Are our students prepared for the 21st century? As Canada moves forward with a technology and innovation-based workforce, we know that our students need to graduate with critical minds and the necessary skills to succeed in a highly competitive technology-based global market.
Why use technology?
The need for innovation is clear and has been recognized across Canada. “The worldwide concern towards declining interest in science and technology among young people is shared by Canadian educators, as ongoing progress requires a science-literate population from which top research talent can grow,” states Maria Adamuti-Trache in a report funded by the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL). Other CCL funded articles explore learning through tools like video games. Canadian institutions, like the British Columbia Innovation Council, facilitate innovation through science and technology by working with students and educators on outreach programs.
In the last decade, studies have shown strong links between the use of supportive technology and improved learning in both the primary and secondary grades (Honey, 2001; Norris, Smolka, & Soloway, 2000). The study ImpaCT2, published by the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, examines “The Impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) on Pupil Learning and Attainment” and shows “a statistically significant positive association between ICT and National Tests for science.” Vanessa Pittard, Director, E-Learning states that, “Young people using technology to support their learning at home gained a two-GCSE-grade advantage over those without access, even when contributing factors such as economic status are controlled for.”
Using technology in the classroom can have a range of impacts, such as increased time on task, higher test scores, lower cost and increased motivation. In “A Summary of Research on the Effectiveness of K-12 Online Learning,” Susan Patrick and Allison Powell write, “Online learning has the potential to transform teaching and learning by redesigning traditional classroom instructional approaches, personalizing instruction and enhancing the quality of learning experiences. The preliminary research shows promise for online learning as an effective alternative for improving student performance across diverse groups of students.”
Students are keen to learn through a variety of different mediums. “Project Tomorrow” surveyed students in grades 6 to 12 in 50 US states and found that 57% desire to explore concepts through games and 55% through animations and simulations. “Well-designed educational games are an amazing way to reconnect with students in an engaging and relevant way,” states Dr. Jeremy Friedberg, one of the founders of Spongelab Interactive, a company committed to building content-rich immersive teaching tools with a unique approach that integrates educational design with advanced web and gaming technology. The key is to prepare students so they can contribute successfully to a tech savvy work force. “The top ten in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004,” states researchers Karl Fletch, Scott McLeod and Jeff Brenman. “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t exist…using technologies that haven’t been invented yet…in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”
Many teachers in Canada are integrating new digital assets into their lesson planning and seeking funding from their administrators at school and municipal levels to help support integrated technology and training. A school in the Toronto Catholic District School Board has been running a pilot project with Spongelab Interactive. The Biology 12 class has been using Genomics Digital Lab, a curriculum-aligned, integrated on-line learning environment with full realtime assessment tools. Students race against the native RNA polymerase and try to transcribe the gene without causing too many mutations while rocking out to their favourite tunes with the game Transcription Hero. Another game in the Genomics Digital Lab series uses rich graphics and animation to engage students in a discovery- based process to save a dying plant by identifying the correct air, light and soil conditions. One teacher commented that Genomics Digital Lab connects difficult to grasp biology concepts and real life issues, making the content fun and relevant, and is presented in a non-linear medium that students responded to and felt comfortable with.
The education process is complex and it can be challenging to decipher all the research surrounding the impact of technology and digital assets in the classroom and more specifically, their role in educating science students. When compiling much of the research and looking at specific case studies of schools, it becomes clear that as educators, we need to step away from a “… one-way, one-size-fits-all, teacher-focused model where students are isolated in the learning process,” said Don Tapscott, professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, chair of nGenera Insight and author of Growing Up Digital and Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. The task, while it can feel daunting, doesn’t have to be. Here are a few places to start.
What tools are available to you in your classroom?
Classrooms across Canada range in their access to technology with everything from a 1:1 laptop to student ratio coupled with wireless connectivity to a single computer and a projector. Whatever your current set up, there is a multitude of great ways to create an enhanced interactive environment for your students. Technologies include:
- Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs)
- Portable tools such as mimios that turn any surface into an interactive whiteboard
- Internet connection
- Wireless keyboards and mouse combination
It’s all in the facilitation
The key as a facilitator lies in the ability to support learning in a tech-integrated learning environment. Help your students understand the significance of their factual understanding by making relevant connections to concepts. In a recent Biology 12 class, students, prepping for their exams, moved through key concepts by teaming up to play online games as well as having open discussions about relevant case studies guided by rich 3D animations and graphics.
- Class demonstrations: use rich 3D animations and simulations to help students visualize difficult to grasp concepts in science.
- Play: get students enthralled in competitions by playing the science through interactive simulations.
- Questions: promote increased engagement by posing questions to the class while one student plays the game.
- Discussion and debate: step outside the mechanics with case studies to focus on the environment and real world of biology.
- Assign homework: find content that students can access from their own computer to engage in discovery based learning and build their critical thinking skills.
- Student digital experts: assign a student with a keen interest to help you set up for a class using digital assets and tools.
Now that you are armed with the right tools and ideas about what kind of approach to take, explore the world of online and interactive content available to you. There is a wealth of free content on the web. Check out iTunes U, Teacher Tube, Teachers.tv, Vimeo, Next Vista, Academic Earth, university websites and online community forums that encourage sharing with other teachers. There is also premium content available at a cost for class, school and board wide packages. Forgo the mess of downloads and installs and look for content that is accessed completely online. This ensures that content is always up to date and accessible from any computer with wireless connection. Look for the following:
- Interactive Simulations
- Games and apps
The wealth of assessment tools available to educators now is tremendous. Keep your eye out for assessment tools that are built into the content/product you are using as your digital assets. Look for products that can assess student understanding and knowledge development. Items to look for:
- Hours of integration
- Number of logins
- Login location and time of day
- Visual statistics
- Metrics that compare students within their class, school, country and possibly world
- Ability to access accompanying lesson plans and quizzes
- Discussion forums and communities of teachers to share integration techniques and lesson planning
How to get the Technology and Content into your classroom?
Now that you have identified tools and content you would like to integrate, where do you look to for support?
- Make your needs known to your Department Head.
- Advocate to your curriculum leader at the Board level.
- Get parents on board.
- Rally other teachers to approach the board and your provincial government.
Our students look to our educators to help prepare them for what is increasingly becoming a competitive, fast-paced, tech-savvy environment. With all the new advancements in tools and assets designed specifically with teachers and education in mind, there is an enormous opportunity for development of critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, innovation, greater breadth/depth of understanding, engagement in science and finally fostered connections between teachers and students. Most importantly, have fun experimenting and reaping the rewards of your new approach!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lisa Barnes is Marketing Director at Spongelab Interactive, a company dedicated to creating educational game-based learning tools designed around discovery-based learning and critical thinking. She has worked in the education field for over seven years, in a not-for-profit capacity to advocate for literacy and most recently to support and market emerging tools in advancing education to the secondary and post secondary sector. Lisa currently lives in Toronto with her husband and is expecting her first child.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s September 2010 issue.