January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Using the Internet to Connect Science and Mathematics Teachers to Each Other and to Excellent Online Resources

Posted: Thursday, December 1st, 2011

by Laura Henriques, Davida Fischman, David Andrews, and Elizabeth Ambos

In 2007, a group of California State University (CSU) faculty from several different campuses in the 23-campus system started working together to help preservice and in-service teachers find, evaluate and use on-line science and mathematics teaching resources. Through this project, resources were identified at the local level and then linked together online for use globally. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Building Locally, Linking Globally provided a way for campuses to connect their preservice teachers and recent alumni to one another in order to enhance mathematics and science teaching. Pre/In-service teachers were identified both within a campus and across campuses; a particular target audience was the Noyce Scholars on CSU campuses.

Noyce Scholars are Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) majors who commit to teach in high need schools throughout the nation. Supported by NSF via stipends and scholarships, California has more Noyce Scholarship Programs than any other state. All 22 CSU campuses which credential teachers, 5 University of California (UC) campuses, and a few private higher education institutions host Noyce programs. Each campus provides in-person academic support and teaching and mentoring services to their Noyce recipients, and the  Building Locally, Linking Globally project is viewed as an important extension of the learning environments provided by CSU Noyce campuses to future teachers.

This article introduces various aspects of the Building Locally, Linking Globally project. In coming months different members of the leadership team will highlight different facets of the project, providing links to online resources and teaching materials. The resources we will highlight are all high quality, work well in classrooms, and are free. In a time where schools and teachers are strapped for cash, free resources that are tested and effective in real California K-12 classrooms are high value! Many of the resources can be used either by the teacher for classroom demonstration or other whole-class work, or by individual students working online on the materials.  We have also found that the online communities formed by pre- and in-service K-12 teachers using the various products and services are sustainable and effective ways for teachers to support learning with digital resources.

Major components of the project include:

  • Development of a web portal for preservice and novice teachers
  • Collections of online teaching resources, linked to California Science Standards and to the California Common Core Standards for Mathematics
  • Evaluation and recommendations for use of online materials for use in the K-12 classroom
  • Development of web-based portfolios
  • Use of interactive web based simulations
  • Familiarity and linkages to online databases such as the National Science Digital Library, the Mathematics Digital Library, Compadre, and MERLOT
  • Use of online data sets in the K-12 classroom

The preservice/in-service teacher web portal is an entry point for STEM teachers to learn about becoming a teacher, teacher resources (including classroom management), grants and awards, professional communities, and research opportunities. Although the page is hosted on the CSU’s server, its access is not limited to CSU students and alumni. There’s a science portal and a mathematics portal.

Groups of student and teachers have collected and evaluated online resources. These include digital libraries, interactive simulations, and more. Among our favorite resources are the Phet simulations, Virtual Courseware’s drosophola lab, and the electronic portfolio program, Content Builder.  These will each be highlighted in upcoming articles.

MERLOT is the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching. This is a digital library of teaching materials for all content areas and at all levels. Searchable by topic, type and grade, MERLOT allows users to post materials, collect resources in a personalized folder or portfolio, and it is the gateway to Content Builder, a free website/portfolio program. In upcoming issues of eCCS we will share information about how to create your own websites and e-portfolios.

Over the last four years, project participants hosted more than ten (10) professional development workshops, and alumni of the program have made several presentations at CSTA meetings. As teachers it is incumbent upon us to find new ways to reach our students. Our students tend to be more savvy technologically than we are. These amazing online resources will help us meet our students where they are and teach them in new, engaging ways. A few of the lessons learned during our project relate to how the resources can most effectively be used in the classroom setting. Here are some of the highlights of what we’ve learned:

Virtual Labs

  • Virtual labs allow all students access to materials which work. Often science teachers either don’t have “hands on” materials or sufficient materials for students to use during lab. Materials that are in the classroom often don’t match and may not work well. Using an online laboratory ensures that students will be investigating with virtual “equipment” that works.
  • Not all virtual labs are created equal.
  • Just because a lab can be done online doesn’t mean it should replace doing a lab with real equipment and materials.

How to use online resources when you don’t have easy access to a computer lab

  • A projector and teacher computer allows for interactive demonstrations or class labs. A particularly nice way to use the labs in this way is to set up the situation, have students collect and manipulate the data, and determine what it all means. A Phet simulation on two-dimensional projectile motion is a great example for this. Much more engaging than simply solving for the landing spot of a projectile is solving for the location and then testing your answer with a cannon shooting a Buick.
  • Some of the simulations we found are downloadable and can be given to students on a CD or thumb drive.
  • Most kids have computer access or smart phone access. While not all labs and simulations work on mobile devices, many do.

Practice makes perfect

  • As with any new teaching tool, it takes time to become comfortable and effective using online labs and simulations. Start small and keep at it. Only use online simulations and labs when it makes sense to do so.
  • Don’t be discouraged by a less than successful first time out. Teaching with technology is a new skill for many of us, we need to have patience with ourselves until we become reasonably expert.
  • Have a back-up plan. If you are relying on internet access for your lesson and the internet connection doesn’t work that day you should have something else prepared.

Please look for the upcoming articles in eCCS. For the rest of the spring we’ll highlight different features of the project and showcase different resources which we think you will find useful for your teaching.

This project was funded by the National Science Foundation, DUE 0735011.

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and president-elect of CSTA.

Davida Fischman is a professor of mathematics at CSU San Bernardino.

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

Elizabeth Ambos is assistant vice chancellor for research initiatives and partnerships at the California State University Chancellor’s Office.


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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