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.
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.
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.
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
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…