May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Using MERLOT Voices to Build Community of Learners

Posted: Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

by Laura Henriques, David Andrews, and Jaime Arvizu

This is the fifth in a series of articles related to using on-line resources to support student learning. Each article highlights a different National Science Digital Library (NSDL) resource used in the Building Locally, Linking Globally project (NSF DUE  0735011).

MERLOT is the Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching. Highlighted in an earlier eCCS article, MERLOT (www.merlot.org)  is a free service. There are several things that MERLOT provides. The on-line library of peer reviewed teaching and learning materials (called “learning objects”) is searchable by grade, topic and type. The e-portfolio generator called Content Builder is a free, simple way to create professional portfolios and classroom based websites. Both of these features were highlighted in Jaime Arvizu and Sara Meadows’ article. The feature of MERLOT which we are highlighting in this article is MERLOT Voices. 

MERLOT Voices (voices.merlot.org) allows groups of MERLOT members (membership is free) to create topic specific discussion groups. Unlike “Facebook” which is really more of a general social network, Voices is a professional social network that tends to have a greater focus on educational matters. A number of CSU campuses have employed MERLOT Voices with students to create private and open forums and discussion boards. In fact, Fresno State used MERLOT Voices as an integral part of a California Department of Education funded program known as “Modeling Science”. There were more than 75 science teachers from the Fresno and San Luis Obispo area who used Voices to post chats and engage in continued dialogue on project-related activities and developments. It was a tremendously successful vehicle for communication and sharing and helped make the two-year project a great success. Voices has also been used with groups of students in special NSF-funded summer institutes and in some cases, within our own science methods courses, to maintain online sharing of ideas and resources. While many users may have access to various discussion board features for courses, this particular forum is open to anyone who is invited and joins. For projects, clubs or groups of likeminded people, MERLOT Voices becomes the place for on-going conversations. Like most discussion boards, members can post and reply to prompts and each other. Working with groups of preservice teachers from different cohorts and different content areas, MERLOT Voices has allowed for at a common, on-line gathering space in which to share ideas about teaching and learning, respond to readings and ask for help. The conversations have threads that are easy to follow.

In addition to threaded discussions, Voices allows users to upload word documents, Powerpoints, and other forms of multi-media files with an almost unlimited storage capacity available. This is powerful advantage over many other bulletin board formats which are limited in text input and storage.

With pre-service teachers, we have used Voices to have candid discussions about teaching issues associated with high-need schools. Topics such as violence in schools, understanding issues associated with poverty, teaching in schools with fewer resources, and managing classrooms are among those discussed. Having these conversations on-line, as opposed to in a given class or course, affords student teachers and credential students alike an opportunity to interact in ways that a traditional credential program rarely offers. Since the discussion board is on-line, users can participate asynchronously. Not surprisingly, the times that students are on-line and posting don’t match our typical working hours!

Another advantage to MERLOT Voices is that the conversations and groups can extend beyond the life of the course or workshop. While many on-line educational management systems include a discussion board feature, they usually disappear at the end of the course, whereas here, these groups will remain intact for a longer period of time.  Additionally, prospective teachers are assured more communication interactions with in-service teachers than is typical. This brings a unique richness to their professional development.

Since MERLOT Voices can be set up as public or private, users can feel secure in posting questions and in seeking help. Mentors who lurk in the background and post prompts are then able to jump into the conversation (either via the discussion thread or via private e-mail) to provide support.

While there may be some existing communities which one might like to join, creating one’s own group and on-line community is a very powerful way to help students to get and stay connected in a professional setting. To get started, you must first be a member of MERLOT (sign-up on www.merlot.org). Then go to MERLOT Voices and click on Community Conversations. Click on the  + ADD button and get started. It is simple, works well and provides a nice platform for professional development and problem solving.

Have fun and good luck!

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach, the co-chair of the 2011 California Science Education Conference Committee, and president-elect of CSTA.

David Andrews is a professor at CSU Fresno and a Life member of CSTA.

Jaime Arvizu is an associate director/counselor at CSU Fresno College of Science and Mathematics and member of CSTA.

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and past-president of CSTA. She serves as chair of CSTA’s Nominating Committee and is a co-chair of the NGSS Committee.

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.