the Learning Center so much, in fact, that she now uses it as an e-textbook for her preservice elementary science methods course at FIU. “When NSTA announced that they were going to start offering the Learning Center as an e-textbook, I jumped at the chance,” Sparrow says. Now, all three of the professors who teach the preservice science methods class at FIU use the Learning Center as an e-text. And, students are thrilled. Each semester, Sparrow surveys the students and asks them if they liked using the Learning Center e-textbook better than having a traditional paper textbook. Each semester, around 90% say they prefer the e-textbook.
Sparrow: I use the Learning Center like I would a traditional textbook. It’s so nice because all of the journal articles and book chapters are available in one place online. I assign various articles for the students to read like I would if I was using a print textbook. My class focuses on a certain topic each week, and I assign various articles, book chapters, and other types of resources to supplement that topic. For instance, during the first couple of weeks of the semester we explore the issue, “What does a good science class look like?” I have students read chapters in the Learning Center from the NSTA book, Doing Good Science in Middle School.
Other than the articles to read, I give students specific assignments in the Learning Center. I make these assignments because I want these future teachers to know that the Learning Center is available to them, it will always be available to them, and it’s so rich in different resources.
This past semester, I included a focus on sustainability. I selected four NSTA SciPacks in the Learning Center to go along with the ecology and sustainability theme. I had students select one of those four SciPacks to work through as a content piece and to extend their content knowledge. Students met throughout the semester to discuss what they learned in the SciPacks, which reinforced their learning.
How else do you use the Learning Center as an e-textbook in your classroom?
Sparrow: Students in my class have to complete 15 field hours in an elementary classroom and teach an inquiry lesson. Before their inquiry lesson, I have them create a collection of articles in the Learning Center on their topic so that they have additional content information. I have them review one other person’s collection of articles.
Students are also required to make two posts in the Learning Center’s Community Forums. Students love it when NSTA members provide feedback to their questions. It builds a familiarity for them.
I also use the Professional Development Portfolio component with my students in lieu of a final exam. I provide six categories of goals for my students and they are required to select one goal from each category. One category, for instance, is knowledge of science content. For the portfolio assignment, students are asked to identify the steps they’ve taken to contribute to the learning of that goal. They are required to write their action item (for instance, “completed the SciPack on Coral Reef Ecosystems”), write a justification of how that contributed to their learning, and then upload a piece of evidence (for instance, the NSTA certificate they received for completing the SciPack).
The Professional Development Portfolio provides an excellent review of what they’ve done and how much they’ve done in the class. It causes them to review everything we’ve done throughout the semester and how it contributes to their learning. In addition, students can use the portfolio tool when they go for a job interview. Anything students put in their Learning Center library during the semester or throughout the year is theirs forever. They’ll always have access to that information.
(Note from NSTA Are you a college or university professor of preservice science teachers? Join NSTA for a web seminar on August 26 and learn how you can create a truly integrated and blended learning experience for your students with a customized interactive e-textbook leveraging the NSTA Learning Center. Not a member of NSTA? Learn more about how to join.)
Jennifer Henderson is our guest blogger for this series. Before launching her freelance career as a writer/editor, Jennifer was Managing Editor of The Science Teacher, NSTA’s peer-reviewed journal for high school science teachers.