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Technology and Science: how to use tech for experiential learning

Today’s blog is a guest post from Jay McGrane who is a freelance writer and educator who helps connect great teachers to great EdTech. Her passion for research means she’s always on the lookout for the next coolest thing to try with her students. When she’s not teaching or writing, she’s usually hanging out at the library with her daughter. Contact with her via LinkedIn.

As a science teacher, adult friends often tell me about their epic science projects: model solar systems, rambunctious beetles or baking-soda volcanos. Of course, it makes sense because experiments have become the gold standard in experiential learning. But did you notice how tech featured in none of these projects?

Schools today require staff to teach 21st century skills. What happens to hands-on learning when we do? How can we integrate tech?

This article suggests ways to integrate tech with experiential learning to teach the scientific process, biology, and data analysis.

The Scientific Process

The big kahuna of science classes is the 5-step scientific process: question, hypothesis, experiment, results, conclusion.

Historically, technology improved the experimental process by allowing scientists to make more precise measurements. It can do the same thing for students.

In a science-based genius hour, my Gr. 4-5 students used their interests to determine their experimental questions. Lots of my students chose to design experiments around which object fell faster or which food their pets preferred. Here’s a few examples of things my students measured in this inquiry project.

– how loud their family dog could bark
– how fast their pet could run
– who could throw the fastest
– their own breathing and heart rate, or that of their pets
– temperature of different things

Luckily, students simply need to look in the app store on their parents phone to discover measurement tools since schools don’t have the budget for a high tech lab. The smart phone tools open up the world of inquiry-based science because they allow students to follow their own curiosity.

Teachers often run experiments to illustrate concepts. However, school experiments usually only paint half of the scientific picture.

For example, teachers often explain static electricity by a balloon moving a student’s hair, but students can’t see the electrical charges. After the experiment, teachers usually model the electrical charges on the board.

Until now.

Computer simulations show it all. Now, students can see the balloon stealing electrons as it’s rubbed against a sweater in this simulation. Check out PHET Interactive Simulations for more ideas.

Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/0E_vhMVqL9g

Models

Students often make models during science class. The solar system, anyone?

Traditionally, students use art or recycled materials to create their masterpieces. But these models end up stale copies of reality.

Robotics bring student models to life. Check out students making moving models of the human body in this video. They deepen their understanding of the system because their models accurately represent it by lighting up or moving.

Stop-motion animations also enhance the accuracy of student models. Food chain models using stop motion accurately depict the movement of energy from plants growing to animals eating each other to decay. Similarly, models of the solar system illustrate the movement of the cosmos. Natural processes become visible through the process of making a stop-motion animation.

Integrating tech in these ways provides a powerful learning vehicle because students can show a dynamic process, rather than being limited by a piece of paper.

Real world Application

Students often think about how science shapes our world by reflecting on different careers that use the knowledge they’ve learned.

But we’re missing the opportunity to engage in STEAM. Application provides the perfect avenue to add art to your science curriculum.

With the right tools, students can explore light by becoming lighting designers or sound by creating soundscapes or toy designers. The world opens up when we start to think about how science interacts with art.

At the same time, the opportunity for authentic assessments becomes greater with technology. Students learning electricity can diagnose problems in circuits just like an electrician or report the weather just like a tv news anchor.

Coding also provides opportunities for students to animate what would happen hypothetically if their bridge carried too much weight in the same way engineers use simulations to predict how materials will react under different pressures.

The real world applications using technology are endless. 

Data Analysis

Running experiments in certain areas, such as biology, become difficult because you can’t gather large enough sample sizes.

However, if you include the whole class your sample size increases.

Using google classroom or a different type of collaborative software allows all of the students in the class to input their data together. Then it can be analyzed as a class set of data. For example, they can run population studies by counting animals or insects in local parks.

Even more exciting, the internet allows students to participate in projects with classes in geographically different locations. Students may wish to analyze soil or water samples locally and then put the results together.

Finally, ask students to participate in a citizen science project. Various organizations fund apps for citizens to monitor the weather, birds, or pollution. Most programs focus on recording observations to collect data on biodiversity and pollution.

Global projects include:

  • iNaturalist – Upload nature photography from around the world.
  • eBird – Submit your bird sighting.
  • Earth Echo Water Challenge – Test a sample of local water and submit the results to the website.
  • Globe at Night – Monitor light pollution in your area and submit the results to website.

Citizen Science programs exist across the globe. All science teachers need to do is google to find one in their region.

The best part of these programs is that students receive an authentic way to give back to the global community. They truly become global citizens through initiatives like these ones.

What’s holding you back from using tech?

I often feel as if I need to choose between a classroom focused on experiential learning and one focused on tech. I believe I don’t have enough time for both.

I’ve come to realize when I integrate tech then I don’t have to choose. As a bonus, my students find these highly technical projects extra engaging.

What projects do you use in the classroom to help students experience both hands-on learning and tech?

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Craig Kemp

Craig Kemp

I am a passionate Global EdTech Consultant based in Singapore but working with Schools and EdTech companies all over the world. I am a lifelong learner, dream creator and thought leader. I love to inspire others and find inspiration. Co-founder of #whatisschool, #asiaED edchats and #pubPD.

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