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Elementary Education Student Teacher Puts Science in the Hands of Her Students

by The College of Education / Jun 14, 2011

Technology-enhanced, inquiry-based lessons transform students into citizen scientists

Science and technology in the classroom photoIt's late in the semester for elementary education student teacher, Lindsay Curtain, and her cooperating teacher, Kate Krusell-Skibar, but that didn't stop them from exploring new ways to engage their students, who themselves are already starting to think about summer, with science and technology. Working with Dr. Evangeline Pianfetti and the College's Learning Technologies team, these educators designed an innovative lesson for the students to understand the importance of rock and soil composition through the use of wireless Proscopes and iPod Touches.

Ms. Krusell-Skibar encouraged and supported her student teacher to use technology because as she stated, "This was my second year teaching the Rocks to Soil unit in the third grade. The content is not thrilling and for so many kids the lessons seemed to drag on. The specific lesson we used the Proscopes for has students observing the qualities of rocks, and after that soil. These are elements they have seen forever and it is hard to get them to see them with fresh eyes. The Proscopes definitely accomplished this. Kids were amazed at what they could see in everyday soil and rocks. There was a renewed enthusiasm for our everyday curriculum."

Ms. Curtain readily agreed to design a technology-enriched rock and soil unit with the help of the College of Education's Learning Technology Unit.

"I think that it is extremely important to integrate technology into the curriculum," she says. "Students are constantly exposed to technology outside of the classroom so when it is incorporated into the curriculum, it helps engage students immediately. In my opinion, students need to be interactive with the curriculum if they are expected to deeply understand the material and technology is a perfect way to make this happen."

For three days, the teachers introduced their students not only to the unit on soil, but also how emergent technologies such as wireless Proscope microscopes and iPod Touches could help them answer questions such as, "Why is it important for a builder to know what the soil is made of?" Their technology-enhanced inquiry-based lessons allowed the student to play the role of a citizen scientist.

As collaborative scientists, the students were given a wireless Proscope and two iPod Touches to use as they explored the soil, captured images, and recorded information in their science journal.

"Talking to the students after the lessons, I believe the Proscopes had a very positive impact on their learning," says Curtain. "The students have had a hard time getting involved with this unit because a lot of the experiments have little to no results since many of Earth's processes take years upon years to happen. The engagement I saw once the technology was added was unbelievable. The students were able to see magnified images of the soil particles, which was far clearer than anything they would have seen with the hand lenses the science tub provided. The students cooperated wonderfully in their groups and were actually completing the science journal page which is sometimes a struggle to get them to do."

Krusell-Skibar agrees. "I think integrating technology is important because research shows that it can deepen and enhance the learning process. Especially in a year like this, where I have over 75% male students, technology is a way to actively engage more students, especially those who may not have been reached by traditional methods. I also believe that it helps prepare them for their futures in college classrooms and businesses where an understanding of technology will be essential."

When asked about the science lesson, students in the classroom responded that the use of the technologies made learning fun and made them want to learn more about science. Students are empowered to see themselves as teachers as they demonstrate different features of the handheld devices, and use them as an inquiry tool with their teachers and principal.

When asked if she would do a project like this again in her own classroom, Ms. Curtain responded without hesitation.

"Without a doubt, I would try this lesson or one like it again. The Proscopes and iPod Touches were really user friendly and not only did they increase engagement, but they greatly deepened the students' conceptual understanding of soil. Ever since the lesson, the students have been begging me to bring the Proscopes and iPod touches back so they can do another activity with them.

Ms. Curtain will be teaching elementary school in Mahomet, Illinois, starting this fall.


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