Several thematic issues for STEM education
Dear ETEC 533,
I enjoyed reading each of your analyses of technology-enhanced learning experiences, as shown by the video case studies we viewed this week. The video cases that were viewed were of several different math and science learning environments in BC. Despite their different settings and contexts, your analyses of these video cases appeared to share several points in common, points which are definitely worth further reflection because they also seem to be recurring themes in much of the dialogue about technology in Math and Science. There may also be additional patterns of observations and analytic intersections that you noted as you read posts, so please feel free to add voices to this as we engage in a process of grounding issues and finding patterns in experience—both within the video cases and with our upcoming interviews. Thank you too for your creative subject headers to invite responses. Additional themes most welcome!
Theme on “Gender Inequity and Educational Technologies: An Issue Relevant to STEM”
One of the clear observations in your posts was about gender and technology in the math and science classroom. A number of you reflected on the different uses of technology by boys and girls. This and other observations of your classrooms raise interesting issues regarding gender and technology. A few emergent questions relevant to STEM that emerged for me are: Is technology use gender neutral? Do children assume traditional roles by gender (girls take notes, boys control equipment and make decisions or otherwise)? Are these roles changing today? Do STEM disciplines foster different relationships to technology compared to digital humanities? The conversation emanated from your analyses of the video. For example, Dana was compelled in the video case with Teacher F to raise that, “The issue that he raised that was most compelling to me was the notion that using technology within the classroom is a way to bring the boys back into the academic arena. I would also agree that in the last ten years, girls have been dominating in both my Math 10 and Physics 11/12 courses.” Dana further compared that, “Teacher A raised a couple of interesting issues, as well. He noted that girls prefer to experiment with the computer simulations on their own, saving themselves any embarrassment as they navigate through their learning process, whereas boys appreciate the immediate gratification that technology can afford in the lab.” Darren weighed in and pointed out the differences he observes in his physics classes from the past to today: “The differences in attention to detail, focus, and simple ability to follow instructions are becoming quite jarring between the sexes. In terms of technology in the classroom, I do not see as many differences in behaviour between the genders. Both are less likely to ask technology-related questions; however, it is possible that they are already familiar with those used in the classroom.” Anne raised the issue of the achievement of girls and boys in STEM classes as being sometimes incongruent with onward trajectories to STEM careers as well. Further questions raised were on whether technology impacts achievement and career trajectories.
Equity is a theme worthy of further investigation and requires observation and evidence to show, among other things, the value of these differences for learning with technology. Research will contribute to our insights on the intersections among, gender, diverse groups such as language learners as mentioned earlier, and technology.
Theme on “How can technology be employed to enhance conceptual learning and skills for STEM?”
After comparing and contrasting cases, several descriptions focused on learning with technology emerged in our posts. Perhaps another question underscoring the descriptions of the technology-enhanced experiences was how can technology be used effectively for STEM learning of concepts and process skills? Darren analyzed video 4 and generated a set of levels of integration of technology. It is plausible that each level has the potential to support conceptual understanding: He suggested for “level 2 or 3” integration with simulations and animations, that, “As described in the ‘Case 3’ videos, students develop transferable skills that will inevitably enhance their own lives outside of the classroom”. How a teacher sets up the use of the digital technology, or not, leads to a composite of learning, as suggested by the analysis of the interviews from Mary where, “Teacher E” discussed the fact that digital technology should not be treated as a stand-alone subject area, but must instead be integrated into our classrooms. In addition to this, digital technologies should be used only when they are enhancing students’ learning. “Teacher E” pointed out that if a student can learn just as well from a book, then perhaps we should simply allow them to read the book. However, if learning can be enhanced by using digital technology, then we must be prepared to use digital technology. This was an important point for me because it emphasized the fact that we do not have to try to integrate digital technology into all aspects of our classroom. Sometimes, more traditional methods continue to work quite well.” Mary’s examination of Teacher E helped us to see how learning might be fostered with a variety of methods, including those without the use of digital technology.
Lawrence, while inquiring into student learning, discussed the role of technology in understanding. In his examination of Case 3, he questioned “whether technology’s ability to remove more menial components of tasks is a detriment to skill development. Teacher A mentions that measuring lengths and angles and using other tools are certainly skills in their own right, but also rightly points out that technology proves more time efficient by removing the more mundane tasks so that students can quickly get to the concepts at hand. Developing fundamental skills may or may not necessary to accomplish a certain task (ie- one does not need to know how to develop film in a dark room to take a photo), but it does help to provide a depth of understanding. “Michelle reflected on the videos she watched and concluded that, “Students are not only bound to textbooks and written work, but are able to act, produce, reflect, create, problem solve, hypothesize, cooperate and present using technology as a tool. This is important and is providing for a deeper and more engaging learning experience for many.” In terms of learning, Vibhu reflected that, “For me, it was the transferable skills that really emerged from the video cases like being literate in technology, being comfortable with using technology, working together to solve problems: skills that professionals use every day.” Jessica acknowledge the new BC curriculum that includes a set of competencies for students as they progress in the math and science curriculum. She wrote, “As the Physics 12 teacher (Case 3) describes technology as evolving his teaching from being transmissive to transactive, this idea of practicing the competencies through using technology, while gaining a deeper understanding of content is highly evident. Students are collaborating with peers who are not necessarily their friends, managing their time and resources, problem solving and integrating technology appropriately – all of these activities are considered both competencies and important life skills!”
These posts begin to underscore a theme on deeper learning in science and math and suggest a need for thoughtful pedagogical approaches, frameworks, and strategies that may move deeper beyond the seemingly appealing and engaging activities we can create with technologies.
Theme on student assessment in STEM
To gauge whether the integration of digital technology is effective for STEM learning, student assessment was raised in a number of your posts. For example, Gloria and others ascertained an issue with assessment. After watching the elementary space science and middle school videos, Gloria questioned: “how will educators adequately assess students when they use different ways to showcase their learning? For instance, in both classrooms, the teachers mentioned the use of raps, podcasts, videos, experiments, and interactive websites where different groups of students are engaged in.”
Our readings thus far on conceptual understanding would suggest that typical assessments do not test for deeper conceptual understanding. Several of you alluded to here, and in the last forum, that typical classroom assessments may not get at this challenge and require us to consider how we are assessing our students for deeper conceptual understanding with digital technology.
Theme on Teachers and Educational Technology
Teacher education was also a major thread throughout our discussions. Daniel revealed, after watching the middle school science video, “I found it distressing that some of the case teachers considered technology to be an ad hoc item to be used “on the fly”. Technology can eat up incredible amounts of time with limited gains to show for it if its use is not properly planned and scaffolded.” He further offered several ideas for PD for math and science teachers in schools on using technology. Teacher education was also an area of special focus for Catherine who found that, “After much consideration, my mind constantly returned to the struggle of the teacher (pre-service, new teacher, teacher and retiring teacher). I will admit however, that I likely returned to this struggle because it is an area of interest I would like to explore further when I have completed the MET program”. Catherine suggested that, “New and preservice teachers felt they were not educated on the use of technology in the classroom, and many seemed overwhelmed at the prospect.” Similarly, Anne recalled in her videos that the teachers, “[S]tated that they would still be reluctant to use it in their own classroom because they were not “experts” and it would take too much time to implement it. I still find it odd that there are people who still consider themselves not “tech savvy”. To me this is like saying you are not math smart. Everyone is math smart and everyone can be tech savvy, it is a learning experience, not an innate talent. This tells me that there is not enough technology education for educators to allow them to feel competent about including this as part of their teaching.” Anne put forward that this type of education be mandatory for preservice teachers.
The teachers in the STEM video in particular (the 360 videos) were able to get together to develop and work on their curriculum. Stephanie related her analysis of the STEM video to her own school like many of you. She shared that staff are engaged in a long term process of technology integration, described this way: “As my division has worked through the implementation of personalized electronic blended learning, a phrase my school has adopted is “dipping a toe in and getting our feet wet.” In addition to professional learning communities, “New teachers should be mentored and supported through being teamed up with more seasoned educators and then allowed to use technology in their teaching with guidance and supports. In addition, educators should be given time to share technology tools at staff meetings or division meetings.” Allison watched the 360 videos and suggested that, like the teachers from the case who worked to integrate digital technology in a maker space STEM learning environment, one “could go and visit other schools with models they were interested in and also to talk with other educators about new directions that could and should be taken. In my district we can apply for collaborative grants and I see how this type of teacher inquiry could be very meaningful and impactful.” Math and science teacher education is truly a lifelong journey and many of you are a testament to this.
To sum up, a few of the many themes that emerged from our discussion are suggested here and include: Gender and Equity Issues in STEM; How the Digital Technology is Effectively Integrated in Learning Settings (where math and science concepts are being taught), Student Assessment for deeper conceptual understanding, and supporting Math and Science Teacher Education. Please feel free to add more that you may have seen emerge from our discussion in our forum where this summary has also been posted.
A number of important observations and salient questions were raised throughout your analysis of the video cases, and there are likely more that were not addressed in this summary but remain important for you to explore. If any of these “thematic questions “are ones that you cannot articulate an answer for or resonate with your current practice, consider asking about them in your interviews@home. Coupled with your auto e-ographies and unpacking assumptions, the questions you raised from the video cases may also serve as a source of salient issues for your first major assignment in the course, the Framing Issues Assignment.
Thank you for your interesting analyses of the videos, Samia