January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Mobile Tech Helps Aquarium Programs Dig Deeper

Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Katy Scott

One high school student stands knee-deep in water, a probe in her hand.

“Is it working?” she yells to a partner on shore. He’s looking at an iPad, watching a graph instantly form. “Got it!” he answers.

Three other students encircle a crab trap a few meters away; as one holds up a green crab, another photographs it with a phone. Then, he uses his finger to annotate over the image, labeling the parts that serve as evidence for species identification.

This is the way technology integration is supposed to work.

But all too often, it’s not what’s actually happening.

What’s actually happening, education technology professionals have noted, is the digitization of 20th century teaching. Many educators have turned their overhead transparencies into PowerPoints and worksheets into PDFs but have done very little to actually update their practices.

It’s hard to blame them. The term “21st century skills” rings of meaningless jargon. Plus, knowing that it’s important to integrate technology is one thing, but understanding how to do it well is something entirely different.

Middle school girls use IPads to explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium as part of the Young Women in Science summer program

Image courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, our education team needed about three years of professional development to fully understand how to meaningfully utilize technology to support our program objectives. Now, when we talk about 21st century skills, we’re usually referring to the four Cs (which are also prevalent in the Common Core State Standards): critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity

The four Cs represent quality teaching in general. But in recent years we’ve found that technology – and, specifically, mobile technology – has allowed us to teach more deeply and more effectively, especially regarding these skills.

For the Aquarium, the growing prevalence of mobile technology such as cell phones and tablets was the game-changer. That prevalence meant that, first, nearly every student has some level of access, and second, we can take this pocket-sized technology anywhere. Since 2009, we’ve tried dozens of integration strategies and have identified three methods that have had the deepest positive impacts on our programs.

1. Digital Field Notes

At the Aquarium, we spend a lot of time taking our teachers and students to field sites. We go tide pooling in Pebble Beach and kayaking in Elkhorn Slough. We collect trash and complete outdoor investigations on Monterey beaches.

Any educator who has planned a field experience knows what that entails – backpacks filled with field tools that might be needed: hand lenses, field guides, calculators, rulers, compasses, science notebooks, colored pencils, etc. But now, we’re able to fit it all in a package that’s less than two pounds: a single iPad.

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We make great use of the app Notability ($2.99), which turns an iPad into a notebook. Users can type, write, draw, highlight, and add photos and audio to a blank page or a pre-made worksheet PDF. All the notes can be organized and searched.

Depending on content, there are dozens of field guide apps, for everything from tide pools to birds. The free Multifunction Ruler app turns the iPad into a ruler, and the free Gyro Compass app uses the iPad’s accelerometer to estimate direction. We use the zoom on the camera as a hand lens, although you can also turn an iPad camera into a field microscope using a jeweler’s loupe and a rubber grommet.

Best of all, everything that’s saved on the iPad can more easily be transferred to Google Drive for further collaboration or published on a student blog

2. Multi-Media Projects

Nearly any educator can tell you the importance of creation in learning – it’s the highest level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy and can be one of the most revealing culmination projects. We regularly ask our program participants to create products that demonstrate their learning.

Middle school girls use iPads to explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium as part of the Young Women in Science summer program. Image courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

In the past, this might have been done with posters or short presentations. Now, we’re able to ask students and teachers to create something they can later access to share with their families, peers and community. With limited time, one of the greatest benefits of multi-media projects is that many can be completed in less than 10 minutes.

And we’re able to do these projects anywhere. Based on the program, we’ve had participants create projects in Aquarium exhibits, on beaches, during hikes, and even on buses during the ride back to school.

For quicker projects, one of our favorite tools is the free Educreations app (and website), which allows users to record their voice as they draw on a whiteboard. After longer experiences, such as our week-long summer camps, we ask students to use what they learned to create public service announcements using a video editing app, such as iMovie ($4.99).

We also give participants a rubric or checklist of required content and then allow them to choose any tool to complete it. Depending on the app they select, they can create videos, cartoons, digital books, or comics to communicate their learning.

3. Evidence Collection

The Next Generation Science Standards list “engaging in argument from evidence” as one of the eight science and engineering practices. Mobile technology has been a major benefit as students collect evidence in the field, as well as during investigations in classrooms and exhibits. They’re able to photograph live animals and, using apps like Notability and Educreations, annotate labels and reasoning directly onto the images.

We’ve recently begun testing the free app Zydeco Inquiry, which was specifically designed to help middle school students make claims based on evidence in a museum setting. This app has students create a hypothesis based on an overarching question and then prompts them to collect audio, photos, videos, and text as evidence. Lastly, students are asked to make a claim and select the evidence that supports that claim. They’re able to cite their own evidence, as well as evidence collected by their classmates, underscoring the collaborative nature of science.

While these three technology integration methods have helped revolutionize our education programs, they’ve done a lot more. Seeing these methods in action has helped our education staff gain a strong handle on what 21st century learning really means.

Katy Scott is the Education Technology Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can find her on Twitter @katyscott22. She was invited to write for CCS by CSTA member Mary Whaley

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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