New web tools and technology

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At the beginning of every school year, I had to submit a list of 2–3 professional goals, with an action plan of how I would meet them. Using appropriate instructional technology to improve student engagement and learning was one of my standard goals. If one of your goals is expanding your technology efforts beyond PowerPoint, The New Teacher’s Toolbox describes a few starting points:

  1. Create (and maintain) a course website with the syllabus, unit schedule, handouts or podcasts to download, problem solutions, important dates, and related websites (such as your favorites from SciLinks.
  2. Try Webquests as a way to guide student explorations of a topic. Check out NSTA publications for examples of WebQuests.  SciLinks can help you identify relevant websites for WebQuests.
  3. Include options for the use of digital media in student projects.
  4. And be sure that your Facebook or other social media sites do not contain personal information or photos that you don’t want students or their parents to access.

Teachers are faced with two related learning curves: new research in content areas such as genetics and new developments in technologies. The Case for Cyberlearning describes how multimedia technologies (in this case, the cyberlearning platform GENIQUEST) can be used to help students learn the concepts of genomics, using a fictitious “dragon” population. The unit previews have three levels of activities. I liked the authors’ suggestions for helping students to get the most out of cyberlearning opportunities: prompt student discussions periodically, promote pair and small-group work, and encourage the use of data-based evidence. (SciLinks has more background on genomes, too.

Another online tool is described in Science Pipes: A World of Data at Your Fingertips. Science Pipes (from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology) is an interface that lets users explore world wide data sets to find patterns and trends of interest, in both guided and open-ended investigations. (I discovered that my login from Cornell’s Feederwatch program worked with Science Pipes!) The program accesses and processes real data—the keys are identifying a question and thinking of what data would be used to come up with summaries that can be used to answer the question (or lead to more questions).
One of my favorite sites is highlighted in Sims for Science. The authors describe the PhET site has dozens of interactive simulations on various topics in science (and for various grade levels). The authors describe how (and why) these simulations could be incorporated in science classes. These simulations are meant to supplement the curriculum, to reinforce, extend, and visualize concepts.  The article includes a summary of how a teacher used one in her inquiry-oriented class.
Another specific project is described in Teaching with Technology. Through a combination of videos, websites (such as those in the SciLinks topic Bacteria), and hands-on activities students learn about bacterial transformations. Students and teachers communicate through Google Docs. The article also has a rubric for the student video project.
Even though we can access simulations, data sets, and videos, sometimes the most appropriate “technology” is a roll-up-your-sleeves, put-on-your-goggles, hands-on investigation. Juan’s Dilemma is an updated version of the lemon battery, with photographs and examples of student data.  SciLinks has more ideas on batteries.
Whatever grade you teach, be sure to check in with TST for a new feature The Green Room. Each month the author will share suggestions for making your classroom more environmentally friendly. This month, she shares her ideas of “low-hanging fruit”—those practices that many of us already use, such as turning off lights, recycling paper, using both sides of papers, and turning in used printer cartridges for recycling and rebates.
Check out the Connections for this issue. Even if the related articles don’t quite fit with your lesson agenda, this resource has ideas for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, etc.

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