Technology in the Science Classroom

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

Technology integration in the science classroom can be approached in several different ways. In this lesson, we'll look at technology integration from a conventional inquiry-based instruction approach, as well as the levels of technology integration that can be applied to the science classroom.

Importance of Technology Integration

Technology is a critical component in designing instruction for students in the digital age. Depending on the demographics of your students, you might have some who are complete digital natives, or at least more fluent in the use of technology than yourself. Whatever your own or your students' level of expertise, technology skills are key to both delivering and learning new information. This why teachers must find ways to integrate these skills into our science curricula.

Levels of Technology Integration

At the entry level, you can use digital devices to change the way you present information to students. For example, you may use a digital whiteboard to present notes or videos to students.

At the next level, you allow students to use conventional technology, such as word processing programs, to complete tasks. At the conventional level, the task itself remains changed. For example, instead of handwriting papers, students type them. Using an online library, instead of physically going to the library, is another example of conventional technology. In going beyond conventional technology, you use digital tools to adapt, and eventually transform, student tasks altogether. For instance, instead of having students draw posters, they design websites to share course content.

Above: Levels of Technology Integration
__Levels of Technology Integration__

Science teachers typically use an inquiry model to design units of study. In this model, they present students with a question or problem statement, ask them to investigate the question, and then devise and present a solution.

Forms of Data Collection

As teachers, we often assume that when we send students off to find resources on the topic assigned, they understand the best way to complete the task, which may not always be true. To remedy the situation, begin by teaching your students about some reliable places to begin their search. For example, most public libraries offer a virtual library to registered users, and depending on where you live there might be a state virtual library at your disposal as well. Once you have located the URLs for these resources, you can teach your students how to conduct a proper search.

Searches and Search Engines

Students don't necessarily understand what happens when they type a topic into a search engine, such as the articles or Web pages that turn up with all or some of the terms. To help students conduct more effective searches, have them enter the key phrases they are looking for in quotation marks. For example, instead of Washington apples, which might pull up information about George Washington, they could key in 'Washington apples' and narrow the results to articles or websites with that specific phrase. Depending on the search engine students are using, you'll also need to teach them how to navigate the available filters to narrow sources by type, date, author, etc.

Virtual Labs

Another option for using technology to gather information is through virtual labs. Virtual labs involve recreating lab experiments in a safe online format. For instance, instead of conducting an acid-base indicator test in the classroom, where you may or may not have the necessary materials and safety gear, you can conduct it safely on the computer. You could also conduct a virtual dissection, as opposed to the expense of ordering specimens for all of your students.

Above: Sources of Data for Students
Sources of Data

Virtual Simulations

Simulations are a bit more complex for students to navigate because they allow them to test more variables based upon the question or problem they are investigating. Whereas a virtual lab merely walks students through each step, a simulation allows them to adjust multiple factors and collect much more data. Simulations also allow students to investigate more complex problems with precision.

For example, if you are studying climate change, real-time or historic data can show changes in temperature, rainfall, humidity, and other factors over time. Students may also find information about greenhouse gases and animal populations. However, depending on your students' abilities, this may be a cumbersome task, so, be sure to model, or demonstrate, how to gather the data, just as you would in a hands-on investigation.

Digital Tools

Technology can also help students' process information and make sense of their topics. Start by identifying the different digital tools students can use to organize information. For example, there are tools that allow students to create and organize virtual notecards. Web-based programs also allow students to create graphic organizers and map out all of the information they have gathered for their projects. One benefit associated with graphic organizers and virtual notecards is that the task of organizing information becomes much more interactive for students. For instance, they can color code and categorize information or incorporate videos or links to websites in their projects.

Above: Example of a Student Graphic Organizer
Graphic Organizer Example

Students can also use digital notebooks, or digital binders, to organize information, which may be available for free, and are appropriate for K-12 students. As a digital tool, it allows students to collaborate more easily in team-based investigations by creating and sharing their notebooks with other members. Digital notebooks also allow team members to consolidate and organize information gathered through research or lab investigations. These options easily allow you to integrate other tools, such as those used to create digital graphs and graphics.

If your students don't have access to the Internet outside of class, you have to decide to which degree you will incorporate digital tools to process the information they have collected. If your classroom demographics favor students with access to the Internet access both inside and out of the classroom, technology can open the door to a new level of collaboration.

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