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 a past-president of CSTA.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or zi@cascience.org.)

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

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.

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.