Teaching with technology

Back in the 1990s, when I was a technology director, a school board member asked me “What technology should our students use to prepare them for the workforce?” I responded that what our current elementary students would use in college or the workforce had not yet been invented. The best way to prepare students for the 21st century (we still hear that term, but the century is now 10% over!) is not to train them in specific applications but to ensure that students have (and use) basic literacy and mathematical skills, opportunities for collaboration and communication, strategies for self-directed lifelong learning, and opportunities for problem-solving and creativity–in a variety of contexts, including science, with teachers modeling the skills themselves.

In a response in NSTA’s biology listserve, Andrew J Petto suggested that although students might be digital natives, in many cases they are also digitally naïve end-users–believing everything they read online, for example—and need guidance to channel their skills into critical thinking and creativity. (and perhaps courtesy? See eEtiquette) for “guidelines for the digital world.”)

The articles in this issue demonstrate that teaching with technology is different from teaching about technology from data collection to assessment to communication to A Field Trip Without Buses. For example, Using Technology in the Classroom describes a teacher’s adventures in incorporating technology into her lessons, taking advantage of simulations, podcasts, animations, and communication tools. She notes that she started by infusing technology into a familiar lesson, rather than trying to do everything new at once—smart advice.

An authentic way of incorporating technology into science investigations is through the many citizen-science projects. In these regional and nationwide projects, participants record observations in their own communities and upload data to a project database. Students get to see “their” data used as part of a larger project and are encouraged to pose their own research questions and communicate with other data-collectors and researchers.

  • Who knew that cloud-gazing could be a research project? Cloud Study Investigators describes how NASA’s Students’ Cloud Observations On-Line (S’COOL)  project can be used as an ongoing classroom research project. The project uses online resources and engages students in real-time data collection and analysis that is shared with NASA. [SciLinks: Clouds]
  • The authors of No matter the weather, we’ll measure together use local data to engage students in weather studies, incorporating classroom technology for collecting, analyzing, and presenting data. They make the point that students may need guidance and modeling to come up with questions and with data collection strategies. [SciLinks: Collecting Weather Data, Forecasting the Weather, or use weather as search term for more concepts].
  • Engaging Middle School Students with Technology explores the instructional value of real-time data collected by and accessible through online technology. The authors describe a stream-monitor project and  provide a list of sources for real-time and archived data. [SciLinks: Water Quality]
  • NOAA has been a real advocate in terms of making authentic data available in a student- and teacher-friendly manner. The article Exploring Seafloor Volcanoes in Cyberspace shares how NOAA’s Ocean Explorer website can link students and scientists. [SciLinks: Ocean Floor] I must admit that the resources from NOAA are a personal favorite, including the Data in the Classroom project  that guides teachers and students through “levels of scaled interaction.” In other words, each module  has five levels of lessons ranging from teacher-presented ones through letting students explore the data to full-blown problem solving and invention. Each module shows the associated data in a variety of formats and guides the users through how to interpret it. There are “checkup” questions throughout, and teachers can download the materials. The topics include El Nino, Water Quality, Sea Level, and Ocean Acidification.
  • Other projects involve students and teachers in authentic research. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has several ongoing projects related to birds. The article Using Citizen Scientists to Measure the Effects of Ozone Damage on Native Wildflowers in the April 2010 issue of Science Scope describes an air quality monitoring project. In Project BudBurst and MonarchWatch participants chart their observations and share with a community of researchers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every year students were involved in one of these ongoing projects?

Twenty Ways to Assess Students Using Technology suggests some online tools as alternatives to paper-and-pencil assessments. The list looks a little overwhelming, but many of these tools are quite simple (and many have a free version). The full table in Connections has the URLs. I suspect that students could figure them out quickly and help others (including teachers) to learn. The teacher could provide suggestions for applying the tool to the learning goals.

Speaking of creativity, what do you do the first few days of school? In addition to going over class rules, discussing our grading systems, and handing out textbooks, many teachers also engage students right away in a hands-on investigation. This gives the teacher an opportunity to assess students’ levels of inquiry skills and their ability to work together. An activity such as It’s (zipped) in bag could be used or adapted for this. The 5E investigation uses simple materials (zip-lock bags) as a springboard for inquiry and engineering principles.

Check out the Connections for this issue (July 2011). Even if the article does not quite fit with your lesson agenda, this resource has ideas for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, etc.

And be sure to follow Science Scope on Facebook and Twitter @NSTA

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3 Comments

  1. Soraya Benjamin
    Posted September 14, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    In this article it talks about how technology has transformed and changed in today’s world. It proves that learning can be fun and updated though creativity and technology. Different projects, ideas, strategies and concepts help towards this adventure and help with the ways teachers teach their lessons with technology.

  2. T. Verdun
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Although technology is constantly changing, user needs are also changing. As we move towards a more student centered environment, which includes using technology to teach students “…the basic literacy and mathematical skills…” instructors should use the opportunity to upgrade their technology skills. Incorporating technology into the curriculum and/or classroom might be considered interactive, but interactive doesn’t always equate to learning. If introduced and utilized correctly, technology in the classroom can support educational efforts to improve the below average attainment rates in college algebra as long as instructors incorporate it in the classroom/curriculum and use it as a teaching tool that supports the learning environment. I agree that different projects and strategies will not only assist instructors in teaching, but it will help the student with learning, creating and retaining new knowledge.

  3. Angee
    Posted May 13, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    The benefits of using technology in an education setting have been discussed, and will be continue to be discussed, for many years. A 1996 report by the Department of Education titled “Getting America’s Students Ready for the 21st Century — Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge, A Report to the Nation on Technology and Education” devotes an entire section to the topic. It’s interesting to note that while written in 1996, many of the ideas contained within are still benefits we think about today – “enhanced student instruction,” use in “assessment of student progress,” and “student motivation.” Dede’s article examines the opportunities for use of technology to enhance the teaching environment with discussion of the use and possible benefits of immersion in “virtual educational environments” (p.15) and “educational augmented realities” (p.19).

    So with the literature pointing heavily to demonstrated effectiveness of enhancing the curriculum and the learning process/environment, it becomes difficult to think that anyone might not benefit from technology usage. That is, until I think about the reasons behind the incorporation. Does the student being taught by a faculty member who is required to teach an online course yet has no desire to do so benefit? Does incorporating the use of a virtual world truly enhance the curriculum? Or, is it being used to attract students to a course that “needs the numbers” so faculty can prove its worth to administration. These are the types of questions I struggle with. I love using technology in the classroom environment. I love trying to find different, meaningful, ways to connect with students. But, I fully believe the teaching comes first.

    In thinking about overcoming the potential negatives, I believe it would help faculty to have a program of professional development in place (and supported by administration). I believe we need to think wisely about *why* we want to incorporate technology into our curriculums (and have some conversations about that!). I also very much appreciated the commentary in the podcast for this week acknowledging that peer instruction (in the use of technologies) is a great benefit to faculty members. I would also add that peer observation could be a wonderful entry point to new conversations about technology in the classroom (this is something I don’t we do well in academe, but that’s for another post!) . And, I feel very strongly that we do no favors to our students or our colleagues when we foist directives regarding technology onto faculty. Certainly all should be encouraged to explore and use and test different methods and tools but, there are times when the technology can become a burden to the teaching that needs to be done.

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